Reader Mailbag: Long Weekend

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. Move in together
2. The crossover point for cars
3. Freelancer feeling desperate
4. Retirement and wedding
5. Basics of prepaid credit cards
6. Debt repayment planning
7. Teenage kids and cars
8. Zucchini bread
9. Self-conscious about hobbies
10. Child discipline

Six homecooked meals. A dance recital from not just one, but two of our children. A community festival. A parade. A grocery store trip. An air conditioner failure. A case of explosive illness from the third child.

All in a weekend’s work, I suppose. I need a nap.

Q1: Move in together
My boyfriend and I are considering moving in together, and both of us are very good budgeters. We both use a percentage-based plan where your take-home pay gets divided into categories which each have a percentage amount, e.g. housing 35%, investing 15% etc. My question is about how to account for a child support obligation he has from a prior relationship. Does that get taken off his take-home pay amount before he puts that into the budget, or does his take-home amount include the child support and then it’s part of his miscellaneous money? Under our ideal plan, we would each contribute a percentage to a joint account, but maintain some of our own money for retirement account, savings and miscellaneous money for clothes, books, video games or whatever personal purchases we might make for fun. Since he makes more money than me, he can afford for his child support to come out of there. But I am not sure whether that is fair and whether we should be counting his take-home pay as what it is before the child support gets deducted or as what it is after. What do you think? And do you have any general advice about moving in together with a yours/mine/ours money melding?

- Jill

It depends on whether or not his wages are being garnished for the child support. Most of the time, it functions much like an ordinary bill.

The fairest way to do this is to treat it as any other bill that you have to pay, alongside electricity, insurance, and the like. This is exactly how I would treat such a bill in our marriage.

My biggest advice for people who move in together is to talk about things. Communicate. Do it even if it feels awkward. You’re going to get along much better if you actually understand what each other is thinking rather than hiding thoughts and allowing them to fester.

Q2: The crossover point for cars
I have been a avid reader of your blog for a long time and now could use some impartial advice about car repairs…I have a 2006 car which has been fully paid off for three years, and has about 90K miles on it. I had planned on keeping the car for another four years or so and then purchasing another car. I take good care of the car in terms of maintaining it and keeping up its appearance, since I rely on it so much. But this year the car has needed some significant repairs (about $2,000 so far) and I have just been told that I need additional repairs (possibly another $3,000 or so) before the year is over.

My question is, when does it become less cost efficient to keep putting money into repairs vs. buying another car? I would like to think that these repairs are a one-time thing, but since the car is getting up there in terms of mileage I feel I will probably be putting more money into the car over the coming years, over and above regular maintenance. The car has a decent blue book value (about $15K) so with the current shortage of used cars I could probably get a good price for it and put that towards another car, however I’m not sure I want to take on a car payment right now. I do have some money saved that I can add to that so my payments will be lower, but not enough so I can buy a car with cash. Any advice?
- Denise

There are all kinds of “rules” for when the right moment is to trade in a car and get another one, but the best metric I’ve found is simply trusting your gut. If you have a sense that a car is no longer reliable, then you shouldn’t be sticking with it. It’s going to cause you far more headaches than it’s worth.

The key thing to remember is that the core reason you own a car is to get you from point A to point B, and if that car is no longer reliably getting you from point A to point B, then it doesn’t really have much value.

Listen to your gut on this one. You’ve driven that car for a lot of miles. Is it still reliable? The answer there will lead you to the right place.

Q3: Freelancer feeling desperate
I am an artist/wordpress website maker. i moved to California because I was feeling sad at home (Canada) and figured … I’m not sure. It didn’t work out as expected – money from Canada didn’t show up as planned, so now I’m wondering, should I get an under the table job? Or what? I have no dollars of any kind left, and have spent $600 in the last three months- there’s nothing left to cut.

I’m really talented and built my own website- I’m just not hooked up with people who need me. And i’m feeling desparate and that’s not attractive!

Anyways, would love some ideas on where to start!
- Kendra

The fact that you survived in California for three months while only spending $600 tells me either that you’re homeless and live on Alpo or you have some friends or family helping you. If neither is true, you need to start a website on frugality.

My experience has been that your work speaks for itself. If you create something good and put it out there, people will notice it.

If you’re a WordPress website maker, make some WordPress templates. Make your own website and share some of them freely and perhaps charge for others. Show off what you can really do. On your own website (which should be linked on the templates you give away), make your sales pitch for yourself. It takes time, but good things will happen if you produce quality stuff.

Q4: Retirement and wedding
I currently make 52k/yr and contribute 6% to 401k with 6% employer match, 5% to roth 401K, and max out an IRA. My company provides a bonus (profit sharing plan) March of every year. The benefit has been paid the last 10 years so it’s pretty much a guarantee. I stand to make 10% of my salary if it’s paid again this year. It’s paid as a bonus so the taxes are around 40%. We have the option of taking cash or putting 85% into 401k and taking rest (I guess at least 15% needs to be taxed). My long time boyfriend and I live together and have been talking about a potential wedding date of January 2014 (we want to get our finances in order first but that’s another conversation). I’d like to use the bonus the next two years and put it towards the wedding. Since the bonus is taxed at 40%, would it make more sense to lower contributions on 401k to 0% and throw the bonus into the 401k (my employer will match the bonus also as long as it hasn’t hit 6% for year) and save the money that would have gone to 401k towards wedding since it’s taxed at a lower rate?

