Reader Mailbag: School Lunch

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. Saving for multiple housing goals
2. Children sharing bedrooms
3. Staying positive in volatile markets
4. Early childhoold illnesses
5. Board games as gifts
6. Student loan payoffs or savings?
7. Master limited partnerships?
8. Bigger emergency funds?
9. Upromise credit card
10. Fringe thoughts

Recently, my son’s school had a “parent’s day,” where a parent was encouraged to come to school and eat with their child. I packaged up a lunch at home and took it with me to eat with my son. We ate together in the lunch room of his school, then he showed me his classroom and I met several of his friends. Afterwards, he gave me a big hug. I think it meant a lot to him.

This is something that would have been difficult to do at my previous job. I might not earn money like I once was earning it, but I have something else that’s worth a lot more.

Money isn’t everything.

Q1: Saving for multiple housing goals
[My question is] specifically about your current house and future dream house–how are you managing holding the two in tension? Are you paying as much as possible on your current house with the hope of using that principal for the dream house or are you diverting some savings to a future house goal (even though you lose the guaranteed return of your interest rate?)? If you had to do it all over again, how would you sequence your house purchase?

– Alison

It would be very easy to simply make extra payments on our mortgage instead of saving ahead for a future home. There are two reasons we don’t follow that route.

One, the interest rate on our mortgage is very low. If our mortgage rate was 7 or 8%, we would have a good reason to just wipe out the mortgage first. However, our rate is a lot lower than that. Over a sufficiently long period (the period that we’re looking at for these savings), we should see much better returns on other investments.

Two, putting money into our home mortgage isn’t very liquid. Putting the money into an investment account is much more liquid if we were to need to access it at some point.

At some point, we may empty out our savings and just pay off our entire mortgage at once. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, however.

Alison has a second question.

Q2: Children sharing bedrooms
Somewhat relatedly, I’ve noticed that you mentioned have all your kids sleeping in the same room and yet also talking about having lots of extra space–what’s your philosophy for having them all in the same room? I would think they would wake each other up? But I know nothing about children.

– Alison

When I was little, I shared a bedroom with my two older brothers. In fact, I shared a bed with them until I was five or so.

This is actually one of the best memories I have of them from when I was little. I remember us all being jammed in there, joking around a bit, jostling for position, someone passing gas, lots of laughing, and things like that. It was probably the best bonding I had with them.

Similarly, my wife shared a bedroom with her sister for many years and she had a similar experience. It really built a bond between them.

We have two rooms we could easily convert into bedrooms if we so chose. For now, though, I think our three kids are getting a lot of value out of sharing a room.

Q3: Staying positive in volatile markets
I was wondering how you stay positive when there are times of wild market volatility. I sometimes see losses pile up for several weeks and I get worried like so many other investors do. Do you have any advice on how to ride out the doldrums of the bear market or a recession?

– Jeff

I just don’t look at my balances. Seriously.

Every goal for which I have money in the stock market is a long term goal. I don’t expect to have to touch that money until at least ten years from now. Between now and then, I expect that there’s going to be rough patches, but the consequences of those patches don’t bother me.

The only events I’m really worried about are events that would cause me to lose a lot of money no matter what I was invested in, such as a rapid devaluation of the U.S. dollar.

Q4: Early childhood illnesses
I have a 6-month old. Our first child. I constantly worry about him! He’s had a few health issues, but nothing serious. He seems to catch everything, a product of taking him to daycare I suppose. But I worry about all things–health, development, happiness, eating, etc. I know this is very new and overwhelming, and that the worry never goes away. But does it become manageable at some point?

– Todd

You’re probably going to keep worrying for a long while. Wait until your child starts walking is capable of wandering off and then when he/she starts climbing on things.

The best thing you can do is just let your child do as much on his/her own as he/she reasonably can and watch. You’ll soon realize, step by step, that your child can do a lot on his/her own. For me, that was incredibly reassuring.

