Reader Mailbag: Rainfall

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. Next steps for maxed-out credit
2. Internet on the road
3. Blanket for window tinting
4. Motivation at home
5. Worried about parents spending
6. Fantasy sports in the workplace
7. Should I switch jobs?
8. Magazines worth saving
9. Getting out of cable contract
10. Window shopping

Over the weekend, we received our first significant rainfall since early June. It was a slow, steady rain, not a torrential downpour.

Our garden responded almost immediately. Most of our surviving vegetation looked much more lively the next afternoon. Even though we keep it watered, few things make vegetation pop like a nice steady rain after a dry period.

Q1: Next steps for maxed-out credit
I am a single mom of 3 and now we are on a fixed income. I am at the point of almost going crazy, my credit card debt is about $6300 on five different cards the rates are from 12.90% – 24.99%. My credit score is at 665 which I know isn’t good. I had worked hard to get my credit good I’ve never been late or had an over limit fees, I feel like am getting nowhere my cards are almost all to limit except for one. I need help were do you think I should go from here? Should I try to ask credit card companies to lower my interest rates down? If so how should I go about it?

– Jill

First of all, 665 isn’t that bad. You’re not too far off of the nationwide average, and you might be close to the average in certain states.

You can certainly ask the credit card companies for a rate reduction, but you run the risk of those businesses closing your cards or reducing your credit limit when you make the request. If you can tolerate such a response, then it’s worth the risk.

If you decide to make the call, simply ask to speak to a manager if the first person you speak to can’t or won’t handle your request. Be polite and never get angry, no matter what.

Q2: Internet on the road
What do you use for free or cheap internet access while traveling? I don’t want to shell out the cash for a smart phone or a cell modem, but I would like to be able to check my email once in a while when I’m on a trip.

– Amy

If you aren’t going to be taking an internet device of some kind with you while traveling, your best bet for checking email is probably the library.

Libraries have varying policies when it comes to computer access – some have open terminals, while others require that you sign up for a library card. If you’re unsure, talk to a librarian or, even better, do your homework in advance of your travel.

If you do have some sort of internet-accessible device, like a tablet or a laptop, I’d suggest identifying businesses that have free wi-fi and using them during your travel. Many chain restaurants, such as Panera Bread, have free wi-fi for their customers. The exact list of free wi-fi providers changes all the time, though, so do your homework before you travel.

Q3: Blanket for window tinting
Had a question about the emergency blanket for window tinting. Is there any way the heat buildup between the blanket and the window could shatter the window or cause damage? I’m renting, so I’m a little concerned. I put it up and can tell a difference instantly.

– Jim

Unless the glass in your window already has a flaw in it, the heat generated by the emergency blanket shouldn’t cause it to blow out.

Normal glass can tolerate a minimal difference of 50C across the pane, or 90F. Unless it’s truly 90F hotter between the blanket and the window as compared to the outside, you should be fine. Most of the time, you’re going to be generating a difference of 50F at most.

Cracking is more of a concern on a very cold winter day, but even on the coldest days growing up, where we had an outside temperature of -15F and an indoor temperature of 75F, I never heard of a window cracking.

Q4: Motivation at home
How do you find motivation to do things at home beyond the bare minimum? After a full day of work and time spent with my kids, I’m usually just blitzed and don’t feel like doing much of anything at home. How do you find motivation to do household tasks and make progress on frugality goals?

– Leon

I usually just make mini-lists. It works pretty well for me.

Each day, I try to make a list of just three household tasks that need accomplishing beyond the bare minimum. For instance, my list for tomorrow is to “vacuum the main floor,” “clear off the shelves on the bookshelf in our bedroom,” and “clean out the cupboard over the counter.”

Each of those tasks will take me maybe 15 minutes. I’ll burn an hour at most doing them if I get right on it – and then I’m done, with a clear conscience. I go to bed with a sense of accomplishment, too.

I use mini-lists like this in many aspects of my life. If lists get too long, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and just avoid it. Just make a tiny list and accomplish that.

Q5: Worried about parents spending
I’m 31, out of debt, have a few thousands in savings and working at a job that provides for me plus some to keep saving for my future. My mother and step father however are not in the same boat. They have a pretty big mountain of debt from making several bad decisions. My step father has always been fiscally irresponsible and his usual answer is just to declare bankruptcy, or that it’s just consumer credit, who cares. My mom on the other hand get’s really stressed out about this stuff and it causes a lot of tension between the two of them. But even my mom doesn’t seem to be able to get a hold on their finances.

I feel horrible for them. My mom is almost 60 and is still working at a job I don’t think she likes for about $30,000 a year. My step father makes more but they still only seem to be treading water. I love them both and want them to be able to enjoy their later years. I also think if their debt situation were eased or if they started making headway they would get along better. My mom has said several times she will leave if he makes any other big debts (most of the debt came from him).

