Reader Mailbag: Kitchens and Careers

Welcome to this week’s Reader Mailbag!

A note: I get enough questions to do two or three mailbags a week. I’ve considered putting a second Mailbag on Thursdays. Would this be of interest to you guys?

I recall a few months ago you were thinking seriously about cutting out all or most meat from your diet? Where did you get to with this? What was it inspired by? (I seem to remember there was a book that started you thinking about this?)

– Eve

In late 2008 to early 2009, I had a bit of a health scare that prompted me to start exercising more and eating better, a trend I followed during most of 2009. However, during the final crunch for my book, my diet and exercise regimens both went downhill. Now that the book is done, I’m putting both back into place.

I found a lot of inspiration from various books when I got started with this regimen. Two really stood out from the pack: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (which I actually reviewed here a while back) and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

My current plan is the “vegetarian until 6 PM” plan, which bascially means eating vegetarian for breakfast, lunch, and any daytime snacks, then eating a normal dinner.

Your post on Framework and distractions reminded me of an idea I’d heard of – a media fast. To drown out the noise of life and listen to ourselves and what we value rather than media outlets. No tv, no non fiction books, no music with words, no magazines. I’ve been meaning to try it soon for mental health reasons, but it also seems like a very frugal way to spend quality time. Here is a post on it from another blog.
– Amanda

I used to do “media fasts” somewhat regularly in college through the mid-2000s. I would allow myself books, but I wouldn’t watch any television, listen to the radio, read magazines, or use the internet in any fashion. I’ve done many week-long sessions of this, with one session lasting a month.

The biggest thing I noticed is how much the advertising shocks you when you stop doing this. Ads are everywhere, even in the content we read and listen to. It’s amazing how much content is there simply for the purpose of selling you stuff. Once you see it, it becomes hard to trust a lot of the messgaes out there.

I’d love to do it again, but at this point it would require a full-on vacation from The Simple Dollar, which is difficult. With my previous work, I could still easily do my job while doing a media fast, but that’s much harder when you’re basically writing for and managing a media property.

I am currently employed, but at about 1/2 the amount I was making a year and a half ago. I was making $72,000 – which helped me pay off all credit card debt, but I got laid off in Aug. 2008. I was unemployed for about three months and then found another job making around $35,000. My only debt right now is my mortgage – around $32,000 and my school loans – around $68,000 (and also about $300 in credit card purchases from Christmas, but that will be paid off within the month.) I have depleted the majority of my savings – mostly through making purchases that I probably could’ve lived without when I first got laid off, but needless to say I have about $500 in savings right now. That’s some background so here’s where my question begins, I have been making extra payments on my mortgage – my current payment is $300 a month (the joys of small town rural life) and I’ve been paying $65 extra a week – about $260 a month. I am employed in a state job and it looks like there’s a better than average chance that with the economy I could get laid off again this summer. Should I stop making the extra payments on my mortgage (currently 7.5%) and put all of that in to savings (at maybe 1.5% interest at ING), or should I keep making the extra payments until I can no longer make them? I am currently able to put about $200-300 into savings every month.
– Sandy

I would stop the extra mortgage payments (for now) and channel the difference into personal savings for a while.

The big reason for this move is that you need an adequate emergency fund, especially given your current financial situation. An unexpected event, like a car repair or a lost job, can really derail your fairly stable situation, causing you to have to dip into the debt pool to stay above water, and that can become a downward sprial.

How much should you have? I’d suggest having enough in your account to cover three months’ worth of living expenses. Since you’re fairly confident that you’ll be laid off again this summer, I’d probably keep going beyond three months.

So, I would just channel the extra mortgage payment purely into your savings for now so that you don’t have to rely on debt if you’re laid off.

I graduated last December and was blessed to get a job in my new field that began in January. My loans come due in July but I will apply for loan forgiveness with my new job and that will leave me with about $8000 principle. What I am wondering is if it is better for me to just pay it off or make a few months payment because of my credit rating. I use two credit cards monthly but pay my balance in full and I don’t have a car payment or a mortgage. I pay bills to my family where I live but my name is not on any of the utilities. I used to live in my own place so I did have bills in my name several years ago but I have no plans to change my current living situation. I am asking because of a previous post I read where a couple saw their insurance rate increase and their credit rating decrease because they had their bills paid.
– Andy

If you have credit cards and pay the balance in full each month, you’re doing what you need to do to maintain a good credit rating. Thus, I wouldn’t worry about maintaining that rating and instead would focus on getting yourself in the best position.

The advice about maintaining a good credit rating was directed towards people that had absolutely no lines of credit for a period of seven years, at which point their credit report was blank. If you’re paying off your credit card in full each month, this doesn’t apply to you. Even just leaving the card open would suffice.

I don’t know the exact ins and outs of your situation, but debt freedom is certainly a strong path to take in any situation. If you have the financial resources to pay the whole debt off, I’d do so.

I’m a 26-year-old woman working as a part-time music teacher in a local public school district. I’m extremely lucky, because my school district is paying for my master’s degree in full! I will graduate in May from a private university with my master’s in school counseling, with zero student loan debt. However, there is a clause in my teacher’s contract that states that I must stay in my current school district for one year after finishing my degree, or else I will need to pay back half of my tuition. In other words, if I leave my job next year to pursue my career in school counseling, I will owe $24,000 (my entire degree costs my district $48,000). My question is, should I stay one more year to eliminate my debt? Or should I take on the debt, knowing that I could potentially earn $45,000 in a new job? Is it ever smart to have debt? Other information: I currently have $3,000 left on a car loan, but other than that I have zero debt to my name. No credit card debt, no other tuition debt, nothing. I enjoy reading your website, and look forward to your feedback. Thanks so much!
– Jessica

There are two big questions I would think about here. First, how much would I “earn” in total over the next year if I stayed at my current job? That would be your current salary plus $24,000. Second, what’s my ability to actually get a different job this year as well as next year?

I don’t know what you’re earning part time, but if it’s even close to $20,000 a year, I would tend to argue for staying where you are. For one, it sounds like the salary at the other job is uncertain but has the potential of $45,000 a year. In this job market, that might not be a guarantee.

For two, a bird in the hand is almost always worth two in the bush. It’s rarely a good idea to turn away from a good offer to leap into the unknown chasing a potentially great one.

I have been thinking for the past several months (maybe a year) that a career change could be in order for me. I am currently in my fifth year of teaching high school English, a career I entered because of the opportunities to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I also wanted to share my passion for reading and writing, thinking that passion would serve me well in a teaching career.

I have gotten to a point in my teaching career where every day is a struggle. I dread going to work, to the point where my weekends are spent worrying about the coming week. I feel like a sizable portion of my teaching is spent on correcting misbehaviors and trying to motivate unmotivated students. I feel like I am forcing instead of teaching. I have tried several things, many that you outlined in your post on how to energize your career, but to no avail. I have been chair of a committee at school; I volunteered to mentor a student who needs to pass a crucial state test; I have tried several new approaches in the classroom; I have talked to colleagues about ways to improve my teaching or make the experience more positive. Nothing is working. I feel like I am constantly banging my head against the wall in frustration. Also, I have a 50-minute commute each way to school, which definitely adds to these frustrations.

