Reader Mailbag: Local Flavor

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What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Investing for five year goals
2. Music career crossroads
3. The price of fame
4. First steps with no credit
5. Buying a foreclosed home
6. Which retirement option is best?
7. Pet allergies and family
8. Budgeting and saving
9. Roll over or pocket?
10. Planning for a big change

I love the local flavor of an area that I’ve never been to before, even in the United States. The word choices. The accent. The local culture. The food. The selection at the grocery store. It’s all similar, but just a bit different, like a different spice hidden in a familiar dish.

My husband and I bought (what we think) is a starter home last year and we think that we’ll want to sell it in 5-7 years since the public school system isn’t great in the area (no kids yet, but trying to think ahead). Anyway, in case we sell the house for around the same price we bought it, I am thinking of ways to make our money work for us in the next 5ish years to help us with a potential larger down payment. I have about $7,000 in a couple of stocks (Johnson & Johnson and Schlumberger) and have about $3,000 in cash that I would like to put in a Vanguard account (and then plan on adding to it monthly). Since most of this is based on speculation and the future, it is tough to plan. All I know is I want to make this $9,000-$10,000 work to its full potential in the next 5-7 years and was wondering what your thoughts were on the matter.
- Krissy

Well, you have a choice. You can either take on a considerable amount of risk and put it into stocks with the potential of a good return (and the potential of returning nothing at all or losing some) or you can put it into something conservative and lock down a small return.

That’s really the investment choice we’re all faced with. There is no “best” answer. It depends on our goals and our needs and our personal risk tolerance.

The longer your timeframe, the better the stock market option is because it gives you more time to make up for the inevitable bad years (like 2008). Five to seven years is just about the perfect time to go through one bear market and one bull market, and depending on how strong the bull is and how strong the bear is, it could be a net gain or a break even or a net loss. If you can invest for longer – fifteen years or longer – you can ride multiple bears and multiple bulls and, over the history of the stock market, the average bull gains more than the average bear loses. It’s just that you can’t bet on that from individual bears and individual bulls.

If I were you, I’d probably put the money someplace conservative and focus on squeezing a few more dollars from my standard of living.

I am twenty four years old, and I just got married back in October 2009. I am by trade what you would call a “Professional Musician” or “Hired Gun” or “Artist”. I’m a drummer, and song writer. This is all I have done since I was a kid. I have had a record deal, had a national release, and some radio success. The difficulty with being a musician, outside the realm of it being a “hobby”, is that work comes then it goes, and success is not solely based in being good or even great, it comes through connections and who-you-know. Not to mention that living in a town like Nashville where there are a lot of other people doing the exact same things, it makes it even more difficult to get in the door, EVEN if you a extremely talented! My wife has been unemployed for almost a year, but is furiously looking for a new job. I have been playing music and working as a server at a restaurant since my wife and I married, but our lack of income is constantly frustrating! The problem is that if I go get a great paying job or go to school to get a better paying job and then an awesome tour comes up, I have to quit. My heart and all my passion surround playing music, but it ain’t paying the bills? We live off a budget, have some emergency savings, and are paying off the remaining 4,000 in debt we have. Do you have any suggestions?
- Caleb

You’re asking about a field that I know little about aside from some friends that have dabbled in the alternative music scene. I asked them what they knew and they gave me a few things to pass along to you.

First, they suggest that you tour, tour, tour. Play as many live shows as you possibly can, even if they’re free. When you’re there, make sure you have t-shirts and copies of your album and bumper stickers to sell to the people that are there. Gigs build a reputation and keep income coming in, so get as many as you possibly can.

Second, if you’re a drummer, seek out at least a singer and a guitarist you can partner with so that you’re in this together. You’re in Nashville – it shouldn’t be too hard to find others who are trying to find a break. Even if you eventually go your separate ways, you’ll have built a resume. Tour with these people and split the proceeds from the t-shirts and albums and bumper stickers among you.

Third, make sure you do have some sort of album recorded so that you can sell it at your shows, even if it’s recorded in your basement using a laptop and a couple cheap microphones. Learn how to use GarageBand (that was their suggestion for software). Give away some tracks online. Do some online promotion, too, like with a Facebook fan page for your band.

They seem to largely think that if your love is music, then you should be focused on that, especially if you’ve seen some degree of success with it already. Just live as lean as possible for now and see where it goes.

The thing that bothers me most is when I see famous people complaining about how hard their life is when they have everything they could ever want.
- Kathy

What you’ve got to keep in mind is that there is no life without problems. There is virtually no one who does not want something different.

People who have financial wealth have often traded other kinds of riches to acquire it. Perhaps they didn’t build a great relationship with their family. Maybe they broke off their friendships with a lot of people to get where they’re at. Maybe they had to abandon a dream. Maybe they had to work in a field that made them feel empty inside. Perhaps their career path led them to fame that they didn’t really expect which restricts their freedom to just walk down the street when they want to.

No one on this earth has the perfect life. They may have elements of their life that you wish you had in your life, but I’m willing to bet there are elements of their life that you would absolutely not want in your own. I would imagine they feel the same way about you.

It could be that the richest person in your neighborhood looks at a poor but close-knit family and thinks to himself that he would trade all of his riches for that. Meanwhile, the close-knit family looks at the rich man’s big house and the shiny car and thinks to themselves that they would give anything for that.

Everyone has riches in different ways and we all sometimes wish we had more in some areas of our life.

I’m a 27yr old married guy with a 6yr old daughter and another on the way any day now. I’ve never borrowed any money from anybody in my life – not a loan, not a credit card, not a pay day cash advance, nothing. I love it this way – my friends and family have paid thousands upon thousands of dollars over the years in interest payments, while my wife and I have lived relatively debt-free. The problem is, I’m a credit ghost. I’ve tried to get some low-limit credit cards or loans to start to raise my credit score, but no one will approve someone my age who has never had a spot of credit in their life. Apparently, being a 27yr old with no credit raises all kinds of flags in banking computer systems due to the high statistical probability of my being a faked identity trying to pull some kind of scam. I even had to bring my ID, Social Security Card, and Birth Certificate to the bank just to be added to my wife’s 15yr old pre-existing checking account! I want to try and build my credit up a bit because I’m interested in buying a house around my 30th birthday. Do you have any suggestions about what I can do to get started down that path?
- Brad

The first place I would start is at my local credit union. Go there, explain your situation, and see what options they have available for you.

Local credit unions typically do manual underwriting for the credit packages they offer. That means they usually interview the person they’re considering loaning to and figure out who they actually are rather than just relying on a credit history.

Large banks rarely (if ever) do this. They typically run a person’s credit report and if they find a 27 year old with nothing, they don’t offer them credit (especially right now, where banks are being pretty careful).

Head down there. You’ll probably want to take similar identification with you, as well as some proof of employment and a copy of your previous tax return.

My girlfriend and I were talking about saving our money for about a year or so to be able to put a down payment on a house. Over the weekend a friend of ours said she saw people cleaning out a house in the same development as hers so she went online and found that the house is foreclosed and now bank owned. My question is, is buying a house that’s been foreclosed any different than buying a house that has not been? What makes this appealing is that the price on the website says its only $46k. Is this how much it would cost us to own it or does this amount mean something different? We are in the process of acquiring more information but I would like to know if this is worthwhile to pursue. If this is the price and assuming the house isn’t a complete disaster, would buying this house be a recommended course of action? Another bit of information is that our friend bought her house about a year ago for about $128k, to give you an idea of how much houses are worth in this development.
- Andrew

The absolute first thing you need to do is search the public records and find out if there is a lien against this home. Call your county’s recorder for starters to see what you need to do.

