Reader Mailbag: Secret Santa

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. Basic credit questions
2. How to make money blogging?
3. Favorite podcasts
4. Television compromise
5. Connecting with teens cheaply
6. Overly long “to-do” list
7. Maximizing credit card promos
8. Refinance or not?
9. Quibids?
10. Plant-based snacks

This year, I’ve found myself in two different Secret Santa exchanges.

When I was younger, I used to worry way too much about what I was receiving. I didn’t want to participate in such exchanges because I didn’t want to receive something awful while putting effort into giving something nice.

Now, I barely care what I receive. It’s all about making sure the recipient gets something worthwhile and enjoyable that puts a smile on their face.

Oh, how perspectives change.

Q1: Basic credit questions
I’m a 23 year old University student. I’ve had a credit card since I was 18 (which I just recently – and finally – paid off), and I have a student line of credit with at $12000+ balance. Furthermore, two years ago I took out a loan from my credit union to buy a car which is also paid off. My question is, how do I know what my credit score is and if it’s good or bad? Also, what’s the best way to actually build a good credit score? I was always told I could but something with my credit card (perhaps a CD or something, nothing more than $50), then pay it off right away rather than make minimum payments which just costs more interest. Is this true?

– Tyler

You can’t know your exact credit score without buying it from one of the credit agencies. They all offer programs where you can pay them some small fee to peek at your calculated credit score.

Of course, your credit score is based on your credit report, which you can view for free at annualcreditreport – it’s a site run by the Federal Trade Commission to allow people to view their credit report annually for no cost. Although you don’t get to see your actual credit score, you will be able to verify if there are any incorrect reports on your credit history and see what positive reports are there.

You can also use a number of credit score estimators, like the one at MyFICO, to use the information on your report to get a rough estimate of your credit score. From what I’ve seen, such estimates are usually accurate to within ten points or so.

As for improving your credit, you’re right in that making small purchases and paying them off is the best way to build credit because it demonstrates a positive payment history. I would suggest that you use the card to handle some routine purchase, like gas or groceries, then pay the bill in full as soon as it arrives.

Q2: How to make money blogging?
I have been wanting to find out exactly HOW to accumulate a few dollars of income through click-ads. You had mentioned in your Simple Dollar Rule #11 that we should all try to generate a few dollars from our blog. I know that without an appropriate amount of traffic, one may not generate enough each month to fill a pocket. But that’s not really my concern right now. I just want to know the ‘how-to” so I may feel more motivated about my (not-so-skillful) writings. You see, I love to write and I love to snap (photos). My dream is to one day quit my corporate cell, I mean, cube, and to be able to hold down a lower-paying job closer to home so that I can finally spend more time to write, photograph and jog, my three biggest passions.

– Rachel

Blogging is certainly one way to earn some pocket money, but there are many ways to do that. Earning money from a blog is very interesting because at first, you don’t earn much of anything at all, which weeds out people who won’t stick with it.

You earn money in the long run by having an archive of good posts that others have linked to. As a result, these older posts show up in Google searches, bringing people to your site. The more good older posts you have, the more people you’ll bring to your site without any additional effort.

What you need to do is to ask yourself if you’re writing anything anyone would care about. Can you envision a reasonable scenario where someone would Google a term, find your page, and be pleased with what they find, enough to stick around and read more? If you’re not writing that kind of stuff – either useful or entertaining or, ideally, both – then you’re going to have a very hard time succeeding at blogging.

Once you’ve done this, though, then earning money is fairly easy – just put some ads on the site and be patient.

The key is content. If it’s good stuff, all you have to do is get the word out a little bit (join some blog carnivals associated with your topic, for one) and then put some ads on your site. Then wait (and keep making good content, of course).

Q3: Favorite podcasts
As a fellow avid podcast listener, I’m always interested to hear what podcasts people regularly listen to. What are your favorites?

– Matt

Aside from a few NPR shows that I listen to in podcast form because it’s more convenient (Planet Money, Fresh Air, Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, etc.), I listen to these podcasts regularly.