During this year’s Christmas break, I began to seriously consider switching careers. Many people have told me I am a talented writer, and I think that if I could find a position where I could utilize that talent while still doing work that I find meaningful I could be much more successful, or at least more happy, than I am now.

The thought of making this change scares me, but it also excites me. I feel like I have been “in a funk” for the past few years because I have been so unhappy at work, to the point where friends and family have noticed. I don’t want to say that I am depressed, because I can’t make that clinical diagnosis, but I do feel like the character in the cartoons who has the raincloud directly overhead at all time. Actually my mom emailed me at one point last year and said that she could tell I was unhappy and she supported me in any decision I would make about my career.
– Justin

You should absolutely head towards being a writer. If that’s what you’re passionate about, that’s what you should be doing.

Right now, if I were you, I would spend as much of my time as I can using my current job as a platform to get ready for the next job. Ignore the drudgery of the day-to-day at your current job. View it instead as preparation for your next career. Go home from work each night and write. Write as much as you can. Get stuff down on paper (or in bit form). Start building up a big healthy cash reserve by living as cheaply as you can.

Make your big focus right now moving towards that career you want. Fill your thoughts with it. Spend all your spare time on it. Make it your focus, and cover every base you can before making that leap.

Then, reframe your current job not as your career, but as something you do to bring in cash to support what you’re really doing. You may find, eventually, that you’re earning some from writing and can move on to a part-time position doing something else to bring in supplemental income. Soon, you might be able to do it full time.

But you have to start. Today. If you don’t, you’ll be stuck where you are now, which sounds like a really unhappy place.

I’ve been a follower of The Simple Dollar for 4 years now. I paid off $15,000 in debt incurred from starting a nonprofit and paying its bills when it couldn’t afford to, and being caught in the middle of having to pay my own bills. Your website has kept me very motivated. Discussing Your Money or Your Life and getting the book myself totally changed my financial life. I paid off my credit card debts in 3 years, with a wedding thrown in between for which we paid cash. My savings have skyrocketed, my vehicles are now paid off, and so is my very humble home.

The small nonprofit cannot afford to pay me a salary, so I work full time (in a public school system). It’s a bit of a catch-22, I need a job to pay my bills, but the nonprofit can’t afford it, so I run it after work and on the weekends. I can’t continue to do both. We just signed the lease/purchase for the property we’re on, and we’re well on our way to pay cash when the lease expires and the purchase part of the agreement kicks in. I want to plant a corn maze on a section of our property that’s physically detached from the rest of the farm. If it makes as much money as I earn on my paying job, I want out and focus on the nonprofit, which, if I could spend more time on it, would generate much more income and serve many more people. And maybe even pay a salary. I’ll need two more years to make 10 years in the school system, but I’m so incredibly unhappy that I want out sooner. The 10 year retirement income would be very minimal.

I’m totally motivated to do the cornmaze, but I’m still scared to jump. The corn maze would operate for 1.5 -2 months. Costs associated with clearing and prepping the site will come out of whatever we’ve already saved for the purchase (which I found shockingly expensive: $1,500 an acre to clear, so at this point $15,000). An 8 acre section behind us is available for $25,000 and will be needed to make the maze a decent size instead of 2 acres. We can pay cash for all of it, which will take away from our savings to purchase the property when the lease expires. I’ve discussed my plan with others in the industry, as well as the county agent, feed coop, and the general public, as well as those in education, several of whom I work with. The consensus is that it would be very well received and probably successful. I want to do this, but I’m nervous. I shouldn’t be, I have experience running a small business and have all the resources. Do I just close my eyes and take the plunge?
– Anita

From what I know about corn mazes, they wouldn’t take a lot of time to set up and run. You basically plant a field, grow the corn, then chop down a maze in the corn. You then set up a booth and charge admission.

Since you work in a public school system, you have the summer off, right? Why not just plant the field in the early spring, wait until summer, then lay the groundwork for the corn maze? You can then see first hand whether or not it earns good money. If it does, just work out the remainder of your contract with the school and go with the non-profit full time.

The big thing here is this: there are a lot of businesses that seem really good on paper that just don’t work in real life. The corn maze relies on people (customers) actually wanting to go through a corn maze. It’s often hard to tell if such a market exists in a large fashion without careful market study and, while your advice from people has probably been good advice, it’s really hard to be certain it will work. Since such a side business wouldn’t require a ton of work during the school year, why not give it a shot starting this spring, get the corn maze going in the summer, and see what happens?

I read your website almost daily and one of the themes that you discuss often is having a “big, fat emergency fund”. I certainly concur with this but how big are you thinking exactly? Here is my situation: I’m 39 years old and a single mother of two. I have a steady income and contribute the maximum allowable amount for the employer-based retirement ($16500/annually). I have maxed out the Roth IRA as well and put about $50 per month into each of my children’s 529 accounts. I am focusing more on retirement savings than my kids’ college funds thinking that there are alternate ways to pay for college and my children should contribute to their college education. In addition to the employer-based retirement plan and the Roth IRA, I put an additional $500 every pay period (26 pay periods annually) into a liquid money market account. My available liquid cash is about $31,000. The only major ongoing debt I have is a $1283/month mortgage with an interest rate of 4.625%. I should be able to pay that off in about 10 years. I pay my credit cards off in full each month.

My salary is quite stable as I work for the federal govt. However, I am thinking about a career shift to nursing next year, which will require me to go back to school full time for at least 2 years. Since I will potentially be without an income for at least 2 years, I am thinking that I should have a cash fund for at least 2 years worth of living expenses, which is about $60,000 (includes mortgage, groceries, utilities, some entertainment, childcare). So, do you think that I should use the $60,000 as my target for the emergency fund? I’m only about half way there and I’m not sure that I will be able save the additional $30,000 in available cash needed by the end of this year, even if my kids and I only eat beans and rice.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this.
– Tas

My general rule of thumb for emergency funds is to have 2-3 months of living expenses saved per person in your household. Thus, if you’re single, 2-3 months might cut it. If you’re married, have 4-5 months or so. If you have kids, make it last even longer than that.

It sounds like you’re probably somewhere in the ballpark with that amount right now. It’s really hard to tell without more specifics on your life.

What do you do beyond that? You have to sit down and start assessing the goals you have for your life. Do you want to live elsewhere? Do you want to travel? Do you want to support certain causes? Do you want to start a business?

These are decisions that are up to you, but once you have a great emergency fund in place, they become real questions that you have to think about.

I have a question that has several different parts. First, I’m moving this year to a new city and out on my own for the very first time. I’ll be living by myself in an apartment and I’m so excited! I would like your advice for stocking a kitchen for one who likes to cook without spending a mint. I have been given leave to shop our house and I will definitely be doing that, taking my mother’s china and so forth, but there are other things I’m going to need and I’ve started a list. I definitely intend to hit the yard sales in a major way but somethings I’d like to purchase new, like knives for instance. I remember you wrote an article about buying a new knife. I don’t want an extravagant fabulous one but neither do I want cheapie cheapo. What do you recommend and how many for a moderate cook? What other things would you recommend buying new for and what do you recommend looking for in yard sales? I really appreciate any feedback.
– Sue

For plates and flatware, you can probably find appropriate material at yard sales if you look around. A simple set can often be found on the cheap from people who have upgraded their plates and flatware.