You also need to find out how foreclosure sales work in your state, because the procedure varies from state to state. Google will help to give you an idea of the process. If you actually decide to go for it, you may want to seek a bit of professional assistance if you’ve never done it before.

You’ll also want to inspect the property carefully. Sometimes, previous tenants in foreclosed homes will do things like strip out all of the wiring and all of the piping and practically gut the house, leaving the buyer with a ton of work. You’ll absolutely want a careful home inspection before you buy.

You may want to seek out a real estate agent who is familar with foreclosures if this is a new experience for you.

I am 26 years old and have no debt besides my mortgage. I work for a state agency. There is a retirement plan automatically set up for me through SERS, the School Employees Retirement System. On top of this, I contribute 6% of my income to a Deferred Compensation Plan, a 457(b), which is a retirement plan for state employees in Washington. I have been at my job for a little over a year and have contributed around $3600. I have an additional retirement account from an old employer (Simple IRA) that has around $2200 in it. Is it better for me to let the Simple IRA sit (I am not allowed to contribute to it on my own because it is employer sponsored), or roll it over into a Roth IRA? Also, would it be better for me to have a Roth rather than a 457(b)?
- Stacy

My belief is that for almost everyone, a Roth IRA is a better choice than any other retirement vehicle. It’s only topped by retirement plans that offer employee matching (because that’s free money).

Why do I love Roth IRAs so much? I love them because you don’t have to pay taxes on any gains you earn in that account. Since, at the same time, I believe income tax rates are going to go way up, that’s a very good thing. I’d rather pay the income taxes now when they’re low (since Roth IRAs have after-tax money in them) than pay the income taxes later when they’ll be higher (and possibly much higher).

If I were you, I’d roll it over to a Roth IRA if you’re allowed to. Also, I would contribute to your 457(b) up to whatever amount the employer will match and, if I wanted to save more, I would put the rest in the Roth IRA.

My husband and I have two cats that I dearly love and have had about for over 5 years. We rescued one from the pound and another from a friend that couldn’t keep the cat.

My sister’s and her husband lived in the same city when we got the cats and we knew at the time my brother-in-law was allergic but it wasn’t a big issue since we always went to their place to visit.

Now 5 years later my young niece is about 4 years old and is also allergic to cats and my sister and her family has moved over 2 hours away.

The problem is my sister wants to come visit with her family with us. She has asked us to find other homes for the cats but I don’t think that’s easily possible since the cats are not declawed and have a tendancy to shred/ruin furniture… I feel guilty and pulled in both ways. We have promised to not get any more pets in the future but I know our cats could live another 10 years.
- Karen

We were in this exact situation several years ago. We took in a stray kitten (it was a six or seven week old that had been abandoned in a park) and the cat left behind by an elderly neighbor who went to a retirement home, only to find out later that my dad was so allergic to the cat dander that he couldn’t visit us any more.

Our solution was, basically, to patiently search for a good home for both of the cats. It took us multiple years to find homes for them (and in one case, it was pretty much a relative being nice to us), but we did.

Reasons like this are why I’m often hesitant to take in a pet at all, even though I enjoy their companionship. I know there are pet allergies among my friends and family.

My suggestion is to just be patient, but also be diligent in your search for a good home for the cats.

I have a question about contributing to student loan payments vs. saving for retirement. I’m a 22-year old graduate student working towards a masters degree in ocean sciences, and between teaching and labwork, my month stipend is ~$1400 (after taxes). I have $8000 in student loans (down from $13000, yay!), which is my only debt. I also have an emergency fund of $2000, which would cover 2 months of living expenses. Last fall I opened a Vanguard Roth IRA account, which currently is at ~$1350. My monthly expenses are:
Rent: $600 (for southern CA, this is actually ridiculously cheap)
Food $100
Household (toilet paper, shampoo, dish soap, etc): $20
Phone: $25
Discretionary: $60
Tithing: $50
Irregular expenses (textbooks, conference fees, etc): $50 (leftovers go into travel fund, and when I have ~$600, I can buy a ticket to visit home (Alaska))
Total: $905

This leaves about $500 for either paying off student loans or contributing to my Roth IRA. Currently, I’m putting $450/month towards student loans, and $50 towards the IRA. This is mostly because I really want to travel for a few years after finishing school, which can’t be done with student loans hanging over my head. However, I also know that contributing to retirement savings when you’re young will pay off more in the long run, so I’m wondering whether I shouldn’t reduce student loan payments and increase the IRA contributions? (because I’m in school, the loans are in deferment, and most are subsidized, so required payments and interest accumulation aren’t really issues). Such a change would probably mean that I could not reach my goal of paying off the student loans by the time I graduate (ideally in one and half years), and so I would need to work for a year or so before setting off to travel. But I have the travel bug really, really bad, and I don’t want to do this… (The travel itself won’t be very expensive; I’m looking at au-pairing, WWOOF-ing, and participating in working holiday programs.) It also might be difficult to find a decent job if employers knew I was only planning on staying for a year. So I was basically wondering what you think? Also, if you have any suggestions about my monthly budget, that would be cool too.
- Shiloh

Your monthly budget looks fine. I also think your goal of traveling for a while after college is fine, too.

Your student loan load is not bone-crushing in the least. However, it will require $100 or so a month in payments (my back-of-the-envelope calculation) after you graduate, and possibly more if you take out more loans.

Since student loans typically have a pretty low interest rate, if I were you, I’d probably just make sure that I had enough in cash savings to cover my loan payments during my travel period, then focus on retirement savings. In forty years, you’ll be incredibly glad that you made that move, because the $5,000 you put in now will grow to quite a lot – and if you take it out at retirement time, you won’t owe a drop of income tax on it. It’ll reduce your retirement savings burden later in your life, in other words, by far more than you’re actually saving now.

My husband and I are in our late 30s. He began a new job in Febrary 2009. A few months later, we found out that our daughter has a serious medical condition requiring many medications and occasional hospitalizations. My husband has a 401(k) and an ESOP account from his old job. The 401(k) has about $70,000 and the ESOP is worth around $25,000 (we also have several other IRAs, totalling around $20,000-$30,000, plus a 401(k) from his current job). In July 2010, his shares from the ESOP will be “cashed out” by his former employer. We had planned to rollover this amount into an IRA.

However, we have been paying thousands of dollars in medical expenses over the last year. This year we have upped the amount in his FSA, but unfortunately we weren’t able to take advantage of that last year since my daughter’s diagnosis happened during the year. We now have a bill of $7000 to pay. We will be getting a large tax return (we are in the process of upping his withholdings so this won’t happen again), and almost all of that will be going towards the bill. We don’t have much savings since we have had to use it to pay for doctor, hospital and prescriptions copays. I wouldn’t say we are living paycheck to paycheck, but we don’t have a lot to set aside each money after our living and medical expenses. Plus, we have our some larger bills coming up in the second half of the year – car insurance, life insurance and property tax.

My question is: instead of rolling over the full amount of the ESOP, should we take some as cash and put it into our savings? I know we’ll have to pay income tax on it, plus some type of penalty, but it sounds like a good idea to me for the piece of mind of having something in savings.
- Natalie

OK, first, I’ll unravel the acronyms for readers who might not know what Natalie is talking about.

