Reader Mailbag: Graduation

In the last week, four of the best young people I know (I’ll refer to them by first name: Brittany, Cody, Vicky, and Amanda) have donned caps and gowns and strolled across a stage in celebration of the ending of one stage of their life and the beginning of another.

If they live up to even a fraction of their potential, the world will be a much better place. I have a ton of optimism and hope for these guys (and the millennials as a whole, for that matter).

I recently opened a charles schwab brokerage account. I had $1000 saved up to start and plan on adding $100 per month. I bought $500 worth of IVV & $500 worth of SPY. Even though it’s an index fund, there is a $8.95 charge per trade. Given that I plan to add a small deposit every month, is there another fund I should buy that won’t eat up my money by charging me for every trade?
- Joe

Schwab’s prices aren’t terrible, especially considering the research tools they have. They’re not cheapest, either, though.

Zecco offers trades for $4.50 a month (if you do more than 25 trades or have a balance of $25,000 or more, you get 10 of them free). That’s the best brokerage bang for the buck that I’ve found.

For what you’re doing, Sharebuilder might be slightly better. You can make a trade for $4 per investment (or $2 per investment if you do 6 or more, or $1 per investment if you do 20 or more). The drawback here is that these investments are completely automatic market buys that are executed on a firm schedule once a week or once a month. If you don’t care about that, then Sharebuilder is cheaper.

Your best bet might be to just buy in every three months or so and save up in your savings account for these buys, then use Zecco or Schwab.

How should we be saving for our children’s college education? Ideally, our children would attend college in Colombia and pursue (if they wish) advanced degrees in the US. I currently have a 529 and an ESA open for both of them, as well as putting money in a savings account for them. It appears that only certain foreign universities are considered eligible for the 529 and ESA plans and I have not seen a Colombian university on that list. My target is to save approximately $20k for each child by the time they are 5 years old and then maybe an additional $50/month after that.
- Christina

If you want them to attend college in Colombia, then you should be saving using investment tools that can be used at a lot of universities in Colombia. I don’t know what’s available there, but from my quick research, there’s nothing really comparable to a 529.

Besides, the real reason to use a 529 is the tax advantages offered. If you’re not getting those tax advantages, you might as well just use a normal brokerage account, as you’ll get more (and better) investment options.

In your situation (assuming I haven’t missed anything), I’d probably just open a normal account with Vanguard and keep the cash in there for them, investing in aggressive stuff when they’re young and scaling back as they get older.

Christina has a second question….

How should we be saving for retirement? My husband currently maxes out his 401(k) and we also have a Roth IRA open. However, we are on the threshhold of being able to contribute to the Roth IRA and this year we are ineligible due to a larger bonus that he is receiving. I anticipate that in 2 years his salary will be over the contribution limits. I had someone advise me to go ahead and make contributions to the Roth this year, recharacterize it as a traditional IRA, and then convert it back to a Roth IRA (not having to pay anything since I will have contributed after tax money). My husband also has a retirement account in Colombia that we may contribute to if we wish.
- Christina

That’s a great short term solution, but the IRA to Roth IRA conversion rules are always fluid. I would do that in 2010, but I would not necessarily use that as a long-term solution to repeat each year unless the rules do not change.

Eventually, yes, a normal IRA will probably be your best solution. My suggestion would be to treat all of your retirement as one single giant portfolio, That way, when you scale back into more conservative stuff later on, you scale all accounts back (or scale back one account at a time very rapidly).

Good luck with your financial situation, Christina.

My husband and I purchased a 3000 sq feet home in the suburb of San Diego 2 years ago. We love the home and can afford the payments, but we don’t use a lot of it. We have 2 big dogs and no kids so 3 of the bedrooms are empty most of the time. Do you have any creative ideas about how to turn the extra space into a small monthly cash stream without renting out the rooms? We’d like to start a family in 2 years and the cash stream would make a nice baby fund.
- Monica

Without renting out the rooms, there’s no immediate direct way to use those rooms as a cash stream.

My idea, however, would be to use those rooms for serious bulk storage of the stuff you use all the time. Look for tremendous deals on, say, toilet paper, then stock up a ridiculous amount when it’s ten cents a roll (or free). Do the same with all of your other household basics – watch out for enormous sales, then stock up to an enormous degree when you hit one.

That way, you’re utilizing the space to store extremely cheap household goods that you’ll use over time. As you use them, the storage space of the rooms is effectively reducing your monthly grocery and household bills.