As for pans and knives, stick with buying the minimum number of items at first and study them carefully. 95% of what I do in a kitchen in terms of cutting, for example, is done with a single knife – my chef’s knife. 90% of my kitchen cooking is done in an enameled stainless steel pot – yes, everything from frying an egg to making soup. You really don’t need fifteen different kitchen implements to do variations on the same task.

In terms of bang for the buck, I usually trust Cooks Illustrated for buying kitchen items. I would probably point you towards the three piece Fibrox set to cover all of your knife needs (between the chef’s knife and the paring knife, you probably won’t need more).

As for pots and pans, I’d trust Cooks Illustrated’s Ideal Cookware Set a la carte. I would probably just get a piece at a time – and I’d start, honestly, with the enameled French oven. We have two of those and we can pretty much cook everything in them.

If you can find items similar to what’s on that list at yard sales, good luck. Once, I found a bunch of All-Clad stainless steel stuff at a yard sale, but I didn’t have cash on hand to buy it. I asked the people to hold them for me while I went to get cash, but when I got back, they had sold it because “they didn’t know if I was really coming back.” (Needless to say, I immediately left and didn’t buy a thing from them.)

How about them Saints?
– Michael

All I have to say about the Super Bowl is this. Almost three months ago, Evan wrote in with the following question, which appeared in Mailbag #89:

Peyton Manning or Tom Brady?

My response?

Drew Brees.

I think the Saints had more to play for than the Colts did and that made all the difference in the world. New Orleans should be a fun place between now and Fat Tuesday.

Got any questions? Ask them in the comments and I may address them in a future reader mailbag.

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  1. Amy says:

    Yes, mailbags are often my favorite posts. Would enjoy seeing another one on Thursdays.

  2. T says:

    Yes, yes, yes!! Almost every mailbag contains multiple topics of interest for me! I’d love to see it 2 or 3 times a week!

  3. Christine says:

    I really like the mailbags as well. I would definitely be happy with twice a week. Maybe I’ll even get around to submitting my own question. :)

  4. Johanna says:

    Wow, three questions in a row from teachers considering career changes. Did you do that on purpose?

    It’s kind of sad that we as a society don’t value education enough to make teaching an attractive career for people who are/would be good at it.

  5. JJ says:

    I also really enjoy the mailbags, so go for it!

  6. IASSOS says:

    Jessica should also consider the effect of taxes and other extractions from top-line pay. Would she have to pay income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare on the 24,000? If not, it is really worth more than that. I would also expect that 24K would bump her into a higher tax bracket, if it is viewed as ordinary income.

  7. Shevy says:

    @Jessica
    I agree with a lot of Trent’s response, but I’d add one thought. The school district you work for *paid* for your *entire* masters. That’s huge. And all they want from you in return is your committment to stay with them for *1* year. I don’t know how much you make as a part-time music teacher but, even if the math was slightly in favour of your leaving to take a counselling position (it seems unlikely that the financial difference will be very large once you consider the $24,000 you’d then owe them) I think you should stay for the year anyway.

    First of all, it’s only fair. You made at least an implicit promise when you received the tuition money from them. Second, you have to consider how you will look to prospective employers. What if another district wants to offer you a 3 year contract? How would they know you’d stay the full 3 years? Maybe you’d find a job that was better still in a year or two and leave them. I think leaving without working the year says negative things about loyalty. Finally, there’s an altruistic reason. If you don’t stay, how easy will it be for the next person who wants to get their masters? You could ruin it for many other teachers who might have been happy to stay in that district for many years after receiving that kind of assistance.

  8. Maya says:

    I think doing the mailbag twice a week is a great idea! I also like how you’re starting to give a title/theme to the mailbags.

    And Johanna, I couldn’t agree with you more about how we pay our teachers. I work 2 jobs (one is full-time the other is part-time). At my part-time job, I work with 3 teachers who are in their 40s and 50s.

  9. Molly says:

    Yes, more mailbags, please!

    @Justin – I completely agree with Trent on this one. You DO exhibit signs of depression – and you shouldn’t have to dread work on the weekends or hate being there. It is NOT worth it. You sound excited about writing – what’s the worst that can happen if you go for it?

    @Sue – Take your time outfitting your kitchen. It is MUCH better to have a few pieces you really like and use a lot instead of a lot of crap. I’ve actually had some good luck at thrift stores (in the fancy part of town). Have fun!

  10. Go for it on the mail bags.

  11. Valerie says:

    Michael asked “How about them Saints?”

    Although people try to imagine how we feel about this win, they may only get a glimpse. People across America are in an economic recovery, but not from the type of diaster we experienced of losing it ALL. The collective will of this city, of these fans, of this team to push our city forward to new heights and new goals, and achieve them helped in this victory. This win symbolizes unity of our city through tremendous strife. And unless you’ve experienced the worst like we did, you’ll (fortunately) never know how sweet this achievement really is. We have a new mayor elected Saturday and a champion team. I think we’re on our way to a great recovery. Thanks for cheering us on!
    Valerie

  12. J says:

    @Johanna — The first teacher (Jessica) just got a $48K master’s degree while working part-time(!) and now is looking to get into a different aspect of education that she finds more attractive.

    It also appears that there’s no amount of money that could make Justin want to teach another day, it looks like he’s miserable in his job.

    Anita is trying to get her non-profit to grow and the school system is her way of paying the bills until the non-profit can pay her.

    I do agree that we need quality education in this country, and people need to be properly compensated, but I don’t know how paying teachers more would have made any differences in the lives of these people.

  13. Daria says:

    the school district just requires staying with them for one year but she didn’t say that she has to stay in her “current” job for one year. Is it possible that there is a counseling job within the school district or an administrative job within the school district that her masters may qualify her for that will pay more than a part time music position? Won’t new positions open during the summer before the new school year starts that can make it more appealing to honor the agreement? I also second honoring the implicit promise that she made. It’s only for one year.

  14. Josh says:

    Are you still planning to do an update on your friend who purchased some land and was working on improving it? Maybe I just missed it, but if not I’d love to hear how it is going, as I hope to go down a similar path once I can afford the land.

  15. Beth says:

    Justin,

    I have been teaching high school English in a public school for 11 years and can hardly stand to go to work anymore. I completely understand your frustrations — there’s very little teaching involved. I, too, have tried to be more positive, have tried to focus on using different methods, all to no avail. I have also been looking for a way out.

    Making matters worse, my school system just announced 4% pay cuts for all teachers in the coming year (we received no raise last year). They also say we’ll now need to contribute more to our health insurance and retirement. They are also cutting teachers, so those of us left will have very large classes. In the midst of all this, people are regularly writing in to the newspaper saying that teachers are paid too much anyway and to quit griping about pay cuts because the rest of the country has already had to deal with them.

    Sorry for the gripe session. Teaching is a depressing game to be in right now.

    Best of luck to you.

  16. Johanna says:

    @Maya: It’s not just the pay, although that’s part of it. It’s also the way the job is set up. People like Justin should not have to spend their days “correcting misbehaviors” rather than sharing their passion for their chosen subjects. Justin sounds like he would still hate his job even if his salary were doubled.