Radiolab, which is a science podcast that’s probably one of the best things on the internet
Pardon the Interruption, a sports podcast that keeps me at least up to date on the “watercooler” talk in the sports world
This American Life, a collection of audio essays on a seemingly infinite array of topics
The B.S. Report, a podcast ostensibly about sports but tends to branch out into all sorts of topics
The Dice Tower, which focuses on board and card games
Grammar Girl, which is a very short entertaining podcast on grammar issues

There are a lot of great podcasts up there. This batch is pretty much all I can keep up with during a given week, since I usually listen to them in the background and play them twice or three times each so I can absorb more of them as I’m working.

Q4: Television compromise
My wife and I have strongly contrasting views on our television. To put it simply, I barely watch it. My wife watches about 10 hours of television a week. I watch roughly 3 hours and those are usually sporting events outside of our home. Our satellite bill is about $100 a month because of all the premium channels we get. Now, I don’t begrudge that money being spent, but each of us gets a certain “allowance” each month of money to spend freely. I think that money should come out of her allowance, but she says it’s just a shared bill. What do you think?

– Ronald

I think that you both have a point, to some extent. I also think this is an issue you need to resolve ASAP before it dissolves into something poisonous in your marriage, because I can sense some angst in your email.

Your wife’s point is that this is a service that you can use any time you wish and if you choose not to, that’s your choice, but it shouldn’t be eliminated because it’s a service that is actually used in your home. Your point is that it’s a service that I’m paying for and not using.

Here’s my honest suggestion: take note of how much television you both watch for a few months. See whether or not the disparity is really as big as you’re thinking. You might be surprised to find that your wife doesn’t watch as much as you think or that you watch more than you think.

If you have hard numbers that shows that you do spend a lot less time watching than her, then consider a proportional share of the billing. Take the cable bill, divide it in half, and then add that much to your respective “mad money” for the month. Then, you each pay a portion of the bill out of your “mad money” that lines up with how much you’re using it.

The important thing is to not let this fester, as it can grow into a much bigger problem over time.

Q5: Connecting with teens cheaply
Lately, I’ve felt like there’s a big gulf between me and my two daughters (age sixteen and fourteen) that didn’t used to be there. They’re not the partying type – in fact, they don’t leave the house all that much. It doesn’t feel like we have the same connection we used to have, though, and I’m trying to find inexpensive ways to rebuild that connection. Any ideas?

– Charlie

My usual suggestion is to tell parents of teens to institute a family night or two a week, but that doesn’t really seem to be needed in your case if your kids are already homebodies. What you need is simply some activities that you all do together.

If you want to make a formal thing out of it, start a family game night where, once a week, you all play games together. It gets you all around the same table for an hour or two, at least.

If you want something less formal, just ask your children what they’d like to do this evening together, your treat. You might be surprised as to what they come up with.

Q6: Overly long “to-do” list
I love the system and it’s helped me a lot. One problem I have though is that my “Next Action Steps” list is INCREDIBLY long. With everything personal plus work related (and a lot of work projects going on at any one time), it’s just a huge, huge list. David Allen suggests organizing by location where it needs to be done (i.e. “Phone”, “Computer”), but even that doesn’t help, as it’s still a very, very long list. (Many people must have this problem, as I’m not the only one with a lot on my plate.) I find the mix of important and un-important things on the list makes it difficult for me to get the most important things done, as the important next action steps get lost in the huge number of things on the list. Do you prioritize? Or organize it some other way? I find every morning I’m going through the list again and re-prioritizing, which takes a good bit of time and is not very productive (or in the spirit of the list, which is supposed to simplify). Do you have thoughts on this? (or could you share some old version of your “next action steps” list as it looks to you?)

– Valerie

My biggest trick is to simply recognize that a lot of this stuff is realistically never going to happen. If my list gets beyond about 25 or 30 items, I make a conscious effort to whack some items from the list, either by rapid-firing the very short ones or by other means.

Other means? I’ll just admit to myself that the closet isn’t getting cleaned out any time soon. Then, I’ll remove that item from the list and put it on a “someday/maybe” list. Or, I’ll recognize that returning some minor call isn’t really important and I’ll just completely purge the thing.

If you have a list that’s that long, then you’ve got a sure sign that you are stuffing too much into your life. That means it’s time to whack the unimportant stuff.