- Jolie

If your 401(k) plan allows you to do this, then it makes sense to me. Just make sure that you’re allowed to do this before cutting your contributions.

More importantly, though, I’d ask myself if a wedding is something I want to dump that much money into.

If I had it to do all over again, I would have had an even simpler wedding than the one we had. Yes, it’s a big moment in your life, but it’s your moment. Share it just with the people who matter most in a simple way that reflects you and move on with life.

Q5: Basics of prepaid credit cards
I am curious to know if you can try to explain the confusing topic prepaid credit cards. I am an airline professional, who was furloughed several times after the 9-11 attacks. As a result, I defaulted on credit card payments, you know the story…you’ve heard it many times. I am now looking for a prepaid credit card that I can use for travel purposes (i.e. renting a car) I need to choose a card that will help me rebuild my credit with the lowest amount of fees and red tape. Any ideas as to which card you would choose? Any insight you could provide would be helpful.

- Rob

A prepaid credit card is one where you provide a deposit on the card before you can use it. Usually, that deposit is equal to your credit limit on the card. This is done to protect the credit card issuer from someone who has a very poor credit history.

When you sign up for such a card, you typically must pay the deposit up front. Often, it’s an amount on the order of $500. After that, it’s just like any other card, except that if you cancel the card, you get your deposit back, but if you just fail to pay the bills, they close the card and pay off your debt from your deposit.

Most prepaid cards are very straightforward and very similar. I would probably use such a card from a bank that I might be doing business with in the future on a home loan or another financial move along those lines.

Q6: Debt repayment planning
My husband and I are planning a big life change in 2-3 years where we will move from the DC Area (both working full-time jobs grossing $137k a year, paying a mortage of $2,093 a month on a $315,000 townhouse) to North Carolina where our families are. The cost of living is much lower in that area and we expect that we’ll be able to buy a house for around $150k. We were married two years ago and plan to start our family once we are settled there. Once that happens, I plan to only work part-time, or even ideally not at all.

We have a number of debts. As our lives are now, we have about $10k in savings and after paying all of our bills and debt monthly we can save about $800 a month. We would like to start putting this money towards our debt so that when we go back our obligations might be a little less. So in 24 months, we could realistically have about $19,200 extra paid towards these debts (on top of the minimum payment we are already paying monthly).

Which should we tackle first? I know the ones with the largest interest rates should be first, but is there anything else to consider? Do you have any advice about negotiating lower interest rates for some of these items that seem out of wack?
- Brianna

There really are two schools of thought on which debt to tackle first.

The one that will offer the lowest total amount for repayment is the one where you start by focusing on the highest interest debt, then move down the ladder as you pay them off.

The one that focuses on psychological self-motivation (a.k.a. the Dave Ramsey plan) tells you to pay off the debt with the smallest balance first.

They both work as long as you stick with it.

As for negotiating a lower interest rate on your credit card, it’s always worth trying as long as you’re fine with the credit holder cutting off your line of credit. They may do this if they perceive that you’re negotiating from a place where you may have difficulty paying off the debt in the future.

Q7: Teenage kids and cars
I have a combination kids/cars question for you: what will you do about transportation when your kids get old enough for part-time jobs, and later, going off to college? You have said you want to live in the country, so I assume there will be no public transportation. If your kids start after-school jobs, and later work while going to college, how will they get about? Will the bus system in the college town actually be workable for those crazy college kid work/school schedules? Would you want your daughter to ride a bus after a late waitressing shift in a college town, for example, or will you feel you have to help her get a reliable car? What if they win scholarships to different schools and can’t share rides? What if it’s actually cheaper to rent an apartment than live in a dorm (it was here), which means commuting to and from campus at all hours? What if they live at home for two years and commute to a community college? I have witnessed so many goggle-eyed parents who thought they had it planned, who suddenly find they need to provide transportation to 2 or 3 kids going in differing directions; kids who are working hard and covering as much expense as they can with their part-time paychecks. How can that be planned for, to avoid the sudden crunch of, say, two car purchases in four years, not counting mom or dad’s which might need to be replaced by then? I never see this addressed anywhere, and in rural areas, it’s a real issue.

- Joanie

Anything can be planned for if you start saving right now. If this is something that concerns you, then start saving for it.

I don’t feel that my children will need a car. I’ll buy them a bicycle if they want faster transportation in college. I did not own a car during my entire college career, though I had multiple jobs in various places around town with some of them having crazy hours. I even lived off campus for a few years. The city bus system and my bicycle handled things just fine.

At some point, you have to decide to let your children fly, even if their first flaps of their wings are difficult ones. Where do you draw the line between dependence and independence? For me, it’s shortly after they exit high school – and if they’re not ready for independence at that point, I’ve failed in my entire plan as a parent.

Q8: Zucchini bread
You’ve mentioned your zucchini bread on the blog a few times but I don’t think you’ve ever posted the recipe. Since we’re in the middle of zucchini season right now, could you post something on it? I’m knee-deep in zucchini from my CSA and need a good way to use it!

- Marc

Be warned, this isn’t a health food.

Mix together two cups of sugar, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, and 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Add three eggs, one at a time, and mix until everything is consistent. Then, add three cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 1 cup chopped black walnuts, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, and two cups of peeled and shredded zucchini. Take two loaf pans, coat the inside of each pan with a bit of vegetable oil, then cover that vegetable oil layer lightly in flour. Pour half of the batter in each pan. Bake at 350 F for about 55 minutes. Put the loaf pans (with the cooked bread still in them) on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, then remove the bread from the pans. It’s ready to eat!