This spring my coworker had a second child. She still has lots of baby stuff from her first child. Not having lots to spend, I went to a friend’s second grade class (the perfect age for this) with pieces of blue paper (the baby is a boy) and asked them to give advice to the mother and baby. They wrote their advice, and we made it into a book for the new mom. It is touching and funny. Everyone wants a copy. One of the best ones is “Dont give the babe (sic) everything it wants. Its not goode for them.”
- Susan

This is actually a really good idea that can be done with lots of variations.

At our wedding shower, my mother gave my wife a homemade recipe box with handwritten recipes from tons of different family members in it. Each person contributed a few recipes so that, all together, the box was loaded with tons of familiar family recipes.

I’ve also seen baby tip books along these lines, where a person assembled a book with baby advice from every mother in the life of the expectant mother.

These gifts are really wonderful heirlooms and they stand out in their uniqueness. Plus, they mostly just take time to put together – they’re not expensive.

I’m currently 19 years old and live in an apartment with my girlfriend. Things are very affordable right now and I need a little guidance with my money. In the beginning it was fun and a little understandable to us to splurge a little bit getting a couple things we didn’t really need but wanted. But now I understand the sooner we get saving the better. We make a considerable amount more than we spend on our bills with a comfortable amount of pocket money. But my question comes down to what next? I have read save and invest from soo many people. I get saving that one is pretty easy. But I have no clue how to go about investing. I don’t know what any of the terms I read mean besides 401k. I’m also in college right now (enjoying the summer off) and we need to work on a plan to pay that off as well.
- Chase

It really, truly depends on your goals.

If you’re saving for something that will be purchased in the next year or so, a savings account is probably the best place to keep the cash.

If you’re looking at a timeframe that’s longer than a year but less than, say, ten years, leave your money in a savings account, but look at certificates of deposit for some of the money. A certificate of deposit (or CD) is offered by your bank (and many other banks). It’s basically the same as a savings account, except that you agree not to touch the money for some certain period of time – six months, a year, whatever. In exchange, you get a better interest rate. It’s usually worthwhile to shop around for these. I wouldn’t recommend getting a long term one right now because interest rates are really, really low – you’re better off getting a six month one or a year long one and then doing it again after that period ends when rates might be higher.

If you’re looking at a timeframe that’s ten years or more, I would open an account with a stable brokerage that offers index fund investments. An index fund simply means that you’re buying tiny amounts of tons and tons of stocks all at once. For example, buying the Vanguard 500 index fund means you’re buying a sliver of each of the 500 stocks listed in the Standard and Poors 500 (a list of most of the large American companies). Rather than managing 500 separate stock investments, you just manage one. A brokerage is simply a company that provides such investments, much like a bank provides a savings account. For example, I use Vanguard for my investments and invest mostly in the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index. I just put money into the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index regularly and that effectively translates into owning a tiny sliver of every stock publicly traded in the United States.

If you’re looking at retirement, your best option is probably a Roth IRA, which is basically the same as a brokerage account, except that it has a few special rules and some extra benefits (namely, that you don’t have to pay taxes on your earnings if you wait until age 59 1/2 to withdraw those earnings).

It all depends on what you want to do with that money. If you don’t know, sit tight with it in your savings account, think about it, and talk it over with your girlfriend.

I am about to embark on a new journey: marriage! My fiancee and I have gone over the details and have had good communication in what our goals are, but I am pondering what is perhaps a wise step to take at this point. After we are married and we both move in together, we both will have student loans (appx. $30,000 total or $400 a month), $850/mth rent., about $1000 tucked in savings and another $1500 that is very fluid at this point for purchases like furniture, and appx. $3200 a month in income. My question is, what sort of steps can we take at this point to get started with an introductory investment situation. We have savings, and thats pretty fluid, but I’ve pondered over Roths, CD ladders, and even Mutual Funds. I think Mutual Funds aren’t quite for us yet, but perhaps you would say otherwise. Should I just focus on getting our savings established, or set aside an amount for longer term accounts. I keep reading how its important to start retirment funds now rather than later, but should I even consider those given our situation. We figure to be able to save $200 a month. Any thoughts would be welcomed!
- Tony

As with my answer to Chase above, it really depends on what your goals are.

If you want to buy a house in five years, keep the money in cash. Just leave it in your savings account or maybe buy some short-term CDs.