ESOP refers to Employee Stock Ownership Plan. There are a lot of varieties of this, but they basically boil down to a employer-run plan that shares some amount of stock with the employees of that company.

FSA refers to Flexible Spending Account. It’s a tax-advantaged account for people to use with certain expenses that have tax implications, like health spending. Health FSAs are the most common kind.

My biggest question would be whether or not Natalie and family have a firm grip on any future medical expenses for their daughter. I also am not sure if they have any cash savings right now.

If it’s a bleak scenario (more expenses and no cash savings), then I would use this opportunity to quickly build some, even though the penalties will be harsh. The alternatives – taking out debt for future medical expenses and whatever unknowns life throws at you – are just too harsh.

Given your comments, I think the “bleak scenario” is probably the right one, given your mention of upcoming bills. I would lean towards paying the taxes (and any penalties, if there are any) and beefing up your savings for the expenses heading your way. You know there are a lot of bills coming – get through this now and focus on retirement savings when the storm is through.

I currently make about $98,000 at a job I hate. Every time I come into the office the project I work on has some sort of drama and chaos going on which I get pulled into immediately. Without all the details, I know this situation is no good for me. My goal is to leave and work my businesses full time. But, like many I do fear not being able to cover my bills. In addition, even though I am working on living a simple life, I still want to be able to travel with my partner and our kids. We have 4 young children (2 living with us). My partner makes just $18K a year and has not been successful in finding a better job despite her even having more education that me. Clearly, we can’t pay the bills on her salary alone as our $1800 mortgage would take her two months to pay.

I will rent out my basement again (which is an apartment, which is one of the reaons I purchased the house 3 years ago) for cheap in exchange for the tenant taking care of the maintenance (don’t want to be bothered with minor details) for $695 (usually rents for $895). I also do some freelance writing in which I can bring in about $600-$800 a month. My car lease is up this month, so I am loosing a car payment and insurance of about $600!. I have a mortgage (1800/mo), credit card debt of about $15K and student loan debt. My goal is to quit at the end of April. By that time I will have just under $6K in an emergency fund and about $14K in a 401K.

Long story short is I can’t stomach my job any longer, my blood pressure has never been high until I began working on this project. The only thing about it is the job is 5 minutes from my house, I can find another job but not this close. I live in the DC area and traffic is a nightmare and spending 3 hours in traffic a day is not a lifestyle I want any longer.

So, I want to strike out on my own fairly soon. But there are a lot of factors keeping me slave to this job. My business is a traveling lingerie boutique for real size women. When I sell, the sales are really great. I am signed up for a few shows so I my goal is to make a great deal over the next few months. But this is sales and I know some months may be high and some may be low. Even when it’s high I hope I can cover my expenses and have a little left over to enjoy. Further, it’s not possible to keep this job and do all the things that I really want to do and with the conditions I work under, I want to walk out the door right now.

Yes, I have a plan. I am paying off some things and making home repairs. In addition, we are getting any medical and dental work that we need done now before I quit. I plan to get a high deductible plan with HSA but I won’t be able to add my partner to my plan like I have her on my current insurance. So she will be uninsured. I hope that my sales cover all my expenses when I quit. I also working to ensure that I work on my business not in it. I think with age I am becoming more risk adverse (I am 30), and making the leap for me isn’t difficult. I just really don’t want my family to go without. Any suggestions?
- Tammy

I think you need to address what your family would actually “go without” if you made this decision? Would they go without food or anything genuinely important? Or is it just a matter of not being able to go on a big trip this summer or next?

If it’s the latter, the value of having a mother that’s not completely stressed out all the time more than makes up for it. Plus, you’ll suddenly have tons of time and energy to devote to making your business work for you.

You have a plan in place. If it’s not going to pull anything truly important – food, school, shelter, clothing – away from your children, go for it. They’ll gain a mother with energy and spark again.

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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74 thoughts on “Reader Mailbag: Local Flavor

  1. @Karen:

    The cats are yours, you love them dearly, the house is yours, so I don’t really see why you have to give them away just because your BIL and niece are allergic. There are solutions other than giving your cats away.

    1. When they visit, they can stay at a hotel. (this the “drastic” solution)

    2. You and your husband can visit them more often.

    3. If they must stay at your place whenever they visit: vacuum and clean the whole place thoroughly and either restrict your cats to a specific room while your relatives are there, or have them stay somewhere else — a friend’s place, a pets’ hotel, whatever.

    I don’t know which solution would be best for your case, but I think people are too quick to “get rid” of their pets when there are more solutions available.

  2. One idea for Caleb the musician… living in nashville, have you thought about teaming up with a few other musicians and forming a wedding band?

    Assuming you team up with some good ones, you could probably easily learn a strong set-list for weddings.

    I just got married in Nashville and our wedding band was really great and it seemed like they were kind of put together from people like you… very strong musicians trying to make some cash on the side.

    Even if you just played one or two weddings a month it could bring in some nice extra income…

  3. How often is Karen’s family going to visit? I think it is asking a lot to GIVE AWAY your pets of over 5 years for someone to visit for a day or two, or even a week. Why should she have to change her life for her sister’s convenience? Karen should go visit the sister’s house and leave the cats alone. If the sister is doing a day trip to visit, go out to a park or a mall, don’t hang out at the house. Or if your sister MUST stay overnight at your house, clean well (though this really won’t prevent sensitive allergic people from having a reaction, pet dander STICKS to everything, even after a good cleaning) and have your sister pay for the cats to be boarded somewhere for the week or however long they are there. It will probably be cheaper than a hotel for them.

    Trent, don’t get a pet. You are really quick to get rid of it at the first bit of inconvenience. Also, a good percent of people that are allergic to cats are also allergic to dogs and other pets (rabbits, rodents, etc), so don’t assume that your father won’t also be allergic to the dog unless your father has been to an allergist for testing (and as it seems that the cat allergy was a surprise for him, don’t trust that he’s been around a dog and not have a reaction, as allergies and sensitivity change with time).

  4. Giving away a cat because someone’s visiting? WTF?

    Yeah, I agree, either have your family members split the cost of pet boarding and buy a ton of benadryl, or tell them to get a hotel if it’s such a problem. There’s a limit to being accommodating.

  5. Question:

    My kids are in their late teens. I want to give them, before they apply to colleges, the gift of a no-nonsense money-managing seminar or week-long course. I will provide them an incentive to go, and then tell me about it.

    I want the seminar to stress frugality, explain how stocks and bonds work, stress the importance of limiting student loan debt, and explain the importance of saving for retirement very early on, and the options for creating passive income. I want them to understand how credit cards work, and how to dissect and evaluate the fine pint in any promotional offer. How to plan and execute financial goals.

    I want it to teach them how to make a realistic workable budget, and how to politely refuse events that cost way too much money, or requests for loans from loved ones. (This will come definitely up for them.)

    As far as frugality-I can squeeze a penny till Lincoln bleeds; they are good on that- it is a part of our lives. The rest, I have tried to teach them, (shown and explained the family budget, let them share in my joy when we paid off all our cc debt, etc.) but as teens go, parents sounds like the adults in the Charlie Brown movies- just worried and going on about stuff, unless it comes from an outside authority.

    I live in NY. Do you know of any such seminars? I learned all of these things on my own as an adult, after a financially devastating divorce, and am well aware that my young ignorance, and late start, have made it very unlikely I will ever be able to retire. That’s fine, but I want better for my kids.