I like my zucchini bread warm with a bit of butter or margarine on it.

Q9: Self-conscious about hobbies
One of the things I like about The Simple Dollar is that you’re unashamed of your “nerdy” hobbies, such as playing board games and reading and painting figurines.

This is something I have trouble doing. My two favorite hobbies are knitting and doll-making. I love spending my spare time doing this and I even have an extra room in my apartment devoted to these hobbies. But whenever hobbies come up in a conversation, I hide these things.

Do you have any suggestions about how to introduce a “quirky” hobby to people?
- Catelyn

I think this feeling often comes as a natural outgrowth of being introverted. My solution is to not be ashamed of it at all. If you act ashamed of your hobby, then other people will feel completely free to disregard it. You’re telling them it’s okay to think it’s nerdy because you think it’s nerdy.

I have no problem telling anyone in the world that I enjoy playing board games. It’s my hobby. So is reading and so is cooking.

I do think about ways to describe my hobbies to others in ways that will intrigue the most people, but the key thing I always do is simply make sure that I’m not ashamed of what I spend my time doing. If it’s something I’m ashamed of, why would I be doing it?

Q10: Child discipline
I truly value your opinions and was wondering if you have any recommendations for books on child discipline?

- Mike

The first time you face a rebellious toddler, parenting can seem like an absolute nightmare. I’ve been there and I know exactly what you’re going through.

The problem is that there is no recipe for managing your child that works for all children. For example, the ideas in 1-2-3 Magic worked wonderfully with my oldest son, but were practically useless with my daughter. She tended to respond better to techniques along the lines of Parent Effectiveness Training.

My advice is to not give up if a particular set of tactics seem not to work with your child. Try a different approach.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Vicky says:

    I HAD to have my own car in college… I moved from the country in Oklahoma to Houston, Tx – and I lived two hours away from school and I had to commute to school (Saved a LOT of money this way). Bought a decent truck for myself and managed pretty well. I did eventually move into my own apartment in the city but there was NO WAY I was biking around downtown Houston or taking the city bus at 2 AM when I was leaving school. A 19 year old girl does not need that added stress…

  2. Mary says:

    @Q2 – I’ve always wondered about that too, what is the good threshold for ditching an old car for a newer one. But when you’re dirt poor like I am, having any car, even if it’s super old, rusty and breaks down every so often, is better than nothing. There’s also public transportation. Plus you own it 100%. Can’t argue with the lack of car payment.

    I own a ’94 Buick Century with 152k miles. I cannot drive it long distances, but hey that makes people come see me, not the other way around like it normally is. Granted I have a moped and my boyfriend’s car to my disposal when the weather’s nice and need to travel home, but I use it heavily in winter and when it storms. I do want a better, more reliable car in the next year or two, but this system works for now. In Wisconsin winter, no one cares what your car looks like, as long as it runs and gets you from A to B. And my car is an awesome winter car.

    Just saying. Could be worse.

  3. Baley says:

    I agree with Vicky. A lot of college kids are going to need transportation. Trent may have been fine riding his bike or taking public transportation at all hours of the night, but I certainly wouldn’t have been. That being said, living in the dorm and not driving, even if the cost of the dorm is more, may actually save money in the long run anyway (taking into account mileage on the car, gas, and car repairs). I was without a car for a year in college in another state, but because I lived in the dorm, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. I got rides with friends into town when I wanted to go (though even that wasn’t necessary if my friends hadn’t had cars), and everything I needed was right on campus. I plan on helping my children out as much as I can, while also requiring them to be working and paying for things on their own. If they’re going to school and working really hard, then if they can’t afford a car but need one, I’m willing to help them out.

  4. valleycat1 says:

    Q3 – Are you saying you’re living in California without a US work permit (since you say you’re considering getting an under the table job)? If so, go back to Canada where you can legally work. If you want to come back to the States, then do the paperwork to be able to work here legally.

  5. Johanna says:

    When I was in college, the policy was that anyone on (need-based) financial aid who had a car would have their aid package reduced. The idea, I guess, was that if you needed the money that badly, you could sell the car. This was a stupid policy, but it was the policy nonetheless.

    But I would have been interested in Trent’s answer to the other aspect of Q7: What about when your children are old enough to drive, but haven’t left for college yet? “Just buy them a bicycle” is a more workable solution in a college town (which tend to be fairly compact) than it would be in Trent’s dream house in the country. And Trent’s kids are so close in age that it looks like there will be periods of time when two of them are of driving age and living at home simultaneously.

  6. valleycat1 says:

    Q8 – You can also pickle zucchini.
    Q9 – Embrace your nerdiness, but if you don’t want to share the hobbies with others, don’t feel compelled to. You might want to spend some time on Etsy to see how many other people out there have quirky hobbies.

  7. Johanna says:

    Q4: It’s a myth that a year-end bonus is taxed differently than other income. You will not save any money by putting your bonus, rather than your ordinary income, into the 401(k). The total amount you will pay in taxes will be the same either way.

  8. Jonathan says:

    Q4 – Johanna is right. I can easily see how people get confused about this, though. I get both quarterly and annual bonuses and 40% of those are taken out in taxes. When it comes time to file taxes, however, all income (whether from regular wages or bonuses) is counted the same. The 40% that was withheld on those bonuses is the same as the taxes withheld on your wages. You’ll either get a bigger tax refund because of it, or you’ll owe less than you would have otherwise.