If you have no long term savings goals besides retirement, look at a Roth IRA.

Your goals lead everything. Spend some time talking things over with your future spouse. Where do the two of you want to be in five years? Ten years? The ideas you come up with don’t have to be set in stone, but they’ll give you a big clue as to where you should be going.

I have some friends who are getting married. It’s a second marriage for both of them, so they both have household goods already, I figure the last thing they need is a third toaster. They haven’t registered anywhere for gifts. We are friends through a gaming group. Most of us live in different states, but about once a quarter or so we all travel to someone’s house and just play games (mostly Fluxx) for most of a weekend. So, this next Fluxx gathering is going to be at my house, and is really a surprise wedding shower for the couple. We’ve all talked about giving them games as wedding presents, so I’m looking for suggestions of games that scale well. I’d like them to work for 2 people, so the newlyweds can have games they can play alone together, but also be options we can all join in on, for future Fluxx gatherings. One example of this is Bohnanza, that game is just as much fun for 2 people as it is for 6. Do you know of any other games that would work well? Or other games that work great just for couples?
- Keri

I know exactly where you’re coming from, but I came at this very problem from a different angle. Our group played a lot of Fluxx about ten years ago, but after a while, we become somewhat bored with it. At its heart, Fluxx is a lot like War – it’s really just about the luck of the draw.

Here are a few games we discovered that we still enjoy that capture the simplicity and convenience of Fluxx while having a lot more replayabilty.

Guillotine is a card game set in the French Revolution. The idea is that there is a “line” of French nobles waiting for the guillotine (a line of cards depicting nobles with a point value in the lower right corner) and you want to “collect” the most valuable ones (like Marie Antoinette, for example, who is worth 5, versus an errand boy, who is worth only 1). Each turn, you can play a card from your hand that modifies the order of the line (moving someone forward, moving someone backward, etc.), then you take the first noble in line. When the line runs out, you replenish it twice. The game ends after the third time through the line, when everyone counts up their nobles. It handles two to five players and plays really quickly (fifteen minutes or so).

Citadels is a card game for two to seven players. You’re trying to build a small town of eight buildings (the cards in the game represent buildings) worth the most number of points (each building is worth some number of points, with the higher point buildings being harder to build) before someone else builds a town of eight buildings. You do this by taking on one of nine “roles” each turn, each of which has a different ability. These “roles” are a special set of nine cards, and the neat part is that you pass the “role” cards around each turn, picking one and passing the rest on (with the first chooser rotating over time). It’s a blast, with a lot of reading other players and guessing involved, and the rules are really simple. We love this one.

Dominion is a card game for two to four players (that can expand to six). In the game, each player has their own deck of cards and they use the cards to “buy” more cards for their deck from a shared supply of cards. Most of the cards you have are “coins” that you use to buy more cards for your deck; other cards either have special abilities or count for “victory points” for your deck. The game ends when you run out of victory point cards in the shared supply, at which point all players count up the victory point cards in their deck and the person with the most points is the winner. We love this one, too.

Try one of these three – you can’t go wrong.

My husband and I are currently at a point where we are saving for a house. We stay in San Diego and both of us are in full-time jobs. We have maxed out our retirement savings. We have a nice emergency fund which will serve us at least 6 months. We have no debt (we just don’t buy anything if we need to borrow money for it). We do have a mortgage for a condo in India but we found a renter who is reliable and the rent pays for the mortgage. We recently got a lump-sum of money (a gift from my father-in-law) which we promptly used to pay off part of the mortgage. My parents also recently set up a college fund for our kids (2 toddlers), to which they said they would contribute every year (we hope to take over this cost in the future).

So, we now have $15,000 saved up. We hope, with a stringent budget and only necessary expenses (such as childcare, rent etc), to save up to buy a house in 3 years with at least 20% down payment (more, if the new financial reform bill requires it). We want to stash this initial lump sum in a high yielding but safe account. However, we are not sure where! Our bank (SDCCU) is very good and I am not inclined to change it but its possible we may open a separate savings account just for this money in another bank. Or, we may open a CD. I would really like to know what you would recommend.

We rent now but we have set our mind to owning a house; not as an investment but as a place where we will live and bring up our kids.
- Roshni

If you’re going to buy in three years, a savings account is probably the best place to be because you’re not exposed to the rapid fluctuations of the stock market (a bad one would seriously derail your plans).