    Do you know of any such a seminar? A very good one would be well worth its fee. I cannot get them to read a book on the subject, as they have piles of books to read al year long, even in the summer, for school.

    Addendum: You also might want to consider doing this down the road, but you might want to wait until you have navigated college loans with your children. It will give you the added credibility of living through the experience.

  6. @Karen: I also agree with Marta. All of those are excellent suggestions.

    It is one thing to rehome a pet when a person in the household becomes severely allergic, but to rehome an animal (and swear off all future pets) because someone who visits is allergic? That is giving too much of your life to the needs of others.

    I have two dogs and I have had many visitors with allergies. Before they come over I give everything a good cleaning, as Marta suggested, and I spray down my fabrics with Febreeze Allergen Reducer. And then I put the dogs my bedroom. And you know what my allergic guests do? They take allergy medication before coming over. Other friends and relatives are frightened of dogs and so, when they come over, I again put the dogs in the bedroom or we meet somewhere else.

    These are reasonable things to do; getting rid of your pets is not. I have a feeling that if you asked your sister and BIL for something similar they would laugh you out of the room.

    Don’t give up pets that you dearly love over this.

  7. I normally don’t post comments but I feel compelled to do so because I’m horrified at your answer to Karen’s situation regarding her beloved cats and family who would like to visit. Most of the time you tell people to base their decisions based on what’s important to *them* and not anyone else but you didn’t do that this time. Unless you did some serious editing Karen clearly wrote that the cats mean a great deal to her so why did you suggest she simply rid herself of them so a relative can visit infrequently at best? Other options would obviously be more appropriate for her. She could ask her relatives to stay in a hotel or board the animals for the duration of the visit either having the sister graciously and rightfully pay for the cost or splitting it. Trent, most of the time you give very sound advice but this time I’m afraid you missed.

  8. I have to agree with some of the other commenters – asking someone to GET RID OF THEIR PETS is asking a LOT for your own convenience. It’s YOUR house, not theirs! Making the choice to adopt a pet is a serious responsibility to that animal, and since Karen stated that she dearly loves her cats, they’re obviously a part of HER family. We have many friends and family with pet allergies and we always find ways to deal with it when we want to visit, and not ONCE has one of them asked us to give up any of our animals for THEIR convenience. I’m outraged. And I consider it the utmost in irresponsible behavior to ‘give away’ pets as if they were a cavalier item or a material possession. I understand that there are always going to be circumstances where people are thrown into a difficult situation and may have to face finding a new home for a beloved pet, and I try not to judge anyone, but in my opinion, giving up a pet for someone else’s convenience when that person doesn’t even live in your home, and when there are plenty of other perfectly workable solutions, does NOT qualify.

  9. I agree with the others on the pets. Jem beat me to the suggeston that the guests take allergy meds. Another help for cleaning is to use a HEPA filter. There are a lot of alternatives to your sister’s family staying in your home for a visit and expecting you to live pet-free only for that reason.

    Caleb – You don’t mention your wife’s contributions to family income, which seems to be a large missing piece of the story.

    Brad – an alternative is to get a secured credit card. You fund it up front & then charge against it. Since it’s a credit card, the payment history goes on your credit report & you’ll eventually build up some history. Gasoline co. cards and store cards are easy to get & also go in the report – just be sure to not charge more on them than you can pay off each month, due to exorbitant interest rates. Also, if your wife has a credit history, she may be able to add you to one of her cards, or you might be able to jointly obtain a regular credit card more easily than you by yourself.

  10. I agree with the others about the cats. That’s some sense of entitlement your sister has there, Karen.

    How severe are your sister’s family’s allergies? Can they be treated with over-the-counter medication? I’m allergic to cats too, so when I’m visiting someone who has a cat, I take some Benadryl with me, or take one in advance, and I’m fine. I know that some people have allergies much more severe than that, but I wouldn’t assume that Karen’s BIL and niece fall into that category, since she doesn’t specifically say that they do.

  11. I too agree that you don’t have to get rid of the cats. Before my husband and I got married I made it clear that though his mother was allergic I was not willing to get rid of my cat.

    Well fast forward to 5 yrs of marriage and my mother and law has lived with us for months at a time with 2 cats and a dog and been fine. We have hepa filters, keep the cats out of her bedroom, and she washed her hands after picking them up.

    Many of our friends are allergic to cats and as long as we vacum the floor and couches they can easily spend the afternoon with us.

    The sister is only 2 hrs away, that’s perfect for a day trip which shouldn’t be long enough to cause major issues.

  12. Your house, your pets, your rules. We don’t live in and maintain our homes for others. I think it is absolutely ridiculous for a relative to expect you to get rid of pets or do anything else in your home just because they might come to visit and not like it. In addition, I think it’s ridiculous for you to cater to a relative (regardless of how close you are). If they don’t care for your set-up, then they can stay in a hotel. I love my family more than anything in this world, but no way would I stand for this.

  13. Good grief, the cats are YOUR pets. YOU get to keep them, if other people have allergies, then by all means its an inconvenence only, not a reason to get rid of them. I would NEVER ask anyone to get rid of their pet because of my allergy. I would opt to stay at a hotel! I agree with suggestions above!

  14. @Karen: I agree with the comments above. At the most extreme end of the spectrum you could board your cats for several days before, and while, your family comes to visit and clean the house from top to bottom several days in advance as well. Don’t clean immediately before they come, as you’ll just stir up any dander that you can’t get rid of. You’ll want some time for things to settle in again. They can take allergy medication. You could even get air purifiers for the room(s) they’ll be sleeping in. But getting rid of your animals for a weekend visit is unreasonably extreme.

    @Caleb: My husband is also a musician. In fact, a drummer. Almost one third of our income comes from his music, and most of that comes from giving music lessons. Have you considered offering lessons? My husband gives lessons through a “Rock School” establishment, but is starting to branch out into private lessons also. If you can deal with the sometimes frustrating side of dealing with kids or unfocused individuals, it can be a great way to use your skills and passion to create extra income. My husband basically gets paid to practice what he loves. He also performs in two original bands and one cover band. The cover band brings in a good chunk of money as well. Some of these scenarios might not be the “ideal” musical job, but they bring in money and allow him to constantly be improving his skills by giving him ample opportunity to play.

  15. I agree with marta. Our cats are family members. Getting rid of them for the convenience of an extended relative is not an option.

    @Shiloh: Not to nitpick, but if your after-tax income is $1,400/month, then why is your tithe $50/month? It should be at least $140 (actually more, since it’s supposed to be based on before-tax income). “Tithe” literally means “Tenth.” $50 is not a tenth of your income. If you can’t/won’t increase the amount, that’s fine – just don’t call it a “tithe.” Call it a religious donation.

    That said, I think you’ve got a great approach right now, attacking your student loans while still building up a little in retirement savings. I might adjust it a little ($400/$100 rather than $450/$50), but that’s just more nitpicking. You’re doing great.

  16. “I even had to bring my ID, Social Security Card, and Birth Certificate to the bank just to be added to my wife’s 15yr old pre-existing checking account!”

    Brad, this is normal bank behavior these days due to IRS and immigration rules. Don’t feel like you were singled out because of a lack of credit history.

    Provided you have had a job for a year or more, it should be no problem to get store credit cards (Penney’s, Macy’s, Sears, Home Depot) and use them for some purchases which you promptly pay off.

