Reader Mailbag: Quotes

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. Finding “lost” 401(k)s
2. Finding balance
3. New cell phone advice
4. Moving expenses
5. Is net worth worthwhile?
6. Convincing twentysomething about retirement savings
7. Struggling with down payment
8. Starting talk about future plans
9. Wife’s moment of financial clarity
10. Stuck in place

Several people have asked me where I find the quotes I use in the Pieces of Inspiration columns I write each week.

I actually have this rather large archive of quotes I’ve been saving over the years. Right now, they’re all stored in Evernote.

Each morning, I scroll down to a random place in the file (they’re all random in there) and read a few of them until one clicks with me and makes me feel positive about the day.

I use most of the ones for the week in that week’s Inspiration post.

Yes, sometimes I repeat them. There are repeats in the file and I also sometimes scroll down to quotes I’ve seen before. Still, there are something like 1,500 quotes in the file, so repeats aren’t that frequent.

Where do I find them? Books. Magazine articles. Websites. If I find a good one, I stick it in the file somewhere.

Q1: Finding “lost” 401(k)s
If you have worked several jobs over the years, how would one go about acquiring all the “left behind” benefits and 401k programs that one amassed over time? I have donated to several but never rolled them over. Are they still around to be collected? Or is this a lost cause?

- Dave

There’s no easy way to do it.

Your best approach is to simply make a list of your employers, contact them, and ask about their retirement programs during the time you worked there. Mostly, you need to figure out the company that held them.

Then, contact the company and verify your information with them. You’ll likely need your address at the time, your last four digits of your SSN, and maybe some other information.

It will be a rather long process. There’s no easy way around it.

Q2: Finding balance
Some days I feel like I should be saving every dime for my future. Other days, I feel like I should be spending and enjoying life right now. How do I balance these things or find a sensible route? If I do one, it tends to undermine the other.

- Kelly

This is a struggle I have, too.

The best solution I’ve found for this dilemma is to simply strive to find ways to maximize enjoyment of life without spending money. If I enjoy something, I keep doing it, but I try to find ways to make it cheap.

For example, I’m an incredibly avid reader. I’ve read about 44 books so far in 2013. My solution for doing this cheaply is to hit the library hard, read discounted e-books on my Kindle, and enjoy lots of public domain books.

Take what you like already and try really hard to make it cheap, and also fill your time with a wide variety of new free things to see what clicks with you.

Q3: New cell phone advice
I recently lost my cell phone and need a new one. It was a prepaid phone that was inexpensive and had few options. I’ve had phones from three major cell phone carriers with mixed results. Any input or advice on a new cell phone?

- Mark

My experience has been that some carriers are really good in some areas and terrible in others.

I use U.S. Cellular. Some of my friends are on Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T. There have been times when I’ve had a great signal and they’ve not had much of a signal at all. At other locations, they’ve been fantastic and I’ve been terrible.

I would either stick with the best of the ones you’ve tried or keep trying new ones. Keep track of the provider that has the best service in the area where you’re usually at, then (eventually) just stick with that one.

Q4: Moving expenses
Our family of three is about to move from a large apartment into a house that’s about three hours away. No matter how we sketch it, this move is going to be expensive. Any suggestions on minimizing expenses?

- Alice

Do it yourself with a moving truck and a bunch of friends. That’s the biggest money saver.

Box everything you can, then designate a “moving day” where you can get some people to help you move. Rent a moving truck the day before, start loading it that night, finish loading it the next day with the help of friends, drive to your new place, and unload it there.

I’ve helped friends move halfway across the country like this before, so I know firsthand that friends will help with moves like this (right, “Slash”?).

As for boxes, call the local office of the realtor from whom you bought the house and see if they can give you a lead on someone who recently moved and might want to be getting rid of boxes. You can also ask at stores – I had a ton of success getting boxes from the local bookstore before our most recent move.

Q5: Is net worth worthwhile?
I’ve read a lot about net worth on your blog. I get it that net worth = assets-liabilities. However, I’m a recent graduate who just started working with a consistent paycheck and I live in an apartment I don’t own (renting). My budget is just myself and not very complicated.

My assets aren’t a lot – I have a used car with no payments on it. Other than that I have clothes, adequate sized TV, and a couch with other random furniture (microwave, coffee maker, small bookshelf, etc.). I know my major goal right now is build savings while paying down those student loans. Is calculating net worth a worthwhile thing for me? Will it show me anything I don’t already know?
- Dwayne

The big value of net worth is to watch your progress over time. You calculate it today, then calculate it a month from now and compare it. Did it go up? Then you’re making progress. You can also focus on how much it went up and strive to beat that “record” next month.

So, yes, there’s certainly value in calculating net worth. It’s pretty much the best motivation tool I have for continuing positive personal finance performance.

When I go back and look at where I was in terms of my net worth in 2006, I feel extremely good. When I compare this month’s net worth to the value from 2012, I get really motivated to try to do better next month (even if I did well).

Q6: Convincing twentysomething about retirement savings
My 24 year old son has made a lot of great financial moves, but he recently said that he’s not saving a dime for retirement even though his employer offers 100% matching up to 6% of his salary. I was kind of shocked at this. How can I convince him that he’s missing out on free cash?

- Jim

You’ve already stated a big part of the case. He’s leaving money on the table by not picking up the matching.

Another case to make here is that if he saves even a few percent now, he’ll avoid having to save a huge percentage later on. If he just saves 6% now, he’ll probably be able to stick with that percentage through his whole career (with matching) and be in great shape at retirement time.

On the other hand, if he doesn’t do that and waits until about age 40 or so, he’s going to have to put away 20-25% of his annual salary in order to catch up.

If he’s actually financially savvy, those facts should wake him up.