  9. Tom says:

    Q4 – The bonus is taxed at a higher rate than usual, but you’ll be brought back to even when you actually file your income taxes.
    I’ve never heard of an employer allowing you to put an entire bonus into a 401k, usually that’s reserved for employers with salary deferral programs (and usually that’s for executive-level employees). Your employer likely has a percentage of your income you’re allowed to contribute to your plan on a regular basis.
    Even if you could do what you describe, it sounds like a logistical nightmare to me, to not contribute all year, then tell HR or whoever to put the entire bonus in, then make sure its matched correctly. And its profit sharing, so it’s totally unknown what you’ll wind up getting in the end. I think there are more hassle free ways to budget a wedding, and a single person making 52k gross shouldn’t be worried about tax sheltering strategies.

  10. Kerry D. says:

    Q7: I can tell by reading your answer that your children are still young. Seriously–living in the county, and giving them a bicycle to get to jobs/classes? Better to start saving now. And would you want to put your children in a beater or a reliable, safe car? As a mom of multiple teenagers, even in the suburbs, I can tell you this is a tricky thing.

    AND, achieving independence shortly after 18??? Better have a “plan B” because in today’s economy, it’s tremendously challenging to get going. Many entry level jobs are filled with people holding college degrees (who can’t find work in their own field) Young adults today are very likely to need the support of their family well into their 20′s. This is a reality we see for ours and many, many other families.

  11. Jonathan says:

    @Kerry D (#10) – Not expecting kids to achieve independence short after turning 18 is one of the factors that allows children to continue living like a teenager well into their 20s. If we don’t expect our kids to grow up and stand on their own, what is their motivation to actually do so?

  12. Lisa says:

    Q7- Don’t forget about ZipCar. A lot of undergraduates I knew when I was in grad school used ZipCar to do errands or get off campus. I’m pretty sure that it requires a credit card– a big motivation for students to be responsible with credit.

  13. Adam P says:

    Q1 – I would just say it comes out of his net pay then base %’s on the net number less child support. He already earns more than you so this just makes it a bit more even before it goes into the buckets.

    So I disagree with Trent as this is not a normal joint household expense like electricity, this is his bill from before he met you, not joint. A fair compromise is to have him pay it first and then base his % of contribution to the joint bucket on the lower net number. I think it’s a bit too harsh to have him pay the number out of his fun money, but nor do I think your money should directly pay it. Hope that helps.

  14. Johanna says:

    Q6: $800/month is not that much of a cushion for a household with an income as high as yours, so that makes me wonder whether you’ll be able to afford the transition to a one-income household. Sure, your housing expense will decrease when you move, but most of your other expenses will not drop much. Plus, you’ll have baby expenses to take care of, and your husband might not be able to earn as much in North Carolina as he does in DC.

    If you want to make this move before you’ll be able to pay off all your debt, I suggest focusing on the debts where you can reduce your monthly minimum payments the most. With credit-card debt, for example, the minimum payment is usually a percentage of the total balance – usually around 2% (at least with my cards), but sometimes as high as 5%. Other debts might have a fixed minimum payment unless you refinance the loan. So look over your various debts and figure out how the minimum payments are calculated, and then put the $800 toward the ones where you get the most bang for your buck as far as reducing the minimums goes.

  15. Monica says:

    I was going to comment on Trent’s bicycle response, but I think it’s already been well-covered!

    The one thing I would add — it depends on the size of the school, too. I didn’t have a car my first two years, but the campus was compact and very safe. When I transferred to “Giant State U” not having a car just wasn’t practical (or safe).

    Actually, when it came time to register for classes, there were blocks in the system because some classroom buildings were so far apart that you could not get from Point A to Point B in 10 minutes via foot, bike or campus bus. I always found that ironic.

  16. Ray says:

    Q2: 90k miles is high mileage? We finally got rid of the wife’s old car when it was 19 years old with over 160,000 miles on it. The motor had never been apart (but the transmission did fail around the 100k mark, which I replaced with friends with one from a “junkyard.”) (and the car was still running fine, but it was a 2 door coupe and the wife was pregnant with kid #2…)

    Q7: I live outside a large city, where there is no public transportation, so we are already thinking about this. I bought my own beater car when I was 16, and it worked, but it was still a lot of work, just to keep it on the road, and I like fixing cars. I’m planning on assisting my daughters to buy newer reliable cars so they have transportation and can keep them when they go off to college/university/just move out.

    My 2 cents: If you don’t like working on cars, at least learn how they work, you can save a lot of money by being educated as to the difference between “broken” and “unsafe.” (Broken can be fixed anytime, unsafe means being fixed now. Regular maintenance won’t catch all, but it reduces the number of suprises. I got a nail in my tire last week… unplanned, but I was able to fix in my garage for about $2.)

  17. Nancy says:

    At our house (in the country) we have 4 cars and 4 people that can drive. Mine is a 2007, and the other 3 are 1987 or older. Mileage is hovering toward 200,000 miles on each. They are well maintained and are I HIGHLY recommend if you go that route, you MUST have a fabulous relationship with your mechanic and be very handy/cognizant of upkeep.

    My two teenagers always rode together for their summer jobs at the same location. (Planned that years in advance with proper certifications to become lifeguards/WSI instructors.) They only drove separately 3 times this summer.

    Why the 4th car? Because if one is in the shop, and I guarantee you will have small issues, you need an additional beater to use to get one of the four people around. Insurance is low because the cars are for the most part worthless. They all get great gas mileage! Though they don’t look pretty…

    My husband is a farmer. He is the only farmer I know who drives a small 4-6 cylinder beater car instead of a pickup. We figure we’ve saved THOUSANDS in gas over 30 years.