Q7: Maximizing credit card promos
you see saving is also a top priority for me, i do save, as much as my income is variable (i run a business) i can forecast my future earnings but I still set fixed savings.

here’s the deal. my credit card has a promo right now, if i use it for a single transaction of 10 thousand pesos (im from the philippines) i would get a P500 worth of gift certificates in return that i could used at various shops (mostly clothing stores) for FREE!!!

i was so excited when i learned about this promo!but want to make sure i am doing the right thing before i push through with it, you see i only use my credit card if they have appealing promos and freebies,and i ALWAYS pay my bill FULL and ON TIME,so that i could really enjoy the benefits. My business gives me the opportunity to use it for business purposes (PROMISE) and i consider that to be a huge advantage,because i get promos without spending on personal items.

i have a 150 thousand credit line with the card with this promo,i want to use it and charge 500 thousand (around $12,000 ) so i could get 25 thousand ($600) worth of free shopping!!! december is coming near so i can use this to purchase gifts for my family as well. the problem is like i said i only have 150 thousand credit line, and because i don’t carry any balance,i only need to have an extra credit line of 350 thousand ($8,200) for me to complete this target,to do this i will dig into my savings and withdraw this amount and make the advanced payment on the card so the ceiling would go to 500 thousand when i use it. is it worth it?

learning from the simple dollar self discipline and clear goals makes me hesitant to touch my savings,if i do this, the possible time that i could return the said amount to my savings would be in february next year. because the goods that i will purchase with the card would be sold at terms and will be paid by my clients in 60 days,this means i will get the amount by the end of january,that’s why i said i would have surely placed it back in my savings account by february. should i do this?should i touch my savings so i can get advantage with the promo? if it helps,i would still have my emergency fund even if i do this,i just feel a little uncomfortable doing it and parting with my savings for almost 3 months,just to have some sort of free shopping spree. I just want to hear your opinion on touching savings for things like this.
– Leon

This is a very bad idea, in my opinion. You are putting cash savings at risk in order to cash in on a fairly small credit card reward while also leaving yourself in a very precarious position where your entire emergency fund is held by the credit card company. I would never, ever put my family at that kind of risk for a few Christmas presents.

If you want a much better solution, take the $250 from your savings account and use that to buy the gifts. Then, over the next few months, replenish that money so that you’re right back where you started.

Credit card rewards programs offer nice perks, but you should never put your own money at risk in an effort to try to squeeze out more of them, especially when it requires you to hand over your savings and charge the card like crazy.

Q8: Refinance or not?
Should we refinance our mortgage into a 15-year fixed mortgage from our 30-year fixed?

Our current mortgage has a balance of $358,000 and is at 6.5% fixed. We have 25 years left on it (it started out at $380,000 and we made some extra principal payments over the last few years).

We suspect that our house might appraise at between $330K and $350K. Yeah, that sucks…

We have about $100,000 to put down on the mortgage. About $60,000 is in a full-service (non-retirement) brokerage account that we were hesitant about touching until now. The rest is in savings accounts. We would like to only put down $80K – $90K because we still want to have some savings for emergencies. We have about $190,000 in retirement accounts that we don’t plan on touching. We are in our early 30s. Together, we make about $160,000 yearly gross income. No other debt (besides this awful mortgage) and no kids (yet).

Do you think we should pull that money out of the brokerage firm and refinance? I don’t feel so bad about doing it because the interest rate on our mortgage is so high and I really want to avoid paying PMI if we refinance.

I’m calling the mortgage broker tomorrow, but do you think we’re making the right move? I just hate the fact that we’re paying 6.5% interest on our mortgage. (When we bought the house, we accepted a higher interest rate to avoid PMI.) We also really, really want to have the house paid off in 15 years or sooner, so it’s not really about the lower monthly payment for us.
– Michelle

From my perspective, it depends on how much you would have left in your savings to cover emergencies if you did this. If this move would devour all of your savings and leave you at risk in the case of an emergency, then I absolutely would not do it.

What should you do if you can’t swing it right now? Wait, and save. There’s no real emergency rush to do this, as mortgage rates aren’t going to climb rapidly in the near future.

What’s an adequate emergency fund? I would make sure I could cover two months’ worth of living expenses for each dependent in the house. So, if there are three of you there, you should have six months’ worth of living expenses on hand.