    If your name is on utility bills, then they also count as credit history.

  17. @kristine
    I would recommend one of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University seminars. They cost about $100 (or at least they did in 2006) and cover all of what you want. The only possible drawbacks are that I’ve heard that his investing advice is not very good and some may not like his promotion of Christianity (which is very minimal and not pushy).

  18. @Kristine:

    It sounds like you’re looking for Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University.” I have no idea how often is is run, or where, but I’m guessing it’s the closest thing you’re going to find to covering all the basics, without the hidden agenda of trying to sell them something (insurance, high-fee mutual funds, etc.).

  19. I agree with everyone about the cats. The allergy isn’t life-threatening, it just causes discomfort. Also, a lot of people think it’s cat hair or dander that causes allergies, but it’s really a protein in cat saliva (FEL-D1). Because cats groom (lick) themselves, the saliva is all over (their bodies, the hair on the couch and rug, etc.). Some cats, individual cats and breeds, produce more of the protein than others.

    My son and I are very allergic to cats, but we use a product called Allerpet-C. It reduces the amount of protein that the cat produces. It’s just a clear liquid that we rub on the cat a couple times a week. It may or may not work for Karen’s family’s allergies, but it’s worth a try. And no, I’m not a distributor or a paid promoter, just a happy user.

  20. I agree with the folks above who say that it’s extreme to get rid of pets just because an allergic family member wants to visit occasionally.

    However, I am interested in hearing about how people who have needed to give away pets have gone about finding and evaluating good homes for them.

  21. Trent, you answer to Andrew (potential buyer of foreclosed property) was a little off the mark. He wasn’t talking about buying a property at a forecosure sale, he was talking about buying a bank-owned property (i.e., post-foreclosure sale). A foreclosure sale is definitely for more advanced buyers, which is why the bank usually ends up buying it back anyway (making it bank-owned). An independent lien search is completely unnecessary in this case.

    The basic process of buying a bank-owned property (aka “REO”) is really no different from buying any other property – but there are some differences:

    1) It might take longer to get a response to an offer with an REO property (just like with short sales), because the bank might have to get approval from trustees and insurers for a particular price.

    2) Definitely get an inspection, because of the reasons Trent cited. But really, any time you buy a home, REO or not, you should get an inspection from a reliable 3rd party expert. It’s a good investment and it might turn up something that you find tolerable, but which you might be able to get the seller to knock of a few grand fromt he purchase price for.

    3) Doing your own lien search is a waste of your time. It’s absolutely vital that a title search be performed on a property before you purchase it, but that’s what title insurance is for, and your lender is going to require that anyway.

    Pay attention to the difference between an REO (or bank-owned) property and a foreclosure sale or foreclosure auction. These are very different animals.

  22. I agree with many of the posters about the cats. But- I wanted to say, my husband has asthma. As a child he was in and out of the hospital. He was allergic to dogs, cats, horses, and smoke. There is no way his mother would have let him visit a family that had inside animals. Even taking allergy medicine wouldn’t have worked. If Karen’s sister is in a similar situation, she just won’t visit. Karen will have to decide which is more important to her, the cats or visits with her niece. I don’t have a problem with Trent giving away his cats. He is very close to his father. He wants his children to have a good relationship with their grandfather. That was more important to Trent than the cats. He says he found them a good home. I have been the second or last home to a lot of cats in my life. They do fine. I’m also sure Trent won’t be getting any more cats. It would be a good idea if they decide to get a dog for his dad to go with. They could see if there were any allergy issues.

  23. I agree with Marta and others about the cat issue! How silly to suggest giving them away.
    Another allergy relief item that I recently found is Chloraseptic Allergen Block–this stuff is amazing, people! It is drug-free, no side effects, it’s an electrostatically-charged gel–you rub a tiny bit around your nose and it repels allergen particles. I use it before I mow the lawn for grass allergies, and we recently tried it on my 7-yr old nephew who is allergic to my dogs, with astounding success. It is safe for kids. I found it in the pharmacy section at the grocery store. I have nothing to do with the company and I don’t really even like cats, but I know about cat allergies.

  24. As Karen’s post did not say that the sister or niece have asthma, it would be assumed they don’t. Even if they do, modern asthma and allergy medicine has advanced greatly, so unless the niece has severe asthma, it again wouldn’t be an issue. Severe asthma is serious enough to be mentioned in this post, not just that she is “allergic.” Allergies are an inconvenience, and they are uncomfortable, but nothing in that post suggests it would be life threatening.

    The niece is going to have to learn how to deal with her allergies, asthma or not. It won’t be pleasant if her mother suggests to her school friends that they get rid of their pets. So, either the child will have to learn to not go over to others’ houses, or learn to control her symptoms, and should see a pediatric allergist now. It is a huge sense of entitlement to tell others to get rid of their cats because you want to visit.

  25. In your response to the third question, the sentence should read “Maybe they broke off their friendships with a lot of people to get where THEY ARE,” not “where they’re at.”

  26. I agree with everyone else on the cats. If you are willing to give up your “dearly loved” animals for someone who might visit every once in a while, you have no business having pets! Keep the cats in another room if they visit and take some Claritin or whatever allergy medicine strikes your fancy. Or just go visit them more. It’s like putting your child into foster care because your mother in law doesn’t like little kids.

  27. Karen – I agree w/ most of the posters about your position and am disappointed in Trent’s response. You said you love them dearly. Who is in your life/home every single day? The cats that you love! It is difficult to find good homes for cats (esp. ones that are older). It is rude and selfish for your sister to request that you get rid of pets to acommodate her visit. There are other ways to work around the allergies. Trent- she said she loves these cats and you suggest she just get rid of them? not cool.

  28. I would like to comment on the asthma aspect. I have four children with asthma. Two tested allergic to cats and dogs but all four tested allergic to pollens, dust and molds plus two have medicines that cause asthma attacks so getting rid of the cats would not have eliminated the asthma. They took their inhalers daily to control their asthma,got rid of carpeting, got yearly flu shots, and we kept the cats. One of the kids who tested allergic to cats and dogs did not show any symptoms when he would come home from college but my daughter would get a rash on her chest and throat for the first two weeks after touching the cats, then it would go away. All four are adults now and each one has 1-2 cats.They love their cats and when we all get together, we can have 10 cats in the house. My sister-in-law, who comes for overnight visits, is allergic to cats and I clean the house thoroughly before she comes since she isn’t in daily contact like the kids, which can aggravate her symptoms, she takes allergy medicine and I keep the cats confined to my room while she visits. My best friend can be in the house for about 15 minutes before her eyes start watering and so we meet outside the house.

  29. Hope has a good point – if Karen’s niece is severely allergic, a good cleaning may not suffice. I have pretty severe cat allergies and medicate appropriately when I visit cat-homes, but staying there just doesn’t work. However, giving up the cats should only be Karen’s choice, and there may be other options: her sister’s family could look into hotels, sublets, staying with petless friends, or having them all meet elsewhere.

  30. I have severe cat allergies (among others including smoke) and allergy-induced asthma. When I was 15, I discovered the cat allergy. My family home had 3 cats living in it. The last 3 years were a nightmare. We used air filters and tried to keep the cats out of my bedroom and I washed my hands like crazy. I survived but I was miserable.

    Now, I can’t spent the night at my parents house. So I either only come home for day visits or I sleep at my husband’s parents house. My family still has 2 cats, including the long-hair that I react terribly too. The short-hairs don’t shed as much and are much easier to control.