  18. Andi says:

    I would disagree with the response to Q2 – I would rarely trust my gut with the reliability of my car. I would however trust my mechanic’s gut in a heartbeat. We have a long term working relationship with a great and honest mechanic – he’s going to be straight with us about the life left in a car. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this is the key to keeping and maintaining vehicles for a long time. Know your mechanic! We are currently driving a ’99 Suburban (could have lots of arguments about mileage, etc but it fits our family and our business) with almost 230,000 miles on it and plan to make it to 300,000.

  19. Ginger says:

    Regarding Q-4, the bonus is not taxed at a higher rate. Your rate is based on your total income, bonuses are not taxed extra. It appears so because of how you have the I-9 filled out and the computer/HR assumes you are maxing that bonus amount every pay period. Do not cut your retirement savings.

  20. Gretchen says:

    Knitting is trendy now- it’s far from “quirky.”

  21. TLS says:

    Q9 – I don’t think your hobbies are ‘quirky’ at all. Knitting and various forms of crafting are very popular nowadays.

    If you are excited about your hobbies, it’s likely other people will be enthusiastic too. Maybe find a community of people who are interested in similar things (online, or a local craft or knitting store). It’s nice to have a group of like-minded people to talk to and share ideas with.

  22. Baley says:

    Q1 – Moving in together doesn’t have to mean joint finances. Maybe work out the budget like roommates would: split the rent and utilities but keep separate accounts. This would make it fair all around and you would only have one major change in your relationship (moving in together) at a time. You may want to wait on joint accounts and spending until you’re sure you’re ready for something more permanent. Even if you don’t plan on marriage (but plan on staying together), you could still wait and see where living together gets you. I’d recommend getting married before joining finances, though. FWIW.

  23. valleycat1 says:

    Q7 – Some colleges don’t allow freshmen to have cars, unless it’s a verified hardship situation (as in, they have to work off campus to pay their bills). Also, as others have pointed out, it really depends on the college location, living arrangements & jobs as to whether a car is needed or more convenient. But, as Trent says, if you’re concerned your kids will need cars, then start saving now.

    When the time comes, Consumer Reports does a great job of reporting on best used cars for reliability and safety in their annual car issue. They used to do a short list of best cars for your teen driver – I don’t know if they still do or not.

  24. Johanna says:

    @Jonathan (#11): First, just because parents might not expect their children to be ready to stand on their own at age 18 doesn’t mean they don’t expect them to stand on their own ever. It’s more reasonable, I think, to expect them to become independent at the time they finish college, at age 21 or 22. (But even then, if that expectation doesn’t become reality, it’s not necessarily because the child did anything wrong.)

    And maybe not everyone operates this way, but for me personally, I found “growing up and standing on my own” to be a rewarding milestone in its own right. I think my parents would have been willing to continue to help me financially into my 20s if I’d needed it (they did so with my brother when he graduated in a weak economy and couldn’t find a job right away), but I was still plenty motivated to become financially independent of them as soon as I realistically could.

  25. Brianne says:

    Q4 – My company also offers profit sharing and it always goes straight into our 401K, so I know they aren’t required to tax a portion of it. We get profit sharing instead of a company match.

  26. Jonathan says:

    I agree completely that growing up and being self-supportive is a very rewarding experience. That is one of the reasons that I am such a proponent of young adults not being coddled by their parents. Some learn to stand on their own anyway, even with parents who are willing to continue to support them. Many others, however, learn to rely on their parents well into their 20s and miss out on many beneficial experiences. I have seen a lot of people from my generation who were allowed to not grow up at 18 or 21 and now in their early 30s they are faced with situations that they aren’t equipped to handle because they never had to learn from those mistakes early on.

    My wife and I both feel very fortunate that we were living on our own at 18 and 19 and made our stupid mistakes then, when the stakes were much lower. I’m definitely a better person because I had to struggle to make it on my own and find my own way at 18, and I feel bad for people who make it well into adulthood before they start that same process.

  27. MattJ says:

    Q9 Catelyn:

    I get where you’re coming from with the hesitancy to share your hobbies.

    I have a few hobbies and have cultivated friendships where the hobbies are different enough that I have sets of friends who are essentially incompatible with each other.

    My ‘exercise’ hobby is rock climbing. No worries at all about sharing the details of that hobby with anyone.

    I also have spent the last year getting pretty heavily into caving. This is another rough, physical, endeavor. The folks who are into this are real salt-of-the earth people. Men and women who are not afraid to get banged up, wet, dirty, and nekkid in front of each other. (The ladies tend to be more careful than the men, but everyone has to change out of their wet, muddy clothing after exiting the cave & before getting into your cars & trucks to go home.) If you go caving with serious cavers, you will see naked men. I’m a member of a couple of rescue squads and train with them almost every week.

    My third ‘main’ hobby, and the one that I actually spend the most time and money on is ballroom dance. You might imagine that the some of the ‘rough/tough’ folks who climb and cave think ballroom dance is a little girly, and sometimes I might take a little teasing. For me, the way I cope is:

    1) When climbing or caving, I pull my own weight. I’m willing to do what everyone else is willing to do.