At this point, my five year old can wake up in the morning, pick out his clothes, take a shower, get himself breakfast, get his backpack together, and leave for the bus without a single bit of help from me. I can’t think of a better sign that he’s doing well than that, and it reassures me.

Q5: Board games as gifts
I’ve been thinking of getting my wife a board game as a gift for us to play in the evenings. She enjoys playing video games that aren’t “twitchy” and has played cards quite enthusiastically with my family in the past. Any suggestions?

– Lucas

I would probably choose a game without incredibly complex rules that’s not too long and also open-ended and changes each time you play it. I’d also pick something that would work with more players, but works really well with two. Here are some options.

Carcassonne involves building a village out of tiles. As you’re building, you place your villagers in the town to score points (essentially claiming fields and buildings for your villagers).

Ticket to Ride involves connecting cities on a map of the United States with matching colored trains. Your goal is to make a series of connections between cities that will enable two distant cities to be connected together, as you have goals that consist of distant cities. For example, you might connect Vancouver to Portland by connecting Vancouver to Seattle, then Seattle to Portland.

Dominion is a card game where you’re each assembling a set of increasingly better cards. You have a wide range of cards to choose from to add to your set as the game goes along and the earlier not-quite-as-good cards are used to “purchase” the better cards.

All of these work for at least four players (Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne work for five) and all work very well for two players as well.

Q6: Student loan payoffs or savings?
I am currently 23 years old working as a full time teacher. I am starting my first year of full time teaching, second year of teaching in total. I’ve been aggressively paying off my student loans since I’ve graduated. I started at $10,930 when I graduated in May 2010 (I worked all the way through college) and now I’m down to $3000. I pay off my credit card debt every month and I’m maxing out my Roth IRA. I have a $1000 emergency fund, as well as $3300 in other various savings goals (car, wedding, vacation etc) that could be used in case of an emergency. I just started attending graduate school part time in the evenings to continue to develop my skills. Should I continue aggressively paying down my undergraduate student loan debt (400+ per month for me) or should I put that money towards paying for graduate school without taking out more loans? Currently, my district does not offer tuition reimbursement, but I still want to continue my program. I’ve paid my first class in full, and I’m currently saving up for my second class in January. I only have $400 saved right now, and I will need to pay for the class by January 30. I won’t be taking enough classes to qualify for government student loans, so I would have to take out private loans. Should I pay down my undergraduate debt and then take out new debt for graduate school, or should I make a smaller payment on my undergrad loans and save more aggressively for graduate school?

– Reggie

It really depends on how stable your current employment is. The more stable it is, the more I would lean toward graduate school savings. The less stable it is, the more I would lean toward paying off your loans to maximize your monthly cash flow.

What’s the state of your school district? Are they making big cuts or are they pretty stable? How does your state handle education policy? Do you have any seniority or are you the first on the cutting block? Are you in a teacher’s union?

These are all factors that indicate the stability of your professional position. As I said before, that would be the biggest factor in what I chose to do here if I were in your shoes.

Q7: Master limited partnerships?
A friend recently recommended I get into MLPs (master limited partnerships). I wanted to get your opinion on them. I’ve started to do some research on my own but I’m a bit of a financial novice, particulary when it comes to investing and I’m having trouble weighing the pros and cons. Also, do you generally have MLPs as part of a tax deferred retirement account or not?

I have an account with Vanguard that consists of a Traditional IRA retirement fund and a non-retirement account for long-term savings – there’s about 10K in each. I’m considering moving towards dividend investing in the long run. My husband and I make about 100K (combined) per year and he has an additional 401K. We use a CPA for filing our taxes — I understand that MLPs might add another level of confusion…
– Chelsea

Master limited partnerships are essentially a way of investing in energy companies. The vast majority of MLPs are companies that own oil or gas pipelines, which means that they pay out a pretty steady dividend.

Because they’re a partnership, people who own a share of an MLP can claim the depreciation of the equipment as a deduction on their taxes. This is actually one of the big reasons people own an MLP – they provide a steady dividend and usually give a tax deduction to boot. However, the dividend isn’t usually a huge dividend – it’s the pairing of features that make them attractive.