Q7: Struggling with down payment
I am a 25 year old woman who currently lives in New York. I moved out of my house 1 year ago and into a nice apartment with my boyfriend. We currently pay $990 for the apartment, not including electricity. I am better off financially than him right now–I went to college for a mathematics degree and have been in my job about 4 years. It is a very customer service based job and I am making $42,500. I am CONSTANTLY (I am stressing: all. the. time.) analyzing my situation and my salary and feeling like I am selling myself short. I am not your typical math whiz-I solely got the degree because I thought it would be more marketable than psychology (I LOVE self help/studying people/etc so a job more people-based seems more appealing than an account/actuary/etc). I have thought of possibly going back to school to be a math teacher because it combines math and people, but I would have more student loans and also probably not be making much more of a salary than what I’m making now. My job is very stable and they give me around $2500-4500 raises per year (I started at 28K). I am a supervisor, but I don’t think there is much room to grow. It is a small office and there are a few people above me that aren’t going anywhere. I know I have a stable position there, but I desperately want to be MORE financially stable. Two of my good friends just got married to men who make around 50-60K a year and they are financially set as a couple–but my boyfriend is making an hourly wage and has no intentions of going back to school (he is just getting his GED now at age 27)..so I can’t really rely on that. I have no real desires/passions for a career–I just want badly to have a nice (moderate) house, be able to have a family, go on vacations and have ‘FREEDOM’ (like you talked about in one of your more recent posts). I don’t want to be a millionaire–it would be nice obviously–but I want to be comfortable and not be a workaholic.

Also, as a side note-I regularly track my budget. I am saving up to buy a house and currently have around $2000 in an emergency fund and $4500 for a house–I know that for first time home buyers you can put a low amount down so I’m thinking I need around 6-7K. I am not the type of girl that buys $200 purses–I buy almost all of my clothes on sale and splurge on some $30-40 shoes here and there, and keep my social spending to a minimum. I definitely could cut back on grocery shopping–we throw out food sometimes–but I am in the process of being more strict.

You seem to have such GREAT advice for people-I was wondering if you had any advice for me. I literally feel clueless…and direction-less. I have read books, blogs, talked to MANY many people, but yet I feel as if I am searching for an answer that just isn’t there.
- Donna

Your biggest desire seems to be to simply have more income. That’s not a bad thing.

However, you’re wanting a job with the stability of what you have now but with more avenues to move up. In order to find that, you’re going to have to take on career risk. By that, I mean you’re probably going to have to shop around for another job, switch to another workplace with an unknown amount of stability, and hopefully integrate yourself into a new corporate culture with the ability to move up.

There’s a reason that people tend to hop around a lot early on in their career, then they tend to stick with a company later on. Stability – in terms of having a steady place to work and a steady paycheck – becomes more and more important, while earning more becomes relatively less important (usually because they’ve figured out how to be satisfied in life with their income).

I think you’re trying to figure out your own personal balance between those two things.

If I were you, I’d step back and look at my life in a broader sense. Could I tolerate the risk of jumping ship in my life right now? Can I tolerate the additional stress of a higher-level job? If you can, then you should be exploring new paths. You clearly have a strong desire to chase a higher income level, but is it strong enough to walk away from great stability? Only you can answer that.

If that doesn’t sound like a good tradeoff, look into starting a side business or chasing potential freelancing opportunities. There are a lot of opportunities to make money out there for a self-motivated person.

Q8: Starting talk about future plans
I’ve been reading your suggestions about how it’s important to talk to your spouse about long-term goals, which isn’t something we do at all. I’m even lost with the first step here!

- Lauren

The first thing I would do is tell your spouse this very feeling. Tell your spouse that you want to start looking at where you’re going to be in five or ten years.

But, before the conversation, ask your spouse to spend some time thinking about where you two will be in five or ten years. Have them write down thoughts and make a list of the elements in your life at that time.

Then, in a week or two, sit down and compare the lists. Look for things that are the same. Talk about things that are different. Figure out a handful that you really agree on.

Once you have those goals you agree on, move on – over time – to making plans to actually achieve those things.

Q9: Wife’s moment of financial clarity
You’ve written on the theme of your moment of financial clarity many times from your point of view, have you ever written about this from your wife’s point of view, or has she?

- Alicia

She’s made a couple of attempts at writing about this, but she’s never been happy with it. I’ve wanted her to write a guest post like this for a long time.

In a nutshell, she says that she began to shift perspectives when she became pregnant with our first child in the spring of 2005, but that it was a much more gradual shift than my own changes on the subject. She didn’t dive into personal finances that much, but it began to weigh on her mind and she began to try to spend less on things. She felt at the time that she was more frugal than I was.

When I made a sudden shift on the subject of money, she was pulled along on her journey by my enthusiasm. Now, she thinks I might be a bit more frugal than she is, but the difference is small enough that it’s not a problem.

Q10: Stuck in place
I feel like no matter what I do nothing’s ever really going to get better. I’m always going to be struggling.

- Geoff

Life isn’t really a journey with a clear-cut destination, unfortunately. You make your own goals, but even if you achieve them, there’s still another journey beyond that one.

The best advice I can give to you is to enjoy the journey. Focus on making the most out of each day.

What do I mean by “most”? It really depends on what you value. Everyone has different things that they value in life. For me, a great day is one where I kept my spending low, spent some valuable time with my family, got a few good laughs, and learned a new thing or two.

If I do that, today was a great day. I also know that if I keep doing that, it will gradually lead to better and better things – a strong and tight-knit family, for one, and personal finance success for another.

If you can win at today, you can win at the big things. You just have to look at today as your measurement of success. If you can do it today, and then just keep repeating it, you will naturally win at the big picture.

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

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