I would shop around a bit for a high interest savings account. I use SmartyPig for specific savings goals – they have a very nice rate, but their accounts have some special rules applied to them (you have to have an automated savings plan to put money in after the first deposit).

You’ve got the right idea (from my perspective), though, about viewing your home not as an investment. For most people, their primary residence isn’t very liquid at all and (as we’ve learned recently) housing markets aren’t reliable places to invest.

I am currently in a very confused professional place. I don’t love what I am doing, but I don’t really know what else I want to do. I have an event coming up, a college reunion, where lots of different types of people are going to be in one area. I see this as a great opportunity to network with people of all ages and professions for job opportunities, but more importantly for ideas of things I might want to do. What kind of advice would you give me for this situation, especially knowing that I am a pretty shy person and don’t really feel super comfortable just walking up to random people and introducing myself?
- Christine

I think this is a great idea.

People that tend to go to reunions are often extroverts, which makes the process easier. They’re coming to see people and often to network, just as you are.

If I were you, I’d do two things. First, I’d hone my small talk skills. Look for events now where you’re going to be surrounded by people you don’t know and practice meeting them and learning more about them. For me, I find that asking gentle questions is almost always a great way to get people to open up and talk about themselves, and you can learn a lot from that.

Second, I’d get involved with the event. Contact the people running it and ask if they need some help. Offer to speak if there are opportunities – that’s a great way to get people’s eyes on you and get known. Get ahold of a list of attendees and research them a bit, identifying people you’d like to meet.

Good luck!

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. Amy says:

    Another game suggestion for the wedding shower: Carassone. Good for 2 or many players. And on Ebay you can get the Carcassone “big box”, which is the original plus several expansions. That runs about $50-60 plus shipping on ebay, so if that’s too much maybe more than one giver would want to chip in.

    (On another note, I got lots of great info from this post today. Love the baby shower book idea, AND I learned — because one question prompted me to go look it up — that next year my husband and I are likely to become ineligible to contribute to Roth IRAs due to an expected rise in income. Which means we’ll make a big priority of maxing for this last tax year in which we’re eligible. Thanks for the info!)

  2. Jon says:

    Monica

    Don’t use your extra space to store massive quantities of toilet paper(or anything else for that matter). What a horrible suggestion. Locking your money into consumables is not a good idea. Why not just save every penny you can. Maybe invest a bit, buy some bonds, CD’s, etc.

  3. Johanna says:

    @Tony: Trent’s answer to you makes it sound like saving for retirement is something you do sort of as an afterthought with the money that’s left over after you pay for all the things that you want to do now. I don’t think he really meant to suggest that, because thinking that way is a bad idea.

    You don’t say how old you are, but in general, if you’re old enough to earn money, you really should be putting some of it aside for retirement. Retirement is a big goal, and it takes decades of consistent saving to meet it. If you start thinking that other, short-term expenses come first (e.g. starting up a new household with your new spouse), there’s the danger that you’ll always think that way, and you’ll never start saving.

    The standard recommendation is to save 10% of your income, minimum, for retirement. So if you’re earning $3200 a month and you’re only able to save $200 total, that may not be enough.

  4. Johanna says:

    @Roshni: If you knew you wanted to save up for a down payment on a house, why did you use your father-in-law’s gift to pay down the condo mortgage instead of adding it to your down-payment fund? Unless you’re paying a sky-high interest rate on the condo, it will take much longer than three years before your savings in interest equal the amount of the original gift.

    It’s probably too late for you to undo that decision, but in case there’s anyone else out there in a similar situation: If you know you’ll need your savings for something in the short term, paying down long-term debts out of savings is almost always a bad idea.

  5. Debbie M says:

    @Joe – try buying index funds directly from the people who actually sell them. Lots of places sell S&P 500 funds.

    I started at Vanguard with their STAR fund (the only one with only a $1000 minimum) and kept adding more until I had enough for the funds I wanted (a $3000 minimum). Buying and selling are free (though restricted—they don’t want you day trading).

    @ Monica – you could also store things for other people. Your house would be much more reliable than a storage unit because you actually live there, so you would notice right away if it were flooding or bugs were getting in, etc. Of course you’d have to have a way to get the people’s stuff out when you wanted the rooms back.

    Or instead of renting to full-time roommates, maybe you could rent the rooms as offices or meeting rooms. Or you could have a mini bed and breakfast or just advertize the space whenever there’s a big event in your area (graduation, festivals, big-name festivals).