Because the tax deduction is such a big feature, it doesn’t really make sense to put them into a tax-deferred retirement account, so I wouldn’t put them in my IRA. As for the other side of the coin, I don’t think MLPs really pay off unless you’re earning quite a bit more money than you are, as the deductions become more valuable at that point.

Q8: Bigger emergency funds?
At almost every PF blog I’ve read, including yours (great site, by the way!), there seems to be the standard advice of having 3-6 months in an emergency fund. Many even say only 2-3 months. I find this a little irritating because that’s been the standard advice for a very long time and it did not seem to change when the recession and high unemployment came along. Even before the recession, it took me almost two YEARS to find a full time position, and I have both bachelor’s and master’s degree in the STEM fields. So I think the emergency fund size should be at LEAST 12 months at a bare minimum. I prefer 18-24 months. I know that’s extreme and I know it’s very hard to save up that much (I currently only have 8 months and I do not feel that is enough). So, why are people still saying 3-6 months, or even at the lower end of that range?

– Ronald

There are a lot of reasons for that.

For one, there’s a assumption that if you’re unexpectedly downsized, you’ll receive some sort of compensation, either in the form of unemployment insurance or in the form of a severance package. This will certainly help.

For another, there’s an assumption that your expenses will actually drop a bit if you’re not going into work each day. There’s no commuting costs, there’s reduced food costs, and so on.

The big one, though, is the assumption that you’re going to actually get out there and find some form of employment pretty quickly. If I were unemployed more than a week, I’d be applying for a job at pretty much any retailer I could find. I’d then spend my evenings and off days circulating resumes and going to interviews. This would keep some level of income coming into my home, which I could then use my emergency fund to supplement.

You’re correct, a six month emergency fund isn’t enough to live off of for two years. However, I don’t think that one should ever live off of an emergency fund unless absolutely forced to.

Q9: Upromise credit card
Do you think the Upromise credit card is worth signing up for? I have my debit card linked to my Upromise account but I’ve only gotten $18 in the last 3 years. I think the interest rate is a bit high but the rewards seem good. I would appreciate your thoughts.

– Taylor

The Upromise card mentioned by Taylor is one that puts a small percentage of purchases into a college savings account for your child.

In all honesty, the Upromise card offers rewards at a rate comparable to a lot of other rewards cards. The appeal of it is that it puts those rewards directly into college savings.

Remember, we’re talking about amounts that will buy textbooks, not tuition. It’s certainly an option for rewards, but it’s not strictly better or worse than any other. The rewards program that’s best for you is the one that matches how you spend your money, so I’d probably still recommend getting a Visa or Mastercard that matches, say, your gas station or your most frequently used retailer.

Q10: Fringe thoughts
What did you think of the season premiere of Fringe?

– Erik

As I’ve mentioned on here before, my wife and I watch very few television series. One of the few we do watch is Fringe. We record it, then watch it on a weeknight that’s convenient for us.

I think that Peter is in some sort of limbo and I think September is going to end up going against the rest of the Observers and help him. I felt like September was feeling … guilty, maybe … about having done whatever they did to Peter.

I also think I find the alternate universe more interesting at this point. Every character save Olivia is more interesting “over there,” in my opinion.

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. R S says:

    @Q2 – I think it’s funny that parents want to give their kids their own bedroom, when it’s highly likely that when they’re older they will end up sharing one. Either with a spouse, or in a college dorm.. and it’s especially ironic, considering most parents are sharing a bedroom, themselves!
    Personally, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to my partner, college roommate, etc…
    Not only would the bonding experience have been valuable, I think I’d sleep a lot better if I was more accustomed to it.

  2. Jayme says:

    Q5: Look into 7 Wonders. It’s our newest favorite and it can play up to 7 people just naturally. It isn’t great for 2 people, but fantastic for 3-7 players.

  3. valleycat1 says:

    Q7 – You shouldn’t invest in anything that you can’t understand well enough to feel comfortable putting your money there.