    My family never would have given up their cats. This discussion was not even on the table, as they were older cats (3-5) and would have been put to sleep as most older cats are in our area. Also, all of the cats were rescued in the first place. I would never have asked my sister (they were her cats) to send her cats to the execution chamber for me!

    The sister needs to get over herself. Maybe you should remind her that your life is *not all about her.* Also, I have 2 dogs and have no allergies at all (Although we did get breeds that don’t shed as much – shorthair and wirehair doxies!)

  31. I adopted two cats and was fine with them; then we got the third and it turned out that I’m allergic to our little FatBoy. It can easily be managed with a bit of Claritin and/or Zyrtec. I suppose it could also be better managed if we kept the cats out of our bedroom, but we’re so used to them sleeping on us.

    In other words, keeping your house clean and having a supply of allergy meds on hand is about all you really need to do to manage most allergies. And kids will grow out of allergies (and into new ones); I used to get a terrible hay fever every spring.

  32. HUGE difference between cats you’ve “dearly loved for 5 years” and a brand new kitten.

    Stay in a hotel, people.

    Of course, my husband and I both have allergies (mine with asthma) and 3 cats. (They are not the only allergy source, but certainly the most enjoyable.)

  33. Daria, you mention that you have four kids with asthma (I am an adult asthmatic). Have you tested your house for mold? Also, I’m wondering if a candida (yeast) cleanse, assuming it’s safe for the children, might help? There are several on the market, available in health food stores. Candida buildup in the body can trigger all kinds of problems. Recently I did one (only having just heard of it) and my asthma symptoms have improved. Just some thoughts, though it sounds like you’re doing all that you can! :)

  34. Ooops, sorry Daria! (I just re-read your email, saying that your kids are adults now. Mea culpa!) Hope that somebody else with asthma may still find this info. useful! :)

  35. “My suggestion is to just be patient, but also be diligent in your search for a good home for the cats.”

    My suggestion is to stop coming to this blog if this is your attitude, Trent. Karen has had these cats for YEARS and loves them and thinks her sister is being unreasonable (to put it politely). And your suggestion to her problem is to get rid of the cats? For a sister who wants to visit a few times a year at most?????? Are you INSANE? I’ve defended you a lot but in this case, please “go jump in a lake” as they say in Minnesota.

  36. I bought a foreclosure, and here’s how it works:
    First, you have to wait for the bank to assign the home to a real estate agent, who will then formally list it for sale. This can take a few weeks to a year. The foreclosure “price” may not be the same as the listing price.

    Once the home is available, you and your real estate agent can tour the home, make an offer, and go through the usual process of getting an inspection and appraisal if your offer is accepted. In most cases, the foreclosure cleared any liens, but the Title company will determine this when it runs a title search.

  37. I have some allergies and could not give up our resuce cat. She brings a lot of calmness after a rough day at work. I would tell the relatives to either get a hotel room or I can provide the Benadryl.

  38. @Andrew, we bought a foreclosure and it is a big hassle that is only worth it if you are getting a home you will love at a major discount.

    First, offers take weeks to be replied to (usually it’s less than a day with a non-foreclosure…I know because we ended up looking and making offers on other houses while the foreclosure people took their sweet time).

    Second, you are buying the place “As Is”…so be really thorough when you have it inspected.

    Third, the closing process is an even bigger pain than usual.

    BUT, having said all of that, Mr. BFS and I did get a great home (really, really fantastic starter home) for $114,000 when they were asking $120,000 after 6 months and it was appraised at $140,000. Thankfully, the previous owners had only taken every single appliance and light bulb, but they didn’t actually harm the home. :-)

    @Karen, as the person who is allergic to cats, DON’T GIVE UP YOUR PETS. I would feel absolutely horrid in my friends or family gave up their cats because of my asthma.

    Claritin keeps me fine for a few hours and I will gladly rent a hotel room if I get too wheezy and was staying overnight. Cleaning the furniture helps alot, but not totally since dander is still all over the place…same with dogs. My friends also visit me a lot since they aren’t allergic to dogs.

    I couldn’t imagine giving up our dogs because someone is allergic unless it was my husband. I wouldn’t imagine asking anyone to give up their cats because of me. That’s just too awful.

    Your sister needs to put on her big girl panties and figure out whether her family will be fine on allergy medicine or if they should rent a hotel room.

  39. Stacy: Your SERS pension alone may be all you need. If you work till you’re in your 60′s your pension alone should cover about 80% of your pay. Thats plenty to retire on. Or are you shooting for an early retirement? If so then adding more of your own money is fine. But if you plan to work 30-40 years then you may be better of using that money for other things like buying a home, paying off debts, etc.

    Karen: You love your cats so keep em. Your sister doesn’t have to visit you inside your house. I don’t think its fair for your sister to expect you to get rid of beloved pets like that. Meet your relatives somewhere else. Visit with them outside. They can get a hotel. Meet at another relatives home. Travel to visit them at their home. My dad’s dog poses problem for my wife so we simply don’t go to dad’s house. The idea of telling dad to get rid of his dog never crossed our minds.

  40. Tammy: In my opinion I really think you and your partner should figure out some way to get her some form of health insurance. At minimum she should try and get a high deductible plan. Spending $50-100 a month for a high deductible plan is worth avoiding the risk of total bankruptcy if she is seriously ill or injured.

  41. Please tell us, Trent. Did your father visit you that much more when you got rid of your cats for his sake? (he lives in another state if I recall correctly). So was it worth it?
    I am just curious if that extreme measure brought the expected benefit…..

  42. Questions about how to handle pets vs humans in one’s life always cause heightened emotions. Everyone has differing views. I guess I lean more toward Trent’s. Without going into a lot of detail, I have expereinced a situation where a close relative chose pets over me. Unfortunately, I cannot now visit her… and her pets keep her from visiting me. I think each person has to make a very personal decision on how to handle these types of relationships and there are consequences to any choice.

  43. I’ll add to the KEEP THE CATS, I have allergies and have two cats, for some reason I’m not allergic to them as much as other peoples animals. If someone sugested I get rid of the cats, I’d be getting rid of that person. What would you do if someone said they can’t be around your kids, get rid of the kids? Pets are family, if not you should not have them. TRENT DO NOT HAVE PETS!!!

  44. @Sarah
    I can’t believe that your parents wouldn’t get rid of the cats seeing how you were their child having a severe allergy to family pets. I’m sorry but in your situation, children trump pets ANY day.

    In Karen’s situation…not so much. Those cats are her pets and she should not be expected to get rid of them on the off chance her sister might visit.

  45. I agree with Hope. My husband, daughter and I all have cat allergies which trigger asthma. I can barely spend an hour in a home with a cat (even medicated). None of us could spend the night. If placed in a position similar to the writer’s sister, we would stay in a hotel (our visits would be much rarer due to this expense.)or limit our visits to half a day at another safe site. Perhaps Karen would be willing to meet her sister half way, so that her sis doesn’t have to travel 4 hours in a day.

    Health comes first.

  46. #19 Karla, regarding your question, my advice is to act like you would if you were running a rescue. In other words, ask questions (you can look at rescue group applications online and use those) and do a home visit. In addition, if you microchip your pet to you first and the new people second, if your (former) pet ever gets dumped at a shelter (yes, shelters see Craigslist pets all the time), you should be contacted if the shelter scans all pets and not just stray pets. Also, staying in contact with the person who takes your pet works well, and if there is any problem, knowing who you can refer the person to for medical/behavioral advice would be advantageous. All this assumes, however, that you would still care about what happens to the pet in the new home and not have an out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude.