Q9: Quibids?
What are your thoughts on quibids.com or xbids.com? Websites that claim to allow consumers to win auctions on items at ridiculously cheap prices. Seems like a scam to me requiring entirely too much time.

– Darren

I view sites like this as a combination of a game and a pretty ordinary retail site.

Take the example that Quibids uses. You have to buy bids from them – say, 300 bids for $180. Then, you use those bids in an auction – each time someone bids, the value of the auction goes up one or two or five cents.

I tried out Quibids and most auctions seem to keep getting bids up to about 25-30% of the retail value of the item. Let’s say you’re bidding on a Wii – that means it goes up to $40 or so. To get to that value, literally thousands of bids had to be tossed out there, meaning the site just made about $300 or so from that auction.

Remember, when you see the price paid for an auction, that’s not including the value of the dozens or hundreds of bids the person had to spend to get the item (at a cost of $0.30 to $0.60 per bid) and the hours they had to sit there bidding until they won the item.

However, they do give you the ability to buy an item for the retail price minus the number of bids you placed.

If you were strictly bidding on items that you would buy anyway and don’t care about paying retail price on them, then it’s fine, but I’d rather shop around and get the item below retail. If you’re not doing that, then it’s just a very expensive game.

Q10: Plant-based snacks
My biggest problem whenever I try diets is cravings. I’ll do fine at meals, but in the middle of the day, I’ll start craving foods and without thinking, I’ll snarf something. How do you deal with that with a plant-based diet?

– Mel

There are lots of good vegan snacks, and I keep quite a few around at arm’s length.

Fruits. Pumpkin seeds. Larabars. Nuts. Things like these are my snacks, and they’re very important because they keep me from overeating at meal times. Instead, I just eat a reasonable amount at meals because I’m already at least somewhat full.

I find that having such foods at arm’s length ensures that I’ll eat those snacks instead of being ravenous at meal times or eating something less healthy.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Interested Reader says:

    I don’t think you really answered Q2’s question. It seems like Rachel was asking exactly how the click thru ads work and how you get paid for them rather than how to generate traffic.

  2. Johanna says:

    Q9: I’m surprised that Trent doesn’t mention what I consider to be by far the biggest drawback to those auction sites: The possibility (indeed, probability) that you’ll sink many dollars into bidding on an item, and then somebody else will win it.

    If you have to bid more than once on an item in order to win it, that means other people are bidding on it too. And by definition, only one of you can win. The others have all lost the money they spent on the bids, and have nothing to show for it.

    For those people, there’s then the temptation to buy even more bids and bid on more items, to try to “win back” some of the money they lost. Which means, in all likelihood, they’ll lose even more money.

    It’s very much like a gambling operation, and one in which “the house” takes a large cut of the money. In Trent’s example where the site collects $300 in bids on a Wii that it sells for $40, the sites cut is hovering around 50%.

    If you want to play a game of chance where the odds are that you’ll lose half your money, buy some lottery tickets. At least for those, the money often goes to a good cause.

  3. Michelle says:

    just for the record i would never do business with someone who does not event attempt to use any punctuation especially on such a long piece of correspondence
    seriously trent if you wont edit the questions maybe you could at least select some that are readable

  4. Brittany says:

    @Tyler

    First, make sure you don’t pay the item off “right away”–rather, as Trent mentions, pay it off as soon as you receive the bill. If you pay it off before the end of the billing cycle (before they bill you for it), it doesn’t get reported to credit reporting agencies.

    Second, try Credit Karma (google it–if I put in the kind, this post would get eaten by the moderation queue). It’s a free (no strings attached, no “get free report and then be billed forever if you forget to cancel” thing, no credit card required) credit self-monitoring service that will give you your credit score for free. I have been using it for almost 2 years and think it’s just swell.

  5. JJ says:

    Q4 is about the cable bill in the same way that the movie “Rocky” is about boxing.

    That is, maybe on the surface, but really not at all.

    Hubby can collect viewing data all he wants, but I don’t think it’s going to help the underlying issue. In fact, it will probably make it worse. I’m hearing that he really does “begrudge the money being spent”. Or he begrudges his wife being the type of person that watches so much more TV. Or maybe something else deeper. In any case, the question seems to indicate that there’s plenty of begrudging going on somewhere.