    Q5 – Killer Bunnies

    Q2 & R S @ #1 – We were a family with 5 kids in a 3-bedroom house – parents, girls room, boys room. As a full-fledged introvert, it was heaven to finally get my own room as a teen when older siblings moved out. My parents never had kids of different genders sharing a room & I’d say that will be an issue as Trent’s kids get older.

  4. Tracy says:

    @Q2

    I shared a room with my sister until I was 10 and never enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, when I was really small, my parents would usually wake up to find me sleeping in the hallway! Getting my own room was one of the absolute best things that happened in my childhood. My sister and I actually became a lot closer when we weren’t forced to spend as much time together, too.

    So…it varies.

  5. lurker carl says:

    Q8 – Perhaps an emergency fund should shold be large enough to last for more than a few months. Emergencies can affect everyone around you for miles and require you to evacuate your home and live elsewhere. Then you must continue covering the fixed costs of your empty home and life along with hotel living. And your employer may also be out-of-business for the duration. A three month emergency fund would be drained in a few weeks.

  6. Courtney20 says:

    Tracy – agreed. I shared a room with my younger sister (seven years between us) from age 8-18 (and then during the two summers I was home from college). It was awful. If my parents had extra rooms in their house I would have moved myself in there, furniture or no furniture.

  7. TLS says:

    Q8
    I think telling people right off the bat that they should have a 12-month emergency fund (or more) is going to scare them off. There are a lot of people who have trouble saving up even 3 months of expenses. An emergency fund of 3-6 months may not be enough in today’s economy, but it’s a number to start with and it’s certainly better than nothing.

  8. Baley says:

    Q2 – My sister and I had many fights because we shared a room and grew closer when I moved into my own bedroom at age 12 (she’s 2 years younger than me). For our younger years it wasn’t a problem, but definitely became a problem as we grew older.

    Q8 – 3-6 months in an emergency fund isn’t meant to be money you live off of long-term. If you can save more, it could be put into less liquid investments because you’ll have time to access that money later. @Lurker carl, I also don’t think emergency funds are going to help in case of an extreme natural disaster, but there’s really no way to plan for that. Ideally, we’d all have money saved up to last us the rest of our lives, but the reality is, if we lose our jobs we’re going to have to find another form of employment quickly.

  9. valleycat1 says:

    re school lunch – Working outside the home does not automatically mean you miss out on daytime school functions. When my child was in school, my employer allowed me to attend school functions during the work day, either using my lunch hour, reporting paid leave, or flexing work hours to make up the time out of the office.

  10. Johanna says:

    Q6: I still don’t understand Trent’s line of thinking here. If your employment situation is unstable, you want to hoard cash, not pay down debt.

    But the more relevant question for Reggie, it seems to me, is what are the interest rates of the loans? If the loans you have now are low interest, and the loans you’d be taking out for graduate school are high interest, then save your cash and avoid the grad school loans as much as you can. There’s little point in rushing to pay down a low-interest loan when you know you’re going to have to replace it with a high-interest loan.

  11. Riki says:

    I thought Trent was actively and aggressively paying down his mortgage?

    That’s the advice he always gives . . . but he doesn’t seem to be following it himself.

  12. Johanna says:

    Q3: As long as you’re still adding to your accounts, market volatility is your friend, because it allows you to buy shares on sale. Through the magic of dollar-cost averaging (you buy more shares when prices are low than when they’re high), you don’t even have to time the market to get that benefit – the more the markets jump around (assuming the same underlying upward trend), the more bang you get for your buck, automatically.

  13. Steve says:

    Q3 I do the same. I update our tracking spreadsheet once a quarter, and rebalance once a year. The rest of the time I try really hard not to worry about it.

    Q4 I hear that when you have a second kid, you stop worrying so much.

    Q5 You could also consider one of the many good two player games, such as Lost Cities or Battle Line. The games Trent mentioned are all very popular and work well with any number of players.