    2) When teased, look people in the eye and be proud of your skills. If a guy asks me whether I ever dance with other guys, the correct answer is the truth: “Sometimes my dance partner and I have a male teacher, sometimes a female one. He or she will dance with both of us so we can learn the steps and combinations. Also, the primary skill a male dancer needs to learn is to be a good dance lead. I’ll never be a great dance lead unless I also learn to follow. They go hand-in-hand.”

    Confidence is all it takes. You want to project the following: “I’m here hanging with you because I like this activity. I also like this other, different, activity. It’s a skill I’m proud of, and I’m very good at it.”

    It’s no fun teasing someone who refuses to feel shame.

  28. Patsy says:

    This is in response to Denise, question #2. We have often purchased $400 “beater” cars and run them into the ground, as my husband has a 2-year degree in auto mechanics and has been able to keep them going for quite a while. But, we have purchased two new cars in the past 11 years and have been very pleased with them. We purchased very economical cars, keeping our purchases well within our monetary limits. In 2000, we purchased a new Chevy Geo Metro, 3 cylinder 2 door hatchback for $8,000 which now has 130,000 miles and is still going strong (50 mpg!). In 2004, we purchased a Chevy Aveo 4 door hatchback for me, which is a standard shift 4 cylinder car that gets about 38 to 42 mpg for about $8,000. I love it and it’s been a wonderful car for us. I guess what I’m trying to say is with the funds you have available, you might want to consider a less expensive model automobile which you could pay cash for and purchase new….a Chevy Aveo sedan might be about $12,000 or so. Just a consideration.

  29. Pattie says:

    Q1….do you really want to share finances…and life…with someone whose first priority needs to be to his kids? I’d be taking a hard look at how old they are and what his obligations (legal and moral) are to them.

  30. Tara says:

    I cannot say enough about the absolutely delicious, incredible chocolate zucchini muffin recipe at Penzey’s. If you have tons of zucchini around, try it out. The recipe says to peel the zucchini first, but I just grate them with the skin on and nobody is ever the wiser.

    Seriously…chocolate zucchini muffins (Google “Penzeys chocolate zucchini muffins”). AMAZING. And they freeze perfectly.

  31. Ryan says:

    I had a car as soon as a I turned 16, so I can’t imagine relying on a bike and the bus. I started a part-time job a few months after I got my license and that job was only possible because I had my own car.

    Now I commute to school 20 miles away, so the bus or a bike simply aren’t an option. In fact, I’ve never ridden any bus, besides the school bus in elementary & middle school.

    Driving in high school was a privilege that I know a lot of people don’t have, but it made things way easier on my parents. Yes, it cost them money, but it also meant they didn’t have to pick me up from practice every day at 4:30 or get up at 3AM when I had cross country meets. Riding the bus to school would have meant getting up at 5 instead of 6:45 and I think my parents valued my sleep more than what insurance and gas cost.

    If you can start saving now for your kid’s car, I’d do it.

  32. Kerry D. says:

    I’m not sure where needing support from parents equates to being coddled… The economic realities of today I have a 20 year old with a learning disability. His college education will take even longer than an average student. Because of our income, he is unable to get ANY financial aid. (Not that our income is particularly vast with a Silicon Valley cost of living.)

    He has searched extensively for a part or full time job over the last year and a half, and while he has had a couple temp opportunities, the vast majority of jobs in our area are being filled by people with college degrees who cannot get a job in their original field.

    If he was your child, would you throw him out on the street? Probably not. Education is still likely to pay off in the long run, so we welcome him living at home and growing his skills. He has been far from molly-coddled. As a fellow adult in the house, he shares daily and maintenance responsibilites in/on the home, as well as care and transportation of younger sibs.

    But, the reality is that he is far from independent. He is not the only one, as I mentioned earlier. As a college instructor, I see vast numbers of students in similar situations. By the way, the average cost of renting even marginal housing in an iffy neighborhood is about $1,000 for a studio apartment. At minimum wage, earning $8-9 hr, they could make perhaps $1400 a month… I think they could work full time and pay rent. Possibly eat. Not much else. And have little time to improve their education.

    I’d rather hang in there and parent a little longer, and make sure he really launches. Not molly coddling. Just have greater aspirations for my child than taking a minimum wage job and working payday to payday. If he could even pull that off, given the job market.

  33. Patsy says:

    This is in response to Catelyn #9 and Matt’s (#27) response. Great response Matt! Listen to him Catelyn! Also, with the hobby of knitting, seeming “old ladyish” or “nerdy”, there are a number of young women in their late teens/early twenties who belong to knitting clubs/groups that I know of who can’t wait to get together and knit, discuss their patterns and show off the beautiful items they are making. Not “old ladyish” at all! In these economic times, knitting is also a wonderful art. My husband comes from a huge family (11 brothers and sisters, with tons of nieces/nephews & greats….no kids of our own), so we give a small gift to everyone. This year I am knitting very nice hats for everyone and two of the “greats” (young teens) who have modeled the hats for me are upset that they don’t get theirs until Christmas! Anyways, knit away and enjoy yourself!

  34. prodgod says:

    @Jonathan: Comparing how things were when we were young adults vs. how they are for kids today is rather specious. You can expect your kids to go out and make it on their own all you want, but the reality is, circumstances are quite different these days. None of us has ever seen an economy like this; college is expensive; jobs are scarce; rents are often prohibitively expensive; etc. Anyone who thinks parenting ends at 18 is in for a rude awakening. I agree with what you say in theory, but I don’t think it’s as practical as you do.

  35. Jonathan says:

    @Kerry D (#32) – Obviously having a child with a learning disability changing the situation. There are always exceptions, and I would certainly make an exception for a child with a learning disability.