    Or you could use the space to do things that require a lot of space. For example, build some bookshelves or put together a complicated quilt.

    I’m sure there are some creative readers out there who could give you better ideas, too.

    @Christine – one thing about reunions is that there are a lot of bored spouses around. They will not mind you hogging some of their time by letting them talk about their careers.

  6. Lisa says:

    For Christina, Chase, and Tony, Trent has reviewed The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing on this site, and it is excellent. I really, really wish I had read it (or something like it) in my 20s instead of my 40s. (And once you’ve read that, check out his review of The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing.) I agree with Johanna that it’s never to early to start thinking about retirement.

  7. gonad says:

    Here’s a link to an interesting article on productivity:

    http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2010/05/how-and-why-to-stop-multitaski.html

  8. Ed Bisquera says:

    This is a great site and I’m glad I found it!

    So my questions is, is the 529 usable at most US Universities? And is it too late for establishing one for my 13 year old daughter?

    I like the tax advantages of a 529, but do you set it up through a broker or just direct?

    Thanks,

    Ed
    Social Media Consultant

  9. George says:

    Guillotine is wrong on sooo many levels… collecting heads of rich people?

  10. Tracy says:

    To the guy with the Schwab account: I recently started a Roth IRA with them, because of the low amount required to open and add. If you stick to Schwab’s offerings you can buy in without a fee–they have small selection of Schwab index mutual funds and ETFs, where there’s no fee to trade. It might be worth checking out.

  11. Becky says:

    Lost Cities is a great 2-player game that is interesting and not too complex; Coloretto and Zooloretto have a similar mechanic to Lost Cities and can be played by 2-5 players, but I’m not sure how well they play with two. I’d also suggest Wasabi!, which is pretty light and quick and has a fun theme.

  12. SZCZEBRZESZYN says:

    “My husband also has a retirement account in Colombia” I didn’t see any comment on this. I think if an immigrant to the US has a good deal back in the old country they should consider using it. Look at the risks. My spouse has access to a retirement scheme in the old country that is very nice; and it’s a stable country . . .

  13. Sargonas says:

    @Keri:

    Another few options:
    Chrononauts – 1-6 player, made by the same group that makes Fluxx, employees the same draw one, play one actions as Fluxx, but less chaotic/random luck.
    Fairy Tale – 2-5 player, set collection & drafting, where you are trying to build a collection of cards that work together, but cards are drafted so you have to watch what you give your opponents
    Coloretto – 2-5 player set collection, you are trying to collect a certain set of colours from a buildup on the table, interesting press your luck game

    If you interested in more board game style:
    Carcassone – someone already mentioned this but I would expand on this stating the Hunters & Gathers edition is great for 2-3 players
    Ingenious – 1-4 player abstract strategy game, about connecting colours to get points.
    Ticket to Ride – 2-5 player set collection & route building where you try to build train routes to connect various cities. I have not met anyone who does not enjoy this game on some level.

    There are many others, feel free to have a look at boardgamegeek.com

  14. Lawrence says:

    Trent, I used to invest exclusively in Vanguard index funds like the Total Stock Mark Fund and Total International. I was satisfied with Vanguard as I think it is one of the best fund managers out there but I couldn’t tolerate the wide swings the market was throwing my portfolio through. Recently have switched my portfolio over to the Permanent Portfolio and have been incredibly satisfied. Was a little doubtful at first in holding 25% gold, 25% cash, 25% long-term bonds and only 25% in stocks but I have been sleeping a lot better since the switch. The S&P 500 is down 6.38% since I made the switch. The permanent portfolio? Up 1.93%.

  15. almost there says:

    re: Sharebuilder, over 20 years ago I was investing in DRPs (Div. Reinvestment Plans). I had purchased MCD and for some reason cashed out. Looking at it now and the run up in share price since ’03 I regret getting out of drps. I decided to get back in with sharebuilder last week. I did sign up for their 20 purchses per month and paid the $20 for May. Not a big loss because the 16 bucks I overspent is made up by the $30 sharebuilder is paying to sign up through my C.U. Reevaluating the cost of 20 stock purchases per month I settled on just one, MCD. I plan on funding it for 10 years and see what the return is. I mostly invest in Vanguard mutual funds but thought I would try this one stock. I feel that unless one puts in plenty of time and effort at stock picking it is best to leave the stock picking to the big players.