    Q8 Usually you will have unemployment compensation or something to help stretch things. If you are unemployed for more than a few months you need to start making drastic changes to your lifestyle, to make your funds last longer. As some have said, most people have a zero month emergency fund. Some say if you have a family you need a bigger fund, but it really depends on your individual situation; many families try to keep their expenses low enough that they could live off either of their two incomes.

  14. Lesley says:

    Q8 I agree that in many cases, a 2-3 month emergency fund isn’t going to be enough. I think Trent has an unrealistic view of the employment market (and I say that as someone in that industry). It is taking people longer to find jobs. Retailers often don’t want to hire someone who is just going to quit when they find something better. Plus, often if you take that retail job, you can’t collect unemployment while you are looking for something more permanent. So a larger emergency fund is often a good idea–and I agree with the other readers who point out that it doesn’t need to all be liquid/cash.

  15. Becky says:

    I shared a room with my sister until she left for college (2 years apart). When we were very young it was great – I was never afraid of the dark or monsters because I knew that my brave big sister would protect me (I didn’t know that she was quaking under her covers, afraid of the monsters and the dark). Our younger brother (1 year after me), who had his own room, could hear us talking after lights-out and envied our cameraderie. I think that we would have liked for the 3 of us to share a room when we were really little. Our personalities mesh well and always have, so I think we would have enjoyed the togetherness. I don’t see how the gender difference would have mattered at that age.

    Later it was harder – I was very tidy and she was, um “relaxed” about neatness, so I often felt frustrated and angry about her trashing our room. I also didn’t like her decorations and tchotchkes, and wanted my own room really badly. We didn’t have actual fights but there was more frustration than warmth in our interactions. We got much closer after she left for college (wrote weekly letters – this was before email), and I think the relief of not fighting over our space anymore had a lot to do with that.

    I’m an introvert, and the room-sharing experience made it much easier for me to handle roommate situations and marriage, because I learned how to get my “quiet time” even when physically with other people. In fact, I find it extremely soothing to be in one space with someone else, not interacting much, each of us doing our own thing but just being together. I’ve known a lot of people who HAVE TO interact with another person as long as they’re physically present, which can be really exhausting and stressful in a dorm or marriage situation; especially for introverts who can’t get needed quiet time unless they’re completely alone. I have never felt entitled to a space I have full control over, so it doesn’t cause me as much stress not to have that.

    That said, I fantasize about having my own room again one day (I’m married and we live in a small house). Actually, I’d love to have my own *house* sometimes, since my husband’s and my sister’s tidiness habits are comparable, LOL.

  16. AnnJo says:

    Q5, Lucas, If your wife really enjoys playing card games, unless you really hate card games why not find out her favorite games and see if you might enjoy playing them with her?

    I suspect humans may break down into two groups: “board game” people and “card game” people. For me, any board game I’ve ever played is a major step down in enjoyment from a good game of pinochle, hand and foot, or canasta (any of which can be played with two or more players). Although both card games and board games rely on a combination of luck and strategy, it seems to me the strategy component is much stronger with these card games than with most board games (although I confess I haven’t played any of the board games Trent recommended.)

    Many board games are also more of a hassle if you don’t have time to play the game to its final conclusion. With a card game, you just gather up the deck after a hand and stick the score sheet in the box to resume next time you play. With a board game, you often can’t really quit in the middle and come back to it unless you have the space to leave the board up and out of the way of cats, dogs and kids.

    Not to mention that card games are much easier to take with you if you’re traveling, and a card game is a relaxing way to end a tiring day of heavy-duty sightseeing.

  17. Troy says:

    RE: School Lunch.

    Trent seems to think there are only two options regarding employment.

    1- work alot, make alot of money, and have no freedom or time for things that are important

    OR

    2 – work a little, make little money, and have alot of freedom and time for things that are important.

    There is a third option. It is actually the option you should strive for.

    Own your company and your time. Work smart. Have a skill that is limitied in supply and in high demand. Make lots of money. Have lots of freedom. Spend as much time doing whatever you choose to do.

    It’s not a choice between money or freedom. Between work or family.