    Also, I’m not saying that parents should throw their kids out of the house when they turn 18. There are certainly going to be situations where an 18 year old might need some help. My point was that the expectation should be that an 18 year old start achieving independence, with parents continuing to provide support an exception for situations that warrant it. If the expectation, however, is that the parents are going to continue supporting the kids until 21 or 25 or beyond, then the result is fewer young adults who know how to stand on their own. Granted, there are going to be exceptions to this. Some kids will achieve more than is expected of them by their parents, but these kids are going to be independent and make it on their own regardless.

  36. jim says:

    Q1 Jill : I’d take the child support off the top.
    He has to pay that money first and budget based on whats left.

    Q2 Denise : Don’t listen to your gut. I’d get the opinion of more than one mechanic. Thats better information than your stomach.

    Q3 Kendra : No you should not break the law and work illegally. It doesn’t sound like California has made you happy. It also sounds like you’re not legally allowed to work here and have no means of supporting yourself. I’d go back to Canada so you can support yourself. You should really seak to address what is making you sad rather than think moving and breaking immigration law will fix it.

    Q4 : As others have said bonuses are not taxed at higher amount really. The government witholds more but the end tax is the same. There is no extra tax amount for bonuses. The amount they withold is just an estimate and they pull more out of bonuses to be safe since its variable income and hard to estimate your end tax bill based on such variable amounts.

    Q7 : the kids may or may not need cars. It really depends. If living in teh country really means 2-3 miles outside a city then you don’t really ‘need’ a car for that. When they go to college they may be just fine with public transportation. But maybe living in teh country means 25 miles from anything and thee college requires a commute. Theres no absolute here. It depends on the situation.

  37. getagrip says:

    Q7 Having just dropped one child off at college for their first year and having another away at college to start their third year we are in the midst of struggling with this question as well. To cut to the chase we have bit the bullet and are funding four vehicles. By planning ahead (I knew I wanted to get at least one additional vehicle before the first was a senior in high school) and putting the word out that we were looking, opportunities presented themselves. I got a great deal through a friend. That took care of high school and into college four years ago. Last year, because of the way things were working out, we decided again to look into getting something, and after a few months we got another lucky break and got another good vehicle. So, we (to include the kids) have four used vehicles and all the costs associated with maintaining them (still less than $400 a month for a single new car payment).

    Is it ideal? No. Is it a want versus a need? Yes. Have I had to postpone some of the things I wanted to do to make it happen? Yes. Would I have done this if it would have seriously affected my retirement or other serious financial commitments? No.

    It’s a decision like any other. You have to make it for yourself and your kids.

  38. Sheri says:

    Q9: I have two major hobbies: knitting and roller derby. I figure they cancel each other out.

    Hold your head high, Catelyn. It’s cool that you have interests–what matters is the passion, not the particulars.

    If there is some particular business reason not to talk about specific hobbies, then don’t. I am a business owner, and I am not always free about roller derby with some clients, although I will mention to almost anyone that I love to skate–but with certain clients, I play it up. Know your audience! :-)

  39. Kate says:

    Q7—Trent, I usually like your advice but I disagree with you on this one. I live in your state and I can’t imagine making my teenager ride a bike year round in freezing weather and snowstorms. It’s hard enough to try to drive on our roads in the winter with a car! Bikes are fine for a college campus or a very short commute but let’s face it, our communities/schedules are built upon the idea that we have autos to drive. Until that changes, many of us need a car—including teens.

    I concur with other readers that you might change your tune when your children become teens. Save your $ now!

  40. Sonja says:

    I think learning to drive, being responsible with a car, getting places on time, learning to plan driving routes, learning basic car maintenance, etc., are all skills that adults need. Why is getting your teen a car and teaching them these things somehow indulging them?

  41. BirdDog says:

    @Sheri#38

    Knitting and roller derby! That sounds awesome, so many times people try to put others in boxes and make things so one dimensional. Be proud of your hobbies! If we were all alike, life would be SO boring.

  42. Julia says:

    I definitely needed a car when I was in college. But that’s part of the equation. Deciding where to go to college, where to live, how to get around, and how to pay for it all are inter-related decisions that young adults need to make. The possibilities are so great and diverse that parents really can’t plan for every little detail.

    Rather than worrying about this specific factor, I think parents should simply plan to help their kids in some limited fashion and leave the rest to their kids.

    I chose to buy a car because I chose not to live on or close to campus because I chose to go to a school close enough that I could live at home… and it was all related to my choice to take a certain job when I was in high school that I could keep while I was in college. My sisters made very different choices – and did not require cars while they were in college because of the other choices they made.

  43. bogart says:

    Q10 another series that comes highly recommended is the Love and Logic one. If you google that phrase, the books will show up in the results (ditto for an Amazon search).

  44. em says:

    @#40: just because you get your child a car does not mean you teach them any other the things you mention. From my experience with teenagers who get cars from their parents the parent pays gas, insurance, car payments, puts no restrictions on the amount of driving, and when something goes wrong (accident, mechanical work, etc.) the parent deals with it. This teaches nothing and is indulging them. Not always the case of course but of all my friends in highschool who had their own cars only 1 or 2 had any financial obligations to said car.

  45. Geoff Hart says:

    Kendra noted: “I am an artist/wordpress website maker.
    I’m really talented and built my own website- I’m just not hooked up with people who need me.”

    Some of my articles might be helpful to you. In particular, this one should help you find work:

    Hart, G. 2006. Finding work in tough times.