    I don’t know what the solution is (smaller classes? separate staff to deal with disciplinary problems?) but it’s not this. Teachers who are good at teaching are being driven out of the profession (or are never considering it in the first place), and we’re left with a bunch of teachers who are good at babysitting and correcting misbehaviors.

    Of course, there are some good teachers who stick with teaching. But think how much better it would be if *all* the good teachers stuck with it, and *everyone* who would make a good teacher actually went into teaching.

  17. Kat says:

    Jessica, there are certain qualifications in the IRS tax code (basically, three questions) and then the money you received for school would be tax free (and it sounds like you would qualify for it). No federal income tax taken out, no social security, no state taxes. That’s a lot of money to get tax free, and should be a consideration when you look at other possible salaries, you’d have to make a lot more than $24k extra to come even. Also, have you asked if now that you have a Masters that the place where you work would let you switch jobs? If you don’t hate your job or where you work, I would stay for the year that you agreed to in order to get the full tuition amount.

    And, yes, more mail bags are good!

  18. Ellen says:

    Anita – Even though the retirement at 10 years is minimal, I strongly recommend that you hang in there 2 more years (this from someone who left a job 6 months before being fully vested, years ago). Also, have you really run all the numbers on getting the corn maze in place, beyond buying the acreage and prepping the ground? How much would you have to charge (given the projected attendance figures) to just break even; liablity insurance costs, cultivation costs for the corn, advertising, etc? Even if the initial #s look ok, it could take 2 or more years for the corn maze to start turning a profit, as it takes awhile for something like that to develop a following & become known in the area – you rarely can expect top income from a new venture in the first year. Also, Trent, I think there’s a little more involved than just sowing the seeds & then mowing down the corn. Lastly, from a farmer’s wife, you have to keep in mind when planting just one crop, the worst case scenario which is the corn dying – & in your case, a rainy October which would keep the crowds down. Just be sure you’ve considered worst AND best scenarios before quitting that job in the hand!

  19. Johanna says:

    @J: See my comment #15. I never said that low salaries were the only problem.

  20. Hannah says:

    I always look forward to the mailbags, so two a week would be great!

  21. Melissa says:

    @Sue – I also really like the _Cooks Illustrated_ information, and I’d like to add that we do almost all of our cooking (for a family of 2) in a 12″ non-stick skillet. Many of those recipes come from my _America’s Test Kitchen_ recipe books, and require that large a surface to reduce a sauce or properly saute a vegetable.

  22. Sam says:

    Long time reader, first time commenting….I was able to identify with multiple questions in this today’s mailbag….1) Because Im a teacher 2) because of the cornmaze

    For the music teacher– is it possible to get a counseling position in the district she already works in? It seems that the district would want to pay for her Master’s to keep her talent in their district?

    For the Corn Maze–I think one expense that was forgotten was insurance? In my area, that can be a huge expense for agri-tourism type activities. It only takes one kid getting hurt and one lawsuit to follow to clear out your entire investment. Hence, the high cost of insurance policy.

  23. KC says:

    Sue – Dont’ forget to ask around to family. When I moved out on my own (and when my sister did sometime later) our extended family gave us a lot of stuff. Many people have multiple sets of dishes, glassware, flatware and other kitchen necessities. People die and there basic kitchen needs go into a basement or an attic. So probably you have family members who have a lot of extras. I’m not sure I’ve ever bought much for my kitchen. Everything was either a hand-me-down, or a gift (wedding, holiday, birthday, etc).

  24. Shevy says:

    @Anita
    You said you’re well on your way to pay cash when the lease portion of your agreement expires. How far in the future is that? The $25,000 the additional 8 acres will cost is going to “take away” from your ability to pay for the land you currently reside on (I assume from your comment about owning your “humble” home that you probably own a mobile home situated on private property and are leasing to own the land it sits on).

    You already know from starting the non-profit that things don’t always work out financially, at least in the short term. You need to look at a worst-case scenario.

    What if you quit your job, giving up that income and the small but real ongoing pension you’d have at the 10 year mark? Then, the non-profit doesn’t take off the way you hope it will. Instead the economy experiences further difficulties and people tighten up even further than they have recently in their charitable giving (I *work* for a non-profit and it’s not easy right now). So, perhaps you go back into debt with the non-profit. You plant the corn maze but a hail storm takes it out just weeks before your maze is ready to open.

    I know that sounds rather doom & gloom, but any one of those things could legitimately happen and impact you negatively (the first is actually guaranteed if you quit your job). Two or 3 together could mean that you wouldn’t have the money you need to pay for your current property when it comes due.

    If your agreement is for anything less than 5 years I would be tempted to move very slowly. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try planting this spring but don’t quit your teaching job for the fall yet. Who will clear, plant & weed, BTW, your hubby or hired help since you will clearly still be teaching this spring, regardless? I don’t see 8 acres as being a weekend kind of task.

    I’d keep working for one more year anyway (probably 2), even though I realize it would be a huge strain in the short term and that you’d need to have extra help during September and October to sell tickets, lead groups, etc. Would it be possible to ask for a 6 to 8 week leave of absence during that time? Honestly, I know you really want out but I’m a big fan of passive income and working the 2 more years will give you that cushion of security (small though it might be in and of itself).

    I’d probably wait just a while longer with the non-profit before really pushing on it anyway. I think you’ll get better results with less effort if you wait until the economy improves somewhat more. There’s also a bit of lag time between when things get better and people feel secure enough to start giving at their previous level again.

    As for the corn maze idea itself, it’s always popular (so long as there aren’t already several established ones in the area). I’ve usually seen it combined with a pumpkin patch and it’s a great draw for kids. School groups often make a day of it at these kind of attractions (especially if you have a small petting zoo, pumpkin carving, hay rides and similar activities) and you probably have a nice “in” there with individual teachers, if not with your school district as a whole. Once you get them coming, school groups tend to keep coming back year after year.

  25. Michael says:

    I think a second mailbag would be a great idea. I always enjoy reading them.

  26. J says:

    @Johanna — I believe you described the entire working world. Every profession has positive and negative aspects, those who succeed in a profession find ways to deal with these aspects. Those who cannot move on to other things. It doesn’t mean that society is broken, it’s just how it is.

    I wish I could spend my days only working on my passions, too, but that’s not how it works. I have to endure difficult people, paperwork, shifting priories and bureaucracy for a good deal of the day. But I make the time to work on the things I find interesting, too, and come up with ways of making the boring tedium more bearable.

  27. Lindsay says:

    Yes! I do enjoy the mailbag and would love to see another!

  28. todo es bien says:

    More Mailbags Please! You have become the “Dear Abby of the Dollar”! ; ) I wouldnt mind seeing them three times a week if you are up for it. Thanks for asking.

  29. A.M.B.A. says:

    Re: teaching. I’m a 30 year veteran K-12 public school teacher. A teacher either has or doesn’t have the classroom management skills pretty well set by the end of their 2nd year. Managing 25+ kids in a classroom is a MAJOR part of K-12 teaching. If a teacher isn’t cutting it with management skills, it’s best for everyone involved for the teacher to move on. Wishing to only passionately Impart your vast knowledge of your chosen area of study is best served in graduate school. And even in those ivory towers, one has mundane tasks, department politics , etc. to endure.