    Some people have figured out that you can have both. Figuring that out is what separates the talkers from the doers.

  18. Becky says:

    Trent, I think your assumption that you can waltz into a retail job if you’re unemployed for more than a week is unfounded.

    In a time of high unemployment and slow sales, there are people competing for retail and restaurant jobs too. You aren’t a good candidate for such work. You look like someone who has no experience in retail, and as Leslie says, you look like someone who will quit as soon as you find the kind of work you really want.

    I have a friend with a master’s degree, fantastic people/networking skills, a hole-free resume prior to the recession, no false pride regarding any type of work, actual retail (coffee barista) experience, a strong work ethic, and (shallow as this sounds, it matters) he’s even good-looking — who applied unsuccessfully for tons of retail jobs in the past year. Seriously, he would have taken *anything* that wasn’t illegal or immoral, and he could not find work.

    Thank goodness he did finally find work (in his field!) a month ago, but “plan to get a retail job” is just terrible advice in this economy.

  19. Katie says:

    Own your company and your time. Work smart. Have a skill that is limitied in supply and in high demand. Make lots of money. Have lots of freedom. Spend as much time doing whatever you choose to do.

    I agree that the dichotomy you mention is a false one, but not everyone wants to own their own business. Some of us like being able to focus on the job we’re doing without having to also be businesspeople in our own right, and some of us also enjoy working with a team in a way that you can’t do starting out as a business owner.

  20. Riki says:

    Also, some jobs aren’t compatible with starting your own business.

  21. Vicky says:

    I was a family of 5 kids, two adults. We were all forced to share bedrooms – 4 girls, 1 room. My brother had his own room, because of gender….

    As a result? I don’t talk to any of my siblings, at all, to this date. We have no relationship, we can’t even stand to be in the same state with each other.

    We’re half-sisters though, none of us met until we were about 7 years old, and we were all various ages. Not enjoyable.

    Them moving out, me finally getting my own room… best time of my life.

  22. AnnJo says:

    Q7, Chelsea,

    I’ve owned some units in a natural gas MLP (Energy Transfer Partners-symbol:ETP) for a few years. Trent says that the dividend isn’t usually “huge”, but the yield on my MLP has ranged between 7-9% a year (currently 8.55%), which is huge when it comes to dividends or yields on other investments, and most of the MLPs I keep an eye on have dividends in that range.

    MLPs do have a tax complication, but it’s not a big deal. You get a K-1 every year, and if you hold the MLP in a tax-deferred account, you have to send that K-1 to the custodian of your account.

    Trent is correct that if your MLP kicks out deductions, you won’t get the benefit of them if you hold it in an IRA, but mine reports more income than deductions, so I save on taxes by having it come in through my IRA. (The income and deductions reported for tax purposes don’t track with the dividends at all.) There is an annual limit on how much of certain kinds of income from MLPs can be sheltered in an IRA. I’ve only looked at that to make sure I don’t have to worry about it so I couldn’t tell you the details but your broker could.

    If you want to hold MLPs in an IRA without worrying about the tax issues, one option is to buy shares in a mutual fund or ETF that focuses on MLPs. That’s also a good way to diversify across a number of MLPs.

    All that being said, MLPs are like any other investment – they carry risks you need to be sure you understand, you shouldn’t invest until you have the basics covered (debt under control, emergency fund in place), and you should not overweight your portfolio with them (mine is well under 10% of my stock portfolio.)

    Hope this helps. My MLP, although currently down in unit price from when I purchased it, still gives me a 7.25% annual yield on my investment, so I’ve been very happy with it – so far. One’s happiness with an investment can never be accurately measured until after you’ve sold it.

  23. TLS says:

    @ #16 Ann-Jo

    I also like playing cards (cribbage, gin rummy, etc.) with my husband better than board games. I have played some of the games that Trent recommends, and these generally require a lot of strategic thinking (which I don’t really enjoy). Some board games also take a lot of time to play (I get antsy if a game lasts over 30 minutes). So my husband found a game group to play board games with, and we only play cards together.