    As a Web designer, You should also be taking advantage of social media:

    Hart, G. 2011. Taking advantage of social media. Part I: the media are the message.

    Hart, G. 2011. Taking Advantage of Social Media. Part II: The Media Aren’t the Message.

    You’ll still have to do a lot of work yourself, but these ideas should point you in the right direction. There’s other useful stuff on my site, but these point directly at your problem.

  46. Geoff Hart says:

    Oops! Just noticed that the URLs were stripped out of the three articles I posted. Sorry! Google for them and you’ll find them quickly enough.

  47. Liz says:

    Q9: I think it would be cool to know how to knit. I have seen several designs, mainly for an infinity-style cowl, that I would love to have. I never could learn how; I am left-handed and my potential teachers were all right-handed. But please embrace your skill, rather than being embarassed by it.

  48. Emma says:

    to #1 Child support billa is a bill of honor. Must be paid first like electric bill before cable, car and anything else. After that bill is paid I would think about dividing, sharing, spliting the rest of money. His “fun” or free money pool has to be bigger to begin with. A father has million obligations(or will chose to participate in paying) other than those lagally put on him. Like dance and piano classes, Birthdays, tutorings, braces, commputer shool trips, bikes, kites and zillion other expances a father CHOOSES normally to pay for in a full family. Also his time- you will always have to share him with his child- for life. He is already a FATHER, your are getting in a union with a FATHER not just a regular boy. The main question for you is: are you ready to settle with a man who is a father? If you have objections already about his contribution to his first born child you are getting in a way for him to be a father he wants to be. Explore you emotions and honst feelings.You are asking for advice on a public boead- things aren’t that good. Nobody dreams about getting married to sombody’s father but it is a reality. Not eveything can be fixed by % and margings and quick fainancial tips. Again- child support bill is sacred. Don’t play with it or it might ruin your life and the others.

  49. valleycat1 says:

    #47 Liz – I’ll bet there are online videos for left-handed knitters, check with a local yarn shop for recommendations on lefty training, or try european-style knitting which is a different approach (more ambidextrous) than what you’ve probably been trying to learn. Or try crochet, which is pretty easy to do either left or right.

  50. Pat says:

    Q2 – 90,000 is not high mileage. It is just getting broken in. Current autos are built to last much longer than 90,000 miles. Perhaps 10/15 years ago people would believe 90,000 was allot, but no anymore. You should be getting 150,000, 200,000 or more miles out of your car if properly taken care of. With that said – $5,000 in repairs in one year is quite a bit. I would rather pay that $5,000 than take on payments on a newer car in a heartbeat. If after those repairs are made your car is good to go for 4 or 5 more years than definately make those repairs. If those repairs are only leading up to even more repairs in the very near future then by all means dump that vehicle and use the money to get something else that will last longer and not be such a drain on your wallet. I always expect 250,000 miles from my vehicles but I once owned a Honda CRV that I only put 125,000 on but it not only made my back ache when driving it (no lumbar support) but was a huge cash drain in repairs. I traded it for a 2 year old VW and never looked back. Sometimes you just have to let go.

  51. Damon says:

    @Q3 -

    Like Trent said, try making some WordPress templates if you’ve got the talent. Sites like themeforest.net will pay put a price on your templates (usually $20-40) and you get a percentage of each purchase. The more purchases you get, the higher percentage you get to take home.

    There are plenty of template sites out there. Woothemes is another one. If you’ve got the ability to make templates that can be used in a variety of ways while also filling a niche, you can really rake in some cash.

  52. Karen says:

    At Tara #30 – that sounds awesome and will try!

  53. SLCCOM says:

    Ditto, Tara! I might even get lucky tonight after I make these…

  54. Georgia says:

    I have had 2 cars that got over 300k (363k for one and 316k for the other). Luckily I started a system years ago that lets me figure when to get another car.

    I was living & working 90 miles from home and knew I would be responsible for the car, not my husband. So I got a little, fat book and started to keep info on my car. I have a section for all expenses, mileage, gas, repairs, maintenance, etc. Each month I would average out the costs over the life of us owning the car. If the maintenace and repairs come to an average of less than $125 a month, I fix it. I could not buy another car for that low a payment. Right now my 2000 Ford Taurus Wagon in costing me an average of about $106 a month. In the next few months I will probably need a new transmission. I will get one because it is averaged out over a 6 year period and would still be less than $125. And the car has 195k miles on it now. I hope to keep it another 4-5 years.

    In college, I lived on campus and took the bus or walked 2 miles to downtown. Never hurt me a bit. In fact, I did not learn to drive and get my license until I was 32. Slow learner, huh? But I had grown up in a town that had a good bus system and I had other things to waste my money on.

    I solved my kids’ problems with growing up. Sent my daughter 400 miles to college. Close enough to call in an emergency and far enough to have to make most of her own decisions. Also, it was our church college and there were still a few rules she had to adhere to. My son went from high school straight into the Army for 9 years. He was responsible enough that when I lost my job for a year, he sent me $250 a month from his low stipend until I got a job.

    We did buy our daughter a used car ($500 cost) when she moved south. She was working 2 full time jobs and still not able to take care of everything and afford to buy a car. I’ve never regretted that decision.

  55. RobinH says:

    #47 Liz- What valleycat1 said. Go to knittinghelp dot com and look at the free videos for continental knitting. Continental (as opposed to English style knitting) puts more of the work into the left hand, and most left-handed people find it easier.

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