    Maybe he’s on the internet more than she is. Should he take that bill out of his “allowance”? And her hairdryer uses more electricity than his shaver, so why not make her pay more of the electric bill? How about having everyone time their showers and then split up the water bill in proportion? What grocery items like spicy mustard or yogurt are eaten by one spouse and never the other, and why not make those come out of the “allowance” too?

    As you can see, it get pretty silly pretty quickly! At some point you gotta let go and give up on everything being 100% “fair” down the line. Give a little. Take a little. Don’t sweat it. It all more or less shakes out in the end if both people respect each other.

    Better yet, Mr. Q4 could find a show his wife likes that he’s interested in watching too. Or they both could find a new-to-them show they could look forward to watching together (Mad Men? Dexter? Glee?). Treat the fancy cable package as an interest she has that he has the opportunity to learn about and share, just as he’d appreciate her taking an interest in something he spent time doing (like watching those sports “outside the house”)

    JJ

  6. Johanna says:

    Q7: Read the fine print on the promo, if you haven’t done so already: Can you really receive an unlimited number of gift certificates?

    When my credit card runs a similar offer (5% cash back for spending in certain categories), the amount of bonus cash you can earn is capped at something like $75 over the whole promotional period. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a similar limit on the promotion you describe.

  7. Monica says:

    Maybe the cable couple should sit down and evaluate whether the cable package they have is really the one they need. Is the wife really watching all those premium channels? If not, maybe they could go with a less-expensive standard package instead. (THAT’s what I would evaluate – are they using the extra channels they are paying a premium for, not a stopwatch on how many hours of TV the wife is watching.)

    Here’s another thought: I’ve got Comcast and a standard cable package (w/ Disney, TLC, ESPN, etc.) is about $64 before the fees and DVR. The premium packages are $74 and $84 (and then a few super premium packages). So really, you’re talking a $10-$20 a month difference. If their finances are stable and they aren’t struggling to make ends meet — is that amount really worth getting into a fuss over? I’d say let her have the premium channels, as you’ve probably got a hobby or two that she views as “unnecessary spending.”

    @#5 JJ – you make a good point.

  8. Courtney20 says:

    Our rule is if we share an event/service, it’s a shared expense (cable, dinner out together, movie) and comes out of the regular budget or joint entertainment. Doesn’t matter if he watches three more shows a week than me or I order the filet while he orders pasta. If it’s an individually enjoyed expense (spa appointment or clothes for me, video games or lunch out for him) it comes out of our personal allowance. It’s a marriage, not an itemized invoice.

  9. valleycat1 says:

    I agree with A1 regarding Q2 – the question isfor the logistics/steps needed to get ads that pay for click through on your blog, not whether he has what it takes to make blogging a successful venture.

  10. valleycat1 says:

    Ditto A5 & A7 re cable. We consider cable as one of our ‘utility’ bills, and reached an agreement on what service tier we wnated to pay for. There’s something more going on in this case than prorating the cable bill, & Trent’s right that they need to nip that in the bud.

  11. Trent,

    Why is that every time someone asks you a question about blogging, you give them the same canned response? Do you even read the questions before you respond? A “How-to” about advertising doesn’t mean writing good content or getting track-backs.

  12. David says:

    I was wondering how long it would take before someone attempted to turn the “dollar auction game” (devised by Martin Shubik in 1971) into an attempt to make money via the internet.

    To summarise the game briefly: a dollar bill is sold at public auction. The highest bidder wins the dollar, but the second highest bidder must pay the amount of his bid and receive nothing in return. A rational strategy among the “players” involves a single bid of $0.99 for the dollar, but in actual experiments the dollar bill has eventually been sold for amounts of three dollars or more.

  13. Toni S says:

    Re: Q10 – I’ve heard that healthy fats like coconut oil when eaten with you meals can both help with weight loss and cravings. There is a book, “Eat Fat, Lose Fat” that discusses this in depth. I’ve also heard that sugar cravings can be curbed with Vitamin C

  14. Johanna says:

    Q5, Charlie: When I was around your daughters’ age, I had trouble relating to my parents too. I was developing new interests that were more “grown up” in nature, that I was embarrassed to share with my parents because I felt they still thought of me as a little girl. (I don’t even mean things like sex and drinking and smoking – but more along the lines of poetry and philosophy and politics.) That may be what’s going on with your daughters.