    Another game that is fun for 2 to 4 people is mah-jongg. If you can find a set of tiles used and you enjoy this type of game, I would definitely recommend it.

  24. Marinda says:

    Sharing rooms, ah the things we learn about people! My husband and his brother shared rooms from birth through first year college. They don’t talk. AT ALL. I was impressed that his brother sent him a card for this birthday,

    I was the only girl with five brothers. They still complain that I had a room to myself when they had to share. They complain about having hand me down clothes, when I didn’t. They don’t talk much to each other.

    It’s not sharing the same room, it’s what the parents teach you about being a family, getting along, supporting each other while you live together and after you go your own way. If you don’t teach your family how to be a family, well, it just doesn’t happen.

  25. Courtney20 says:

    Becky – Also agreed. I had a span of three months (beginning of ’09) between when I finished my PhD and when I got a position in a skillset-related job. After about 2 months I got antsy, being at home (in the winter), and started applying to anything. I was “overqualified.”

    Personal experience aside, the comment about magically “getting a retail job” overlooks the fact that there are about 4-5 people for every job opening. Good luck with that.

  26. sjw says:

    #17 Troy

    There is also a fourth option that a lot of people end up in. Work crazy hard for very little money, have no freedom or time.

  27. #17 It might also be possible just to take your own lunch break at the time your child’s school sends the kids to the cafeteria. Ask your supervisor! If he or she is a good guy/gal it shouldn’t be a problem. That is, unless the school is so far away that you couldn’t make it there and back in the allotted time.
    And if you can’t make EVERY parent’s day, volunteer on field trips, etc.? Your children will survive. I promise. Neither of my parents were ever able to do these sorts of things but I accepted that as part of life. In fact, in my elementary school classes there were only two moms who regularly chaperoned class trips, etc. — and we actually felt sorry for their sons, who couldn’t get away with ANYTHING because their moms were right there. Also, one mom made the mistake of referring to her son by a pet name and he had a hard time living that one down.
    Be as involved as you can — in the evenings at PTA, maybe? working a phone tree to drum up volunteers? staffing at school carnivals and such? — but be willing to accept you can’t always be as perfect a parent as you’d like to be. Then get on with your life.

  28. Telephus44 says:

    My sister and I shared a room, we are 2-1/2 years apart. When we were younger, not so bad. But once I hit middle school, it really strained our relationship, to the point where my parents let me move into the “guest room.” Overall, I do think you learn things by sharing a room, but you don’t need to do it for 18 years.

    Funny, my mother once commented to me that she was a little jealous of me and my sister since she has never in here entire life had her own room. She went from sharing with her sisters, to room-mates in college, to moving in with her husband. She probably never will have her own room.

  29. jim says:

    Sigh.. my comment is in moderation for some random and unknown reason. I think the filter here is either broken or needs to have the settings adjusted. This happens enough its annoying.

  30. Courtney20 says:

    Telephus – try being a high schooler sharing a room with a 3rd grader. No guest room. One bathroom in the whole house.

  31. Forgot to chime in on the single-room issue: It was four of us — three girls, one boy — in a single room until my dad finished off the attic to make a bedroom for my brother when he was about 7 years old.
    I finally got the room to myself full-time in my senior year of high school.
    Six people in the house, one bathroom. When I hit my early teens my dad added a second bathroom that opened off the grownups’ bedroom. It did ease the stress somewhat — and it had a bathtub, whereas the other bathroom had only a shower. I felt that we were rich, having TWO bathrooms.

  32. I also have to comment on the one room thing. As a twin, my sister and I shared a room until we left for college and that had its ups and downs. When we were upset at each other, we had nowhere to get away, to retreat. Also made it hard for us to go to bed, as we tended to talk and then get yelled at to go to sleep. I think in the end, if you can, separate rooms are better. But if you can’t afford it, then sharing a room is fine single gender at least. I think mixing genders once they get about 10 is hard, as my son is incredibly particular about body privacy.