  16. Doug says:

    Chase,

    Trent’s advice is pretty good – you need to determine why you’re investing before you can invest intelligently. You also need to educate yourself about investment options. There are a log of books on the subject. Visit web sites of the leading mutual fund companies (Vanguard, Fidelity, etc.) as they have a lot of helpful information. I disagree with Trent on one thing: you don’t need a broker if you’re going to invest in index funds. Most index funds can be purchased directly from the mutual fund company at no charge (no load funds). If you purchase from a broker, you’ll be paying a fee.

  17. patrick says:

    @Joe – Charles Schwab offers many no-fee no-load funds. I do the same thing ($100/mo) from my Schwab Brokerage and never pay a fee. Search their website and you’ll find them….SWPPX is their S&P index fund.

  18. Dave says:

    Trent,
    I’m disappointed. You should have told Joe that if you’re going to make routine contributions, funds will be cheaper than ETF’s. Joe could open up an account with Vanguard and invest in the same indexes for $0 per transaction.

  19. Carrie says:

    schwab has it’s own versions of most index funds and if you buy those there is no charge for the trade.

  20. Cheryl says:

    Christine, I second Trent’s advice about getting involved in the planning. I was reluctant when invited to be on the committee for my 20th high school reunion, but later found that the most satisfying part of the event was the planning. It’s a small group, so you get to talk to people at length and get better acquainted.

  21. Christina in NM says:

    Christine,
    I read “How to Work a Room” a few years ago and it’s a great book on how to network with others. It gives you ideas on how to break the ice.
    ~Christina

  22. Josh says:

    Joe,

    I realize you just opened your Schwab brokerage account, but close it out now. Move your money to Vanguard. You can open a brokerage account in your Roth IRA, and they now charge no fees for buying Vanguard ETF’s.

    Don’t just buy the S&P 500. That’s not diversification. You have to buy the whole US Stock Market via VTI and an int’l ETF as well.

    Before you jump on me for this Vanguard ETF comment, do your homework. The policy was just changed.

  23. Kerry D. says:

    Monica–for your extra space–if you don’t want to rent out to people to live there, what about renting the space as storage to friends or acquaintances? I know people who have asked to store things in my garage for a price! (Laughable since my garage is already full…) But, maybe in your case… Of course, access to the stuff will be a question to work out to your mutual satisfaction.

  24. Jackie says:

    I would never buy a game for a game-loving couple I only see a few times a year. At least not without a good return policy in case of the very strong possibility that they already have it.

  25. Eric says:

    No, no, no!

    If Joe is interested in buying an S&P 500 fund, and he’s already a Schwab customer, the best place is the Schwab S&P 500 Fund (SWPPX). Or the Schwab Large Cap ETF (SCHX). Dump whatever ETF’s youve already got and switch to the Schwab funds.

    The Schwab S&P 500 Index fund has the lowest expense ratio I’ve seen, even better than Vanguard’s fund, at an extremely low 0.09%. The only way you can usually get a better rate is by investing in admiral/select/high-roller funds which usually have a 100k minimum.

  26. anne says:

    awwwwww….

    i just love this: “this next Fluxx gathering is going to be at my house, and is really a surprise wedding shower for the couple.”

    i have no ideas for games. i just think this is so very sweet.

    for monica: i used to work in film production, and we used to have to rent locations. perhaps you could look into renting your house or portions of your house to film crews?? leaving a room empty might even be ok in this situation- they could dress the room anyway they wanted w/ furniture/accessories from other of your rooms, and some of their own pieces.

  27. Regarding what to do with the extra bedrooms in the house with no kids, I say go extreme and rent those rooms out to someone and make some extra income. Trent says buy items in bulk which I understand too, but I think you can get a bigger bang for your buck in lieu of filling up your extra bedrooms with toilet paper, paper towels, and other items that are not perishable.

  28. Patty says:

    two person games for Fluxx minded fans. We like Carcassonne and my husband also suggests puerto rico or java (which I have not played). Blockus is kind of fun too but better with 4 players.

  29. Patty says:

    for the renting out rooms for storage or B&B or renters you better look up all the rules on any of those ideas before you jump in. Anything bordering on business is going to have lots of extra costs and taxes and if you are storing other peoples stuff you’ll have to look into any insurance changes. All of that will eat into any money you are making. I”m not saying its an option but that you need to weigh all the risks and I think that is another reason why Trent suggested personal use of the space.