  30. NMPatricia says:

    Flip side of the mail bag question. I get more out of your other posts. Being retired and having the kids out of the house, there are other concerns on my mind other than what I usually read. So I would not vote for the mailbag. I would like to see more from your passion for cooking.

  31. Caleb Hicks says:

    I am 23, married, about to graduate, and debt free. My wife and I just moved so that she can begin student teaching in the school district that she hopes to get a job in next year. She will graduate in May and begin working in August as a Special Education teacher. I will graduate next December, hopefully with a paid internship lined up.

    We will have little or no income over the next 3-4 months, as my wife is student teaching, and I am taking 19 credits of school to finish up this semester. After living with family for the past year, we have a decent amount of money saved that should cover us for the duration of the semester. I am looking for a part-time position, but as you can guess, it is not entirely easy to find a job right now, especially with my odd schedule, and the fact that I would only be working for 5-6 months. I have applied for the Census.

    Despite our lack of income right now, we both would like to get started on retirement accounts. I just read an article at another Personal Finance blog about the detriments of waiting to begin funding retirement accounts. We would like to get started.

    My parents give a gift of $10,000 to help with the downpayment on a home. I am wondering what your thoughts are on asking for this $10,000 now, to put into Roth IRA accounts for each of us, likely with Vanguard. We would place the money in index funds. I know that Roth IRA’s allow for a withdrawal for purchasing a home, should we decide to do that in a couple of years. We have thought about buying a home, but realize that we would not have the money to supplement that $10,000 downpayment for at least 2 years. I realize that the biggest benefit of compound interest only comes if the money stays in the
    account, but I think this may be a better option than having the money sit in my parents’ savings account over the next 2+ years. I am not sure of what tax consequences there would be, if any, from my parents giving us the gift early as opposed to a downpayment assistance.

    What are your thoughts? I look forward to hearing your opinion.

  32. Spreadsheet Man says:

    “somethings I’d like to purchase new, like knives for instance”

    You only really need a chef’s knife and a pairing knife for cooking. If you get a pairing knife with a finely serrated edge you can even cut tomatoes with it.

    A couple of steak knives are handy for eating with, but not so useful for cooking.

  33. Nicole says:

    I kind of liked the single post “Dear Trent” letters better than these grab bags.

    #26 You’re way to optimistic about graduate school. Classroom management is still a huge part of even that (on top of the mundane and political).

    On the other hand, everybody has one really bad semester/year in their teaching careers. Mine was the third semester I taught. The next year I got a teaching award for the same class. One disaster doesn’t mean that every year will be the same, especially if you get feedback and support from your more experienced colleagues.

  34. Crystal says:

    More mailbag days would be great!

    To all the teachers who hate their jobs, please pursue something else! My husband was getting clinically depressed as an 8th grade Science teacher and is now taking graduate classes in order to become a school librarian instead…better hours, less bureaucracy. Just knowing that he is moving on to something else has turned him into a happier man.

    It is sad that the school system has made is so hard to enjoy teaching…it is an atmosphere of the administration and parents against the teachers. It’s depressing and leaves teachers in a bad position every time.

  35. A.M.B.A. says:

    #28 Nicole-you are so right. However, it is a different skill set when managing groups of 5 year olds, 15 year olds or 25 year olds.
    And yes, I had the less than wonderful year here and there, too. I still maintain that a teacher either has or doesn’t have the management skills needed by the start of year three. And if it’s not there, it’s time to look at other options for employment.

  36. Mandy says:

    I would like to see another mailbag. Often readers ask questions that I had thought about myself. (and sometimes questions that I didn’t even know I had!) Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom with us!

  37. John says:

    I like mailbags more than other posts, for what it’s worth.

  38. Beth says:

    I agree with others about the mailbags and the “ask the reader” type posts being my favourites too. They’re what keep me reading TSD.

  39. Michelle says:

    There’s a lot more to a corn maze then “cutting the pattern” in the corn. You have to plan it out BEFORE you plant, and not plant where you want the maze to be. You can make a lot of money on a corn maze, but you earn it!

  40. Mol says:

    Trent, I am 22 and schooling to become a registered dietitian. I have several different goals I want to attain in my life, but many of them my life is just not in the right circumstance that I can take action on them (for example, I’ve wanted to get a show dog and take that on as a hobby for a while now and I entered into a relationship where with my kitties and his kitties combined we have WAY too many pets for me to event think about this). I spend a lot of time researching (more like using it as an outlet to feel closer to it, because I feel so unfulfilled on not being able to act on these goals other than that) them, and I feel like I spend so much time researching these things that I am neglecting my day-to-day life with school and stuff. Do you have any productive suggestions for fulfilling the satisfaction for different goals when you just cannot act on them yet?

  41. Crystal says:

    Management skills in the classroom are just one part of the equation. My husband doesn’t want to leave teaching because of the kids (classroom management), he wants to escape the policies and procedures of the administration.

    The administration has made it against the rules to hand our failing grades if students don’t turn in homework since it would make it too hard for them to pass…isn’t the point that they could do their homework to pass?!

    They also fuss at the teachers if too many of the kids are failing…even if it is because the kids skip class every other day or refuse to pay attention. But you can’t send them to the office or you get labeled as a teacher that doesn’t “handle” their problem students.

    My favorite is when they started taking away opportunities for teachers based on how well their students perform on standardized tests. If a teacher has a class of regular kids and special needs kids, he/she is judged the same as the teacher with the advanced kids. How awesome is that?!

    Oh, and the administration chose to keep giving homeowners in their district a huge deduction on their school taxes but have frozen teachers’ salaries for 2 years now and they were already under-paying them compared to the surrounding districts by $3000 a year.

    Needless to say, many teachers are abandoning ship at the end of this year.

  42. kristine says:

    Johanna,

    Money is the number one way we as a society express our priorities, and show our appreciation.

    So yes, more money might make a difference. It is feeling valued, not just emotionally, but tangibly, that can help.

    I am a very well-paid teacher, and on the days I dread going to work, the pay helps. It truly does.

    A professional level of pay means being respected as a professional by the community. It is this implied repsect that can hold you together when at times you feel as you get little repsect from the children for whom you are knocking yourself out, and spend 99% of your day with.

    As to the woman who wants to leave for greener pastures- it makes more financial/security sense to stay the year. But I doubt that any other district will know, uless you tell them, that the former school foot the master’s bill, especially for a part-timer. It’s very uncommon.

  43. jgonzales says:

    Yes on more reader mailbags!

  44. partgypsy says:

    Anita I am not a farmer so I could be totally off base, but my question is after all your expenses are involved, how much money do you need to make to both pay off 25 thousand dollars AND make a profit on the maze?. It seems like corn mazes are more lucrative for those who happen to have that land already, not someone paying that kind of money for acreage on top of costs creating/maintaining the maze. I also agree with others to not put all your eggs in 1 basket. 10 year pension is better than no pension.

  45. Nicole says:

    #30… If only it were so… You’d be surprised at the immaturity of some of these students. I’ve found myself more and more using tips I learned watching my son’s preschool teachers!