    On the emergency fund, I think 3 to 6 months emergency fund is fine, but if you feel your job is unstable then more is best. Now, maybe everyone feels their job is unstable, don’t know. Could have a 3 to 6 month emergency fund and then 6 month cds, or something that earns a tiny bit more interest.

    I also have to say that if you are in a professional field, I don’t recommend grabbing anything right away, as it limits your ability to find a good job. If you are working standard daylight hours, it is hard to schedule job interviews, etc. IF you feel the need a small part-time job should be doable, but definately not a lot of hours. One has to consider finding a job somewhat of a job in itself. But yes, most in a professional field will be getting some kind of severance or unemployment, etc. that will help while you are looking.

  33. Sara says:

    Q8: Your emergency fund doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be your only savings. An emergency fund needs to be safe and liquid, which presents a huge limitation on how you can invest the money. There is an opportunity cost to keeping all of your money in low-risk investments. I have more than two years’ worth of expenses saved up, some of which is in a savings account earning just over 1% interest, but the rest is in investments with the potential to earn far more. I can’t really consider these investments to be part of my emergency fund since they also have the potential for losses, but if I were to lose my job and deplete all of my emergency fund, I could use that money to extend my emergency fund.

  34. HW says:

    At least in my state, if you collect unemployment, any money you make will decrease your unemployment for the week by the same amount. So, it’s not worth getting a retail job or any small job because you are not netting any more money unless the job pays really well. Most places don’t want to hire someone who is going to quit in a couple months when they find a better job, too. It’s better to stay home and put your effort into job hunting.

  35. Brittany says:

    “Own your company and your time. Work smart. Have a skill that is limited in supply and in high demand. Make lots of money. Have lots of freedom. Spend as much time doing whatever you choose to do.”

    @19 & 20 I read #17 Troy’s comment as a list of alternative, not one alternative (owning a company) with a list of benefits.

    Even *without* starting your own business, there still is a third option–balance your work and time well. I have a skill (analysis and database management) that’s in limited supply in my industry (educational non-profits). I make decent money. I work hard, but efficiently, and thus work reasonable hours. (If I were inefficient and bad at my job, then I would have to work more to make up for it.) I get decent time off and very flexible hours *and* 3 weeks of telecommuting a year. It’s pretty swell. I know not all employers are as awesome as mine, but they (and “the 3rd option”) do exist.

    As for the room issue… second all the comments about miserable, relationship-ruining experiences sharing with a sibling (and we only shared until I was about 4/5 and she was 6/7…even being so young, I remember hating every minute of it! Even we we later lived in a smaller house with more siblings, my mom ensured we each had out own room/space, because it just wasn’t possible for us to live together). Despite this, I have happily co-existed with every partner and roommate I’ve had for the past 7 years, including 4 years sharing a tiny room with various ones. It’s not that I don’t know how to share a room, it’s that a) people need space apart (more possible as an adult sharing a room than as a child) and b) some people are just fundamentally incompatible. Even though I didn’t always have *great* roommates, I at least got some say in whether I would be able to handle living with them which is way more input that you get with a sibling.

  36. Kelly says:

    I had to share a room with my little sister who is 6 yrs younger than me from the time I was 7 or 8 till I graduated high school! I was a senior, my sister was in 5th grade. NOT FUN! SO much animosity and fights! We are NOT close to this day. I blame the forced room sharing for this.

  37. gwen says:

    In regards to the Upromise, I have the card and it is awesome. It’s not just about the credit card, but also shopping through the website. When you shop through Upromise and search for Target or Old Navy and order, you’ll get anywhere from 2-5% back, plus what you’ll get for your card. Depending whether you get the gas or groceries card, you’ll get 5% back at exxon.

    Mine is linked to my student loans with salliemae. every quarter money gets dropped into the account. For me, just by myself, I get about 80 a year back. This is two payments a year. I pay cash for most everything through an envelope system, so if you were to put most everything on the card, you could really rack things up. I don’t like to charge things (long history with it) so I don’t get nearly as much as I would if I put everything on a card.

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