  47. I agree whole-heartedly with Kelly#39! I read Sarah’s response and felt such sadness. I would never put a cat above my child’s well-being. An occasional visit is one thing, but my child being miserable for years?!! I hope you realize that you are more important than a cat.

  48. @Karen — I agree with what everyone said about the cats. All good advice, across the spectrum.

    @Trent — I feel like I have to agree with Adam P here. I find it disheartening and extremely ODD and cold that your response seems to be “it’s fine to get rid of the animal”. It makes me think this is a blog I don’t want to read and reconsider my RSS subscription. I know, big deal. But who wants to be smacked in the face with this kind of ignorance as to animal population issues and animal welfare works on a national level? If you’re asked something, and you’re not an expert on the topic, at what point do you decide to ask an expert?

    I know through prior discussions I’ve encouraged readers to take a look at what’s going on in their communities — I find it highly unlikely that most of you live in an area that does not have a shelter that doesn’t euthanize animals for lack of homes. These same community resources have dealt with similar situations many many times over the years. I just find your one-note answers to be severe and uneducated.

    But also, maybe a personal finance blog isn’t the place to come for this advice and you can pass them on to animal welfare groups who actually know better? This might be one of the cases where you need to call in an expert. Because you’re not, although you keep being asked.

    And I mean all of this as kindly as possible. I really and truly do not understand why people think you’re the right person to ask about this topic?

  49. re: #7 Karen–The cats belong to you and you love them; other people should not enter into the equation.

    You made a committment to the cats and i believe you should honor the committment for your sake and theirs. Our society treats animals like they are disposable. You do not seem to fit in that category, thankfully. My belief is pets should be treated no differently than people. Some animals cannot fend for themselves and I believe God asks us to care for creatures great and small.

    I have developed adult onset allergies and take medication because i will never give up my pets to a different home. I also keep OTC allergy meds at my back door for guests visiting that do have allergies.

    All of my pets have been rescued, two from a no-kill shelter where i volunteered. They had both been there over nine months! One of the questions from the Intake Specialist was how much would i spend on veterinary care. “Whatever it takes,” was my reply. 28 days later one of the cats became very ill. He was suffering from hepatic-liver disease, with less than a 25% chance of survival. After investigating that the treatment was lengthy but not painful and would not diminish his quality of life, we proceeded. Five months and $6,000+ later he was back to his old self. He provided me more than $6,000 worth of joy and happiness before he departed. My committment was honored and i would do the same for any of my pets or my children.

    After the above incident, my fiance (without allergies)told me before our wedding that it was “him or the animals.” Good-bye fiance without ANY regrets. Also, i would never allow anyone to dictate to me about my pets.

    Finally, i have never met an animal i do not like, but i cannot say the same for humans! There are plenty of so-called humans that given a choice, i would rescue the animal before a certain person.

  50. It seems clear that almost every comment about the cats is in favor of keeping them.

    Trent, I would suggest not posting questions about pets, because people seem to take an instant emotional response to those questions, which is reflected in the comments. (I don’t really argue either way; I have cats, but I find the discussion uninteresting.)

    I would prefer to hear advice from the comments for the other submitted questions, and I think it gets blocked out by pet comments. I wouldn’t want to have a submitted question during a pet debate, because it would get ignored. The other people need advice, and they seem to be in deeper need.

  51. @Dan: Trent gave advice to the other people. If you have something to add to any of them, no one’s stopping you.

    The questions that typically draw the most comments are the ones where most people think Trent’s advice missed the mark – whether the questions have to do with pets or with anything else.

  52. Stacy – I stopped contributing to Roth IRAs and now put everything I can into my 457b. Why? Because (at least with mine) it is a deferred compensation plan rather than a retirement plan. If I were to lose my job, I could withdraw from the 457 plan and pay only normal income tax — no early withdrawal penalty. With an IRA, I could incur a penalty on top of normal income tax. You might check into this to see if it’s the case with yours and consider that in your planning.

  53. Tammy – hefore you go out on your own I recommend you pay off your credit card debt. $15K is a hefty amount to hang over your head for someone who is self employed. And I too think insurance should be a priority.

  54. My sister in-law has many dogs my husband is allergic to. He has allergies and asthma. We can’t be there for very long. When we go he takes antihstamines and his inhaler. We still have to leave early. He is sick the next day. I would not ask them to get rid of their dogs, but we will not visit very often either. We live very close together, only about 5 minutes away. My husband and his sister aren’t as close as they used to be. She wants every one to come over there. It just isn’t going to happen. I know she loves animals and adores her pets. I know she loves my husband, her brother. It just isn’t easy.

  55. @#45- K.sol-
    You can withdraw from a roth ira with no penalty AND you do not have to pay income tax on the money you withdraw as long as you do not take out the interest portion of the invested money and just take out your original investment.

  56. @Caleb:

    I’m also a musician (classical) and have found a good balance of performing/teaching/and a day job as a web designer. My “regular” job lets me work my own hours and is location independent: I’ve done work while at a music festival in Germany for 6 weeks!

    It took me a couple years to establish myself (I didn’t know anything about web design when I started), but having a steady source of income when my freelance gigs are slow and control over my schedule is great!

  57. @Shiloh
    I’m in the same boat! I’m dying to pay of my loans so I can go atravelin’. I’m in a service program, and my month stipend it about equal to your, post-tax.

    I’m not really sure where Trent’s $100/month calculation came from… If your goal is to pay then off before you graduate, you need to be paying around $450 ($444, to be exact) to pay them off in 18 months.

    However, saving for retirement is also good, especially since you’re taking a year off. It’s advised people our age save 10%. I’m saving 15% to make up for the year of no income. $140 is 10%. $210 is 15%.

    So minimally, you need $590 extra a month to not get too off track with your long-term financial goals (travel + responsible retirement savings).

    Can you work a second job or is your master program one of those that forbids it? I tutor a couple extra hours every Sunday, all of which goes directly to student loans. If you picked up even two hours of tutoring at $20/hour each week, you would earn $160, closing the gap between what you have and what you need.

    Also, how are you financing the year off? I’m planning on WOOOFing (also–check out HelpX!) and such as well, but I still feel I’ll need more than the $2000 you have in savings. Most holiday visas also require a couple thousand in the bank to qualify (to get over and support yourself for several months while you find a job). How are you earning the extra money to keep building towards this goal?

  58. For those suggesting that allergies keep them from visiting a friend/family member, consider all the things other than getting rid of the animals that the owner could do.
    For Hope D (#46) – if she won’t come to your place instead, because she just wants everyone to come visit her, then she is clearly saying “your allergies mean nothing to me, and I don’t value your company”. She could come visit you, or you could all go to other places together. It would be easy to keep that relationship alive, and she seems to be choosing not to.

    I hate cats, have no pets, and have a terrible cat allergy. I am sensitive to the point of reacting when sitting near a cat owner.
    I don’t think you should get rid of the cats.

    You love them. They are your pets – have been for years. No-one in your house is allergic. Your sister demanding that she wants to visit, so you need to make over your house to accommodate her is ridiculous. I believe that they may be unable to stay with you – I could never stay overnight in a house with cats, no matter how well you cleaned, even drugged to the gills. It would be pain and discomfort and horribly not worth it. But I could stay in a nearby hotel and visit. Heck, I would camp in your backyard, but that’s just me.