  46. friend says:

    Trent, I don’t care if you do more mailbags or not, but when you do them, I wish they could be more focused, with fewer questions in each. Also, I think you could edit the questions down some; people do go on & on & on.

  47. hattie combs says:

    Yes, absolutely more mailbags AND single-post answers!

    Also…did I totally miss something, or did the answer to “Tas” seem like an answer to some other question?

  48. Jill says:

    In terms of mid-level to good knives, if you aren’t in a rush, you can do fairly well at the overstock/discount stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Tuesday Morning and the like. Our knife block is filled with knives from Wusthof, better Henckels, and even Shun all bought at least 50% cheaper from those kinds of stores (and sometimes more) than you’d find elsewhere.

  49. Angie says:

    Yes on the Mailbags!

  50. prodgod says:

    I’m continually amazed at the seemingly low cost-to-benefit ratio of college educations, especially advanced degrees. I hope passion for your chosen profession fills gaps that the salary does not. Personally, I’d be rather disappointed to invest some much time, energy and money for so little financial return. I realize there are certainly other motivations, but “making a living” is usually ranks up there.

  51. Jonathan says:

    I enjoy the mailbags very much. I’m sure I would enjoy another mailbag day.

  52. sonya says:

    I also think a second reader mailbag a week would be great!

  53. Catherine says:

    Personally, reader mailbags are one of my favorite features and I always look forward to them. I would definitely be in favor of a second one during the week.

  54. Melissa says:

    Another “yes” vote for the reader mailbags!

  55. jim says:

    re: Tas,

    I’m not clear on what she’s wanting to do exactly. She talks about going back to school for 2 years and asks if her emergency fund should equal 2 years expenses.

    An emergency fund is for emergencies. If you plan to go to school for 2 years then thats not an emergency. Its your plan. How do you plan to pay for 2 years of nursing school & living expenses?

    If she has some other source of money in mind to pay for the nursing school & living expenses then thats fine. But if she needs to fund it herself from cash savings then she should have cash savings adaquate to pay for the schooling & living.

    Thats not an ‘emergency fund’ but instead a ‘going back to school fund’.

    The emergency fund should be separate from her college savings. The emergency fund is for things like a broken furnace or a car failure or expensive dental work or unemployment.

    I would plan for however much money you need to pay for your school PLUS a 3-6 month expenses emergency fund.

  56. Andy RN says:

    To the person who wants to become a nurse. I would not leave a job to do this. Maybe if you can do it part-time while still employed. New nurses are NOT getting hired.There really is no guarantee that you will be hired. Many have had their wages frozen and will have them cut back.What will you do after getting the degree and then not getting a job?Do you really want to work shifts and every other weekend and holiday at this point in your life?Please think about that before deciding.
    And how outrageous that a school district paid $48000 toward a degree for a part time employee.That money came from taxes on money others worked very hard for.You morally owe that district.

  57. Curtis says:

    I’m rarely interested in more than half of the questions in your mailbag. It doesn’t seem to me that an extra mailbag would add value to your site.

  58. KittyBoarder says:

    Yes, more mailbag.
    I know some readers ask you to edit the questions and reduce the amount of questions to be focused. I disagree.

    For one, it takes time to edit original questions. I’d rather you the blogger focus on your part of the answers… And,it’s nice to see the original version of the reader submits anyway..

    Keep them coming..

  59. Jamie says:

    Here’s a question for a future mailbag.

    My husband and I owe about $18,500 on three separate student loans and $13,000 on one credit card. All of this is at decent interest rates. We do not have a mortgage, car loan, or any other debt. We are in the process of selling a mobile home that we purchased during college and for which we will receive about $12,000. Because we are a family of four that lives on one smallish income and has no other investment, this is the biggest windfall that we will have in any kind of foreseeable future. We are considering putting all of that money toward student loan debt. Other options would be to set some of it aside for a future investment (most likely a house), a bigger emergency fund (ours is all but depleted), a modest vacation (we have airmiles that we’re itching to use), or a grad school fund (a goal we’ve been reconsidering lately). We feel that it would be immensely satisfying to pay off some debt, toward which we have been steadily plodding for a while, yet we are wondering if we will wish later that we’d kept some for one of these other goals. What do you think?

  60. Kelly says:

    I like the Mailbag posts! Please do more!

  61. Sandy says:

    Thanks for answering my question Trent, I really appreciate your thoughts. My significant other agrees with you – it’s just so nice to watch that mortgage reduce so quickly, but I know you’re right too. My car is almost 10 years old and while it runs great now what if….. especially considering that I drive 30 miles one way to my current job. So I’m going to take your suggestions and get my savings built back up.
    Keep up the great work, I love your site!

  62. Yes on more mailbags. It’s my favorite thing each week. Well, that and the Time Machine.

  63. Sarah says:

    I actually prefer your standard posts, Trent. I like your detailed posts where I can follow your logic and learn a lot on one topic. The reader mailbag is good too, though, and I’ll still read it.

  64. Michele says:

    Trent- yes, mailbag on Thursdays would be good.
    Jessica- keep the job for a year. If you can afford to work there while you are in school, you can afford to get a $48,000 loan paid off in a year. If you are that marketable now, with a master’s degree, you will be just as marketable a year later. My oldest son met his wife while she was working for NAS after getting her master’s degree paid off and the only condition was work for the federal government for 1 year after graduation.(she’s a computer science major) She got an amazing job with a private company after that one year, and now makes over $100,000 a year and has no student loan debt. It was well worth if for my daughter in law!

  65. laura says:

    @ Tas

    At first I was thinking I would save 2.5 years’ worth of expense. you can’t guarantee that you’ll find a job right away so that will give you some cushion.

    But really, if I were honest with myself, I would save 3 years’ worth just in case you can’t find a job right away. That way if I find a job @ month 6 after school, I would still have a 6-month emergency fund in place. If I found a job 4 months after school, that would be 8 months, my preferred amount. And if I found a job right away, well, then i would have some reward money for all of my hard work.

    But just because there is a shortage of nurses right now doesn’t mean you’ll find a job right away. Hospitals may have hiring freezes due to budget cuts. You may not be able to find a job.

    I was in my last semester of school for being a court reporter. I got into an accident and could no longer be a court reporter. Something could happen and you may not physically be able to work. So I would definitely have 3 years living expenses since you have kids. If you were single, you could make do with less, but i wouldn’t chance it in your shoes.

  66. Gidon says:

    I would suggest considering categorizing the questions in the mailbag, and sending them out on separate days.

    Also – Wouldn’t a great name for Anita’s project be “The Amazing Maize Maze”?
    :-)

  67. Peggy says:

    Yes! More mailbags please. I love the wide range of topics covered.