I try to lead by example but they seem to live the life of the regular American consumer! What can I do?
– Clancy

There isn’t anything you can do. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

The best thing you can do is prepare yourself for whatever situation might occur when they can’t work any more. There may be some financial burden on yourself when that happens and you need to be prepared for it.

Even if you’re not going to step up with any financial help at that time, you still need to be thinking about how you’re going to handle things if your mother is drowning financially in her final years. What can you do to help so that you don’t feel guilty about the situation?

I think your mother already knows what needs to be done. The challenge is actually doing it, and that’s a challenge she has to face for herself.

Q6: Fantasy sports in the workplace
In my workplace, quite a few of the guys and a few of the girls have a lively fantasy league that dominates the conversation among them from August to January. I’ve been invited to join the league this year, but frankly I don’t know much of anything about football.

Is the social benefit of being in such a league worth it even if I make a fool of myself?
– Kevin

There is a social benefit from participating in fantasy sports with coworkers. It provides very easy watercooler talk and can facilitate relationship building in the workplace.

Are you willing to learn about it as the season goes on? If so, I’d join. You don’t need to be an expert. You just need to be willing to pay attention and learn.

Just read lots of articles on fantasy football. Find a strong draft list somewhere and stick to that for your picks. Don’t worry about messing up – everyone does. Just laugh it off and use it as a way to bond with coworkers.

Q7: Should I switch jobs?
Some background on me: I have 3 kids; my husband makes $30K a year and I make $72K. We pay $430 for my oldest son’s (4 years old) tuition a month and $110 a week for my twins’ (5 months old) daycare. We have great insurance thru my job, and $150 is taken out of my check each month. We have $800/month in student loans, $400 car payment, and $1535 mortgage, along with utilities and groceries. I pay $85 a month for parking. I currently work at a job that I love, but I have to commute about 1 hr 45 mins each way. I spend about $400 – 450 a month in gas to get back and forth to work. I spend about 3 or mor hours a day traveling (more if there’s bad traffic), so by the time I get home we only have maybe 2 hours together as a family. This time is filled with trying to cook dinner and prepare for the next day.

I have been offered a position with another employer about 10 minutes from my house. I think that I will really like the job. It is a commission position, where I will be paid 40% of what I earn (I am going to negotiate for 50%), and I have to earn at least $2500 a week (and I get 40% of this). The employer puts at least 30 potential sales in front of me each month. They also pay for a lot of advertising on radio and in the yellow pages. I have family and friend contacts that would allow me to get clients. I can also sign up to get court-appointed work.

We would have to go on my husband’s insurance; it is a HRA plan that costs about $340 per month.

What would you do: stay at current job or take new one?
– Sarah

Are you good at sales? Can you sell things to people? Some people can do this; others have difficulty.

If you’re able to sell well and have a history of doing so, then this position could be a really strong moneymaking opportunity. If you don’t have a history of strong sales, though, then the risk isn’t worth it.

Commission-based opportunities come down to how effective the person actually is at selling.

Q8: Magazines worth saving
I subscribe to a few magazines. I’m pretty avid about reading them, but I’m not sure what to do when I’m done with them. It seems like a waste to just throw them away. Should I save all of them? Do you have any ideas?

– Max

For years, Sarah and I used to give ours to a retirement community until the management policy there shifted. The residents were thrilled to have all of the old issues of The New Yorker and The Economist.

I’ve also used old magazine pages as packing material when sending out packages. It can work really well and it’s far cheaper than packing peanuts and the like.

I do save magazines that involve “how-to’s” that I might use in the future. Typically, I just extract the ones I might refer to later and save them, such as recipes from cooking magazines.

Q9: Getting out of cable contract
Can you tell me if it’s possible to get out of a cable contract? I am with Charter and really want out. I would love to just have internet and netflix, although it will be hard to give up Disney Junior.

– Veronica

Generally, there isn’t a legal or ethical way to get out of a cable contract. Usually, the way to end such a contract is to pay the termination fee, which is usually equal to a couple months of service. There are exceptions to this, but they typically involve moving to another residence.

Depending on your situation and how early you are in the contract, paying the termination fee might be worth it in the long run. You’ll have to do the math on that.

Your best bet might be to pare back the channels and service you get to the bare minimum allowed in your contract, reducing your monthly bill by as much as possible. Again, this depends on the specifics of your contract.

Q10: Window shopping
My best friend loves to window shop. We’ll go to very expensive stores and just look at the things on sale. She loves to dream about affording expensive items.

Is this a good thing to be doing? I think it just sets you up for disappointment in the short term and possible spending problems in the long term.
– Janice

I think it really depends on the psychology of the window shopper.

For some people, the desire for luxury goods can be met by simply doing this kind of window shopping. They can look at the items and enjoy the day, but find themselves preferring to have the money in their pocket than having the item.

For others, it’s much as you describe. It’s merely a continuation of a lust for consumer goods, one that can often end up with financial hardships.

Window shopping can be helpful for some people, but if you’re finding that it’s just causing you to want to spend money you really shouldn’t be spending, find something else to do with your friend.

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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