    I think it would be entirely reasonable for her to visit, stay in a hotel, and be at your house only in brief periods – and go out and do things together without the cats. (If they’re really allergic, fresh clothes would help.)

    Asking you to make some concessions, like coming to their place more often, recommending hotels, cleaning a little extra, meeting in other places, etc. is very reasonable. Asking you to get rid of your pets is not.

    I have friends where I would never stay at their house, and prefer to have them over for dinner rather than being in their house even for the short period (which, with drugs, I *can* stand) – but I would never think of asking them to get rid of a pet.

    On the other hand, if someone in your house is allergic, then yes, the pet should absolutely go. I think it is completely unacceptable to drug your child and try to get him used to the pet, and let him suffer – even for a late-developing allergy. That’s awful.

  59. Great suggestions about how to make your house suitable for the occasional guest with pet allergies. Also there was an insightful remark about how do you go about finding a good home for a no longer wnated pet? That’s almost impossible unless you give to a close friend or neighbor. Otherwise the chance of little Fluffy or Cuddles ending up as the star in a crush video or as the victim of “religious” sacrifice, being dropped roadside when the novelty wears off, consigned to a vivisection lab, or otherwise doomed to a life of suffering, or an ugly death, is great. Take the unwanted to an animal shelter, give the shelter a donation, and hope for the best. if the pet can’t be adopted, it will be put down humanely. Then think before you adopt.

  60. Trent you REALLY missed the mark on the cat issue.
    I agree with the commenters – Karen took the animals in and is responsible for their wellbeing. I have multiple cats and dogs – and my identical twin is allergic and my best friend is VERY allergic. So you know what? They don’t come to my house often. I respect that they need to breathe but it has NEVER occurred to me that I should just get rid of them.
    My pets enrich my life (as well as my son’s life and my husband). My pets are part of my family – and have actually been a godsend because they encourage my son to work on his muscles by looking at them and trying to touch them (he has developmental delays due to prematurity).
    NO ONE should be forced to adjust their lifestyle just in case someone might come visit.

  61. I don’t know about you folks, but I would never in a MILLION YEARS think of asking someone who lives 200 MILES away to give up their pets to accomodate my occasional visit. That’s just ridiculous. There has to be a better solution.

  62. It is your home and your pets. You do NOT have to get rid of your pets for your niece. I would not have even made the promise of no pets after these pass. You do not need to live your life to please others. There is no reason to feel guilty about not bending for your family in this aspect. They can easily stay in a hotel.

    My pets are a top priority to me (I will never have children) so I get a little fired up about this. Reversing the situation-If you had issues with your niece would you request your sister to have her removed pemenantly so you could enjoy a visit now and then? That is am unreasonable request correct? Now animals don’t equal humans but uprooting your cats and changing your lifestyle permenently (never having another even when you love and enjoy these so much) for occasional visits from family sounds like a selfish, controlling and obtuse request on the part of your sister and her family.

  63. “the chance of little Fluffy or Cuddles ending up as the star in a crush video or as the victim of “religious” sacrifice, being dropped roadside when the novelty wears off, consigned to a vivisection lab, or otherwise doomed to a life of suffering, or an ugly death, is great.”

    Really? Hundreds of thousands of unwanted pets in this country and you think that your pet will become a victim of religious sacrifice? Dropped roadside, maybe.
    I agree with the shelter idea but the thought that there are huge numbers of people out there who are making crush videos boggles my mind. Farmore likely that someone will get in over their head with pet care and the cat will be neglected.

  64. Krissy-
    I have also faced the “how do I invest for ~5 years out?” question…

    I also decided to go with Vanguard mutual funds. I did 66% in VBMFX (Total Bond Market Index) and 33% in VTSMX (Total Stock Market Index). I also passively invest with automatic buys on a regular basis. It has had some ups and downs, but overall it has worked well.

    This is in addition to some CD’s and a high-interest savings acct. I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket.

    Regardless, I’m open to other people’s thoughts/opinions on the matter.

  65. thank god everyone sees the insanity of this pet drama. i have 2 furry kids and THEY have been there for me when humans could not have been bothered. it is unbelievable when i hear people talk about getting rid of pets as if they were a shade of paint on your wall you don’t like. you chose them, you have a responsibility to their health and well being–now things are tough so we’ll just give you away? red flag. wonder where else you do that in your life. i refused to date anyone that did not love my cats–my fiance’ did not have much cat experience. now he finds them very loving and entertaining and laughs like i do at their antics. he even spent last week-end building them a safe enclosure with a sitting area—he says it’s a package deal and being together they are now his responsibility too. one of the million reasons i LOVE this man!!

  66. My soon-to-be SIL is severely allergic to cats, so much that she can’t be in a house where cats live for more than a minute or two. Lots of friends and family members have cats. So rather than a) stop seeing friends or b) demand that everyone in her life get rid of their pets, she started herself on a course of allergy shots. They are painful and annoying, but the are WORKING, and she is joyful to be free of the allergies that have limited her so much.

    On the other hand, an acquaintance with 4 cats keeps insisting that our group of friends meet at her house. Many group members are allergic to cats and are uncomfortable after more than a few minutes in her home. No one would ask that she get rid of her cats, but it would be nice if she would quit demanding that we let her host events. There are plenty of cat-free homes in our circle.

  67. I remember reading in the past that you enjoyed watching LOST. I’m a huge fan of LOST and was really sad to see it end; however, I was REALLY satisfied with the ways the writers ended the show. What did you think?

  68. How is it that my comment, written at 10:12 a.m. on July 26th, is still sitting in moderation? I had written:

    ‘In your response to the third question, the sentence should read “Maybe they broke off their friendships with a lot of people to get where THEY ARE,” not “where they’re at.”’

  69. Regarding your advice to the musician (question #2), I’d suggest absolutely NOT using cheap microphones, because the terrible sound quality will be reflected every time the music is played – not a good way to build a brand. Other than tons and tons of disciplined practice and doing lots of gigs, this is the best investment he can make in his career.

    Since he lives in a robust music-oriented community (Nashville), there are probably tons of people with great equipment they could borrow or barter for the use of.

    For example, even though detailing someone’s cars several times might take 10 or 20 hours, if it gives access to expensive equipment to make great-quality recordings, it would be well worth the effort.

    Absent this approach, there are probably places to rent very good equipment for less than $200 (probably with pretax dollars for a professional musician).

    Thanks for reading.

  70. I know I’m arriving late, but here are my two cents on the cat issue: I have severe allergies (I received shots as a teenager), and I have cats. I can control my occasional allergic reactions (to cats, to trees, to pollen, etc.) with OTC allergy medicine. However, I have friends who have cats to which I’m extremely reactive. It would never occur to me to ask them to get rid of their cats – I can’t imagine having that kind of presumptuous attitude. I just make it a point to schedule meetings with these friends outside of their homes, invite them to mine, etc. And I would do the same if my child were allergic. It doesn’t make sense to me to ask Karen to get rid of her cherished pets. As a previous poster commented, how will this woman react when her child wants to visit a friend’s house, and the friend has cats?

  71. Dave Ramsey classes can be found in your area, go on his website, and look around, or you can take it online. There’s also a curriculum more suited for high school students.

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