  68. deRuiter says:

    “Once, I found a bunch of All-Clad stainless steel stuff at a yard sale, but I didn’t have cash on hand to buy it. I asked the people to hold them for me while I went to get cash, but when I got back, they had sold it because “they didn’t know if I was really coming back.” (Needless to say, I immediately left and didn’t buy a thing from them.)” Trent, people do this to yard sale sellers ALL THE TIME, AND 80% NEVER COME BACK. The point of a yard sale is to get rid of the stuff as quickly as possible. If those folks had held the set for you, and you didn’t come back, at the end of the day, THEY’D HAVE BEEN STUCK WITH THIS BULKY STUFF. It’s a good reason to carry cash. Cash TALKS! It enables you to bargain for the absolute best price, it enables you to buy on the spot, it insures you get the best price and deal at yard, estate and tag sales. I NEVER hold anything when running estate sales, or yard sales. I gave up depending upon “be backs” decades ago, mostly they do not come back and buy! The husband / wife refuses permission to buy, they really have no money and are just making conversation which gets them the high of negotiating but without having to pay, they change their mind, they get distracted and the sale is over. RUNNING A SALE? NEVER HOLD ANYTHING UNLESS IT IS PAID IN FULL. And as for your not buying anything else, if there was good stuff at a good price, it is your loss and not theirs. They most likely sold it to someone else, a well advertised sale is like that, there are lots of buyers. Yard, estate, tag and house sales are a business, and if you’re not prepared to buy on the spot, your value to the seller, is nil. It’s not personal, it’s a business. A bird in the hand is worth any number of nebulous “be backs.”

  69. deRuiter says:

    “Once, I found a bunch of All-Clad stainless steel stuff at a yard sale, but I didn’t have cash on hand to buy it. I asked the people to hold them for me while I went to get cash, but when I got back, they had sold it because “they didn’t know if I was really coming back.” (Needless to say, I immediately left and didn’t buy a thing from them.)” Trent, people do this to yard sale sellers ALL THE TIME, AND 80% NEVER COME BACK. The point of a yard sale is to get rid of the stuff as quickly as possible. If those folks had held the set for you, and you didn’t come back, at the end of the day, THEY’D HAVE BEEN STUCK WITH THIS BULKY STUFF. It’s a good reason to carry cash. Cash TALKS! It enables you to bargain for the absolute best price, it enables you to buy on the spot, it insures you get the best price and deal at yard, estate and tag sales. I NEVER hold anything when running estate sales, or yard sales. I gave up depending upon “be backs” decades ago, mostly they do not come back and buy! The husband / wife refuses permission to buy, they really have no money and are just making conversation which gets them the high of negotiating but without having to pay, they change their mind, they get distracted and the sale is over. RUNNING A SALE? NEVER HOLD ANYTHING UNLESS IT IS PAID IN FULL. And as for your not buying anything else, if there was good stuff at a good price, it is your loss and not theirs. They most likely sold it to someone else, a well advertised sale is like that, there are lots of buyers. Yard, estate, tag and house sales are a business, and if you’re not prepared to buy on the spot, your value to the seller, is nil. It’s not personal, it’s a business. A bird in the hand is worth any number of nebulous “be backs.”

  70. deRuiter says:

    “Once, I found a bunch of All-Clad stainless steel stuff at a yard sale, but I didn’t have cash on hand to buy it. I asked the people to hold them for me while I went to get cash, but when I got back, they had sold it because “they didn’t know if I was really coming back.” (Needless to say, I immediately left and didn’t buy a thing from them.)” Trent, people do this to yard sale sellers ALL THE TIME, AND 80% NEVER COME BACK. The point of a yard sale is to get rid of the stuff as quickly as possible. If those folks had held the set for you, and you didn’t come back, at the end of the day, THEY’D HAVE BEEN STUCK WITH THIS BULKY STUFF. It’s a good reason to carry cash. Cash TALKS! It enables you to bargain for the absolute best price, it enables you to buy on the spot, it insures you get the best price and deal at yard, estate and tag sales. I NEVER hold anything when running estate sales, or yard sales. I gave up depending upon “be backs” decades ago, mostly they do not come back and buy! The husband / wife refuses permission to buy, they really have no money and are just making conversation which gets them the high of negotiating but without having to pay, they change their mind, they get distracted and the sale is over. RUNNING A SALE? NEVER HOLD ANYTHING UNLESS IT IS PAID IN FULL. And as for your not buying anything else, if there was good stuff at a good price, it is your loss and not theirs. They most likely sold it to someone else, a well advertised sale is like that, there are lots of buyers. Yard, estate, tag and house sales are a business, and if you’re not prepared to buy on the spot, your value to the seller, is nil. It’s not personal, it’s a business. A bird in the hand is worth any number of nebulous “be backs.”

  71. deRuiter says:

    “Once, I found a bunch of All-Clad stainless steel stuff at a yard sale, but I didn’t have cash on hand to buy it. I asked the people to hold them for me while I went to get cash, but when I got back, they had sold it because “they didn’t know if I was really coming back.” (Needless to say, I immediately left and didn’t buy a thing from them.)” Trent, people do this to yard sale sellers ALL THE TIME, AND 80% NEVER COME BACK. The point of a yard sale is to get rid of the stuff as quickly as possible. If those folks had held the set for you, and you didn’t come back, at the end of the day, THEY’D HAVE BEEN STUCK WITH THIS BULKY STUFF. It’s a good reason to carry cash. Cash TALKS! It enables you to bargain for the absolute best price, it enables you to buy on the spot, it insures you get the best price and deal at yard, estate and tag sales. I NEVER hold anything when running estate sales, or yard sales. I gave up depending upon “be backs” decades ago, mostly they do not come back and buy! The husband / wife refuses permission to buy, they really have no money and are just making conversation which gets them the high of negotiating but without having to pay, they change their mind, they get distracted and the sale is over. RUNNING A SALE? NEVER HOLD ANYTHING UNLESS IT IS PAID IN FULL. And as for your not buying anything else, if there was good stuff at a good price, it is your loss and not theirs. They most likely sold it to someone else, a well advertised sale is like that, there are lots of buyers. Yard, estate, tag and house sales are a business, and if you’re not prepared to buy on the spot, your value to the seller, is nil. It’s not personal, it’s a business. A bird in the hand is worth any number of nebulous “be backs.”

  72. deRuiter says:

    Trent, please dump the extra posts, I have no idea how this happened, I am so sorry!

  73. Lisa says:

    Anita, it sounds like you are making careful considerations about the corn maze plan. I just wanted to make sure that you are considering parking, signage, and advertising in your overall costs. How is your location? You are choosing to go by your house, but since you are buying land for this, perhaps another location (near a major highway which out-of-towners can find easily and can advertise itself to passersby) is better. Then pray like the dickens for perfect weather each weekend. Finally, fall agritourism typically either grows (add pumpkins, add hay rides, add a bbq, add animals, add contests, etc.) to keep people coming back each year or it peeters out after a few seasons. I don’t know your locale and the source of customers, but I just wanted to share my thought that this plan might become more consuming than you had hoped (since you want to leave time for the non-profit). Best of luck to you.

  74. lulu says:

    Please do a Thursday Q&A.
    They are very fun even though I don’t always agree with your answers…

  75. Stephanie says:

    I like the mailbags a lot for the variety and the opportunity to think about a lot of situations I haven’t encountered before. I’d enjoy it if you added another one on Thursdays.