  30. FinanceFreak says:

    Tradeking has low commissions as well. Buying SPY as an ETF is far more cost efficient when compared to a mutual fund.

  31. Gillian says:

    Renting isn’t an easy income – remember that anyone who will live there should expect to be able to treat the house as their home too, not simply using one room as human storage space. If you don’t want to share your space, it’s probably not the best option – remember many people will want to bring partners or friends to their home just as you will with yours, and the thought might make you feel uncomfortable. You will also need to outfit each room with bedroom furniture which will be an upfront expense. Also, if you have big dogs, this may put off many renters.

  32. Patrick says:

    @Joe – Continue to contribute to your account monthly, but do not worry so much about purchasing funds monthly. You can still dollar cost average by investing quarterly or longer.

    (Surprisingly, 30 years of once a year contributions also counts as dollar cost averaging and the returns are in range for a 30 year monthly contributions. This is more apparent when transaction costs are higher.)

    Don’t let commissions eat up your principal – switch to the Scwab funds that are commission free – or switch brokerages. Fidelity offers 25 iShares ETF’s for free and Vanguard also offers a selection for free.

    If you do use Sharebuilder – set up your investing schedule so that you are not investing puny amounts every month. Your transaction costs should not exceed 2% of your investment. $4 trade for $100 investment is paying way too much.

  33. Kevin says:

    Question for the next reader mailbag: What did you think of the LOST finale? It’s catching a lot of flak for leaving so many questions unanswered (and even being a little ambiguous about questions it DID purport to answer). Did you find it satisfying or frustrating?

  34. HW says:

    My husband and I enjoy games. Here are a few other options for games good for 2 people:
    San Juan is a card game version of Puerto Rico for 2-5 players and lots of fun.
    There is a Settlers of Catan card game that is good for 2 players (only 2 can play) and provides a different twist on the game.
    We’ve found Skip-bo is a card game that usually works well for 2 players or several players.
    Risk using the Mission Risk rules can work for 2-6 players.
    Agricola works for 2 players or up to 5. The board is different depending on the number of players.

  35. prodgod says:

    Glad to see nobody seems to be struggling financially anymore (except for me, I guess). More and more letters are questions about what to do with all my extra money and what to do with all my extra space, etc. Not hatin’, just can’t relate.

  36. DrFunZ says:

    to: MONICA with the extra bedroom space…

    If you have extra storage space, a PICK-UP truck, and two strong people, then start working through craigslist. Buy moderately priced and sized items of quality and then re-sell them for $10-$20 more than you purchased them. every ten items puts $100+ in your pocket. Sometimes the prices on craigslist are ridiculously low… people simply want to get rid of stuff and are willing to let it go for very little money.

  37. Crystal says:

    Keri, Dominion is awesome! Our gaming group also really enjoys Power Grid, Carcasonne, Phase 10 (really great card game), Brass, and a bunch of others. You can check reviews at boardgamegeek.com…my husband loves that site for game research.

    Roshni, I’d also suggest a savings account like ING or Smarty Pig for stability. Congrats on being so far ahead of the game as well!

  38. Kate says:

    “At our wedding shower, my mother gave my wife a homemade recipe box with handwritten recipes from tons of different family members in it.”

    Great minds…. :) When one of my college roommates got married, I knew they didn’t need ordinary kitchen stuff, since they’d each been living off campus for over a year. But I also knew she hadn’t done much cooking. So my gift to her was a big spice rack, and all those invited to the shower had to bring a spice (I coordinated to avoid duplicates) and a favorite recipe they KNEW that used the spice… along with the dish itself, which became a very eclectic, pot-luck sort of refreshments for the shower!

    Gifts of this sort are fun, and the fun builds a solid start, whether the gift is for a wedding or a birth or a graduation. :)

  39. Dawn says:

    I’ve been a reader for a couple years but have never asked a question… until now. It’s a really important one. What did you think of the LOST finale?

  40. Mike says:

    For the guy who opened the Schwab account:

    I use them as well. If you have auto transfer monthly, you can setup automatic investment into any mutual fund or ETF with NO fees. That’s what I have done.

  41. Jose Orta says:

    Just found your website and am thrilled to that you are doing this. I especially like the questions and answers portion.

    Is it possible to do the question in a different color font from the answers? It would be easier for me to scroll from the question to the answer.

    Thank you so much.

    Jose

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