  76. Erin says:

    Pursuit of Peace…. (my mantra)
    I am a new subscriber and found this blog in an article I read looking for some RSS feeds to help me get through the day to day. I have been really working hard on researching and reading helping to make peaceful decisions if that is even possible. I can attest that it is with time :). I really enjoyed reading the questions from your readers because they are very facinating and I say that because you know exactly what they are going through financially because you have been there or you are going through the same thing BUT with your own life’s twist. With that being said I thought I would seek some advice for my current situation and somehow from reading these posts I think I know your response but like any human I too need that extra reassurences.
    I have recently acheived credit card debt freedom and have learned the tricks and the trades of maintaining good credit. I have a mortgage that is thru the roof and my house like so many others is not worth the land it is on but I continue to pay my mortgage even though I feel as though I am being robbed each month that I do. The kicker is that it is an interest only loan, and I say that it pains me yes, I was very young + naive and now I am just young. The loan is on an ARM and will change in 2013. $1470 is my payment each month and none of that touches the principle. I don’t qualify for a loan refi since the house is worth seriously nothing what I paid, the loan officer said “he had never seen anything so bad” which in this economy …. you get the point. I don’t qualify for a loan mod well because I make my payments on time and I don’t qualify for assistance. I am not going to walk away from my home either, I bought it, it is my home, I must pay for it. This is where my questions come in…. What should I do? I have school loans kicking in at the end of the year, will have my second degree in May. I owe around $12,000 on my vehicle, and have managed to save enough money for a rainy day (3-5mo) since I have been in this pursuit to actually get in a position financially where I am not living paycheck to paycheck, there is no peace in that. I was wanting to know if I should continue to pay just interest on the home? or pay my vehicle off first, to secure funding for my school loans when they become a bill. Should I be paying principle on my mortgage??

  77. ML says:

    Yes, to the extra mailbag. I can relate to a lot of the questions that are selected.

  78. Steve says:

    I read your website daily and try to follow as much of your advice as I possibly can. I began my career as an attorney this past August. I currently have a modest salary. I have a $4000 tax return coming to me on Thursday. I would like some advice on what to do with it.

    I currently live paycheck-to-paycheck, but pay off all of my expenses and have left over money after each month that I use towards paying off my credit card debt. I have a $1,000 emergency fund. I have $7,000 in credit card debt and around $200,000 in student loan debt (Undergraduate and Law School). My student loan payments are approximately $800/month. I pay approximately $200/month in credit card payments, plus whatever I have left over at the end of the month. I am also planning on moving to New York City, where my rent will be around $1,200 per month, rather than $615 per month. In addition, I’d like to start to contribute to my 401(k) when I become eligible in April.

    I figure you are going to tell me to put all $4,000 of that towards the credit card debt. I really like the idea of having a big emergency fund, in case anything ever happens. With a student loan payment of $800/month; Credit Card payments of $200/month and Rent/Utilities of $1300/month, I would have approximately $1,300 left over per month for food, other expenses, etc. Should I use my $4,000 tax return to lower my credit card balances, or keep it in savings/checking so that I can use it if I need to? I’m not talking about blowing it on stuff, but just having it to use in case of an emergency or a birthday or something of that nature. Thanks.

  79. Heather says:

    Yes, I would really enjoy another reader mailbag!

  80. Heather says:

    Yes!Another reader mailbag! Or even a few posts from readers who have been influenced by your site.

  81. Paula says:

    I think that teachers don’t get paid enough for all that they do, especially the good ones who really like what they do. My son is in special ed in elementary school and it is amazing to me to see the progress that he has made this past year. We are fortunate that he has very passionate teachers who love what they do, and it shows. As a society, until we place a higher value on education, teachers will not be paid what they are truly worth.

  82. J says:

    @Steve — an emergency fund is based on keeping 3-6 months of expenses on hand. It’s kept in a safe medium (like a savings account) and not touched except in the case of en emergency. Birthdays, Christmas and Thanksgiving do not count as emergencies.

    With $4K coming to you soon, I would recommend two things. The first is, yes, pay off that CC debt. Alternatively, since you are planning on a move to NYC, you might want to hold off on that so you can pay for first/last month’s rent, deposits, moving trucks, etc. The second thing is to adjust your tax withholding so you aren’t giving the government ~$330/month of free loans. In a perfect world, you could neither owe or get a refund on taxes — but if you can get things set up to get it adjusted to within a hundred dollars plus or minus, you can consider yourself a winner.

    With moving to NYC you can likely cut expenses by not having a car (look into zipcar if you need occasionaly need a car, plus walking/bike/public transit), not to mention roomies. Or you can just forego having a “home” (or go in with roommates) at all since as a starting attorney you’ll just be at the office all the time, anyway :)

  83. Sharon says:

    The additional mailbag day could be done as an experiment for a few months ( 6 perhaps) to see how much time it takes and reader response.
    Keep up the great work!

  84. Jordan says:

    Hey Trent,
    I’d be interested to read more mailbags per week if you are interested to write them! One thing I’d suggest though is fewer letters per mailbag – one or two of the responses to this week’s mailbag felt a little rushed or canned, so fewer letters would give you more time and space to respond to them.
    Thanks again for everything!
    Jordan

  85. Lexi says:

    Mailbags are one of my favorite posts. I would love to see these 2 or 3 times a week!

  86. Gretchen says:

    I’d take the one mailbag and split it in half.

    I’d also think that the poster who says you plant the corn in a pattern would be more correct than plant it all, cut it down.

  87. Lexi says:

    Sue- Above all, get a crockpot! :)

  88. Megan says:

    @ Justin: You sound miserable! I’ve been there before, and speaking from personal experience, I couldn’t stay at my job AND write–it was killing my creativity. Have you considered finishing out the school year (getting your finances in order in
    the meantime), getting a weird summer job (like grape-picking–something you can get a lot of ideas from that involves meeting different people and good hard work), and then settling down to PART-TIME work within the school system in the fall? That part-time work could include library assistant or office assistant work, as well as tutoring. Get one or two income-producing jobs that don’t take 8 hours per day. Split your workday between these jobs, using mealtimes as transition. For instance, work between breakfast and lunch writing, and work in the afternoons at school, finishing up with tutoring. As you make more money at writing, drop one of your part-time jobs–and always continue to look at jobs as a way to feed your creativity. Look for the strange jobs, seasonal jobs–things that will earn you money and also inspire you. Good luck!

    @ Anita:
    2 acres would make a sizable corn maze.

    @Tas:
    Since you’re planning a life change, I don’t think the term “emergency fund” applies here. You should have 3-6 months living expenses for your emergency fund (which comes out to $2500/month for you). Then you should have a “career change fund.” My husband and I are planning a small business, for instance, so we have our emergency fund and a small business fund. Since you know what your living expenses will be, you are doing the right thing by saving money to cover your cost of living during that time. If you work for another year or two at your current job, you should be able to sock away enough money for those two years of living expenses, in addition to your 3-6 month emergency fund.

  89. Nicole says:

    oh yeah, forgot… links don’t get moderated

    Becky Joy– try capital one. You may not be able to get a rewards card right away, but you should be able to get a card with a small limit. They have several options for beginner cards.

    Not sure why you don’t have a decent credit history now from paying off student loans though.

  90. Hallie says:

    I love the reader mailbag questions, what I always look forward to the most! Yes, do another one on Thursdays!

  91. jb says:

    i always look forward to the mailbags! i totally support having another one during the week.

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