    I’m not sure what the best thing is to do about it, though. Maybe share some stories with them about things you did when you were a teenager. Or initiate some conversations with them about things like current events, and make it clear that their opinion is welcome and respected, even if it’s different from yours. And take a look at whether there’s anything you’re doing that might be reinforcing the idea that you still think of them as small children. (My mother, for example, *still* refers to my brother and me as “kiddos” – and my brother’s 30 and I’m 33.)

  15. Mary says:

    Q4 – My boyfriend and I’s TV viewing habits are conflicting like that too, though we only have Netflix, use Hulu or whatever comes in on our antenna. He’s an avid TV watcher, always watching some show (currently it’s Nip/Tuck), and I’m just not, minus NFL football and interesting documentaries (just watched one last night on tornadoes). However, I compensate for that in avid internet surfing. :P So, for us it evens out. I’ve realized that his TV viewing is his way of unwinding after a long day. It just works for him.

  16. valleycat1 says:

    Q10 – re cravings – have a glass of water, and/or tell yourself to wait 10 minutes when a craving hits. Gum often works to satisfy the urge to chew. It is also possible to teach yourself it’s ok to be hungry for a little while b that you will get to eat at (whatever your next meal time is), not an emergency that needs to be fixed right away.

    Snacks: Learn what a 100-calorie portion of your usual craved foods is & just eat that much. Or, have some other 100-calorie snacks on hand that fit in your food plan – a bit of cheese, a few whole grain/high fiber crackers, one bite-size candy, fresh fruit, a tsp of peanut butter, or whatever. A 100-calorie snack isn’t going to blow a diet but enough to get you past the urgent feeling.

  17. KC says:

    @Michelle #8 – My husband and I are in a very similar situation to you – late 30s, similar savings, similar priced home (except we are in yr 28 or a 30 yr fixed at 5.375%), and a little more annual income than you guys. Oh, and I’m pregnant. But when we were deciding whether or not to refinance I was not pregnant. At that time we ran the numbers on a 15 yr fixed (at 3.75%) and decided not to refinance. Why? Cause we didn’t want to be locked into the 15 yr monthly price. We could swing it fairly easily, but we wanted the leeway in case I got pregnant (we must have had some kind of foresight!)

    In your case I would seriously consider refi-ing into a 30 yr to get your rate lowered. Put what you need down to have no PMI. Then (and this is the hard part) commit to making those extra monthly payments to pay off the house in 15 years (it’ll take less than you think, there are many good calculators on the internet). If something happens then you aren’t obligated to continue paying extra. But chances are you still will and, at worst, you’ll likely pay the house off in 20 years. Just something to think about of you don’t want to be locked into the higher monthly payments, but still want a better rate and a quicker payoff.

  18. Ruth says:

    There is a difference in meaning between the phrases “at arms length” and “within arms reach.”

  19. sheila too says:

    Q5: Asking the teens what they want to do on family night is a great idea, and perhaps give them a budget to work with? That way, they will learn money management skills in addition to doing something with the family.

    Some outings, if they align with the kids’ interests, might be great. If one is artistic, perhaps a family trip to the art museum would be in order. If they don’t feel like going out, how about letting the teenagers find causes or charities they’d like to support, and then split the money between the charities? Or even do a charity walk together for one of the causes they support. I bet you’ll discover a lot about your kids by looking at what causes interest them.

    You will surely find lots of things that you can do that won’t intrude on your teens’ intellectual/philosophical privacy.

  20. jim says:

    Q4, Ronald: How much do you care? If you really don’t begrudge it and you can afford the bill then why not just keep it as is? Theres probably other things in your household you use and appreciate more that she wouldn’t want to pay for if given the choice.

    If its a big deal, such that the money impacts your finances significantly ($100/month is not small money) then maybe you could compromise and see if your wife would like to cancel some or all of the premium channels or maybe pay for those with her allowance if you don’t watch it at all. i.e. split the basic bill as a household expenses but then she pays for the extra premium channels that only she watches.

  21. sandy says:

    @ Charlie (#5) We are going through similar experiences with our girls. My husband has done the following: DD#1 was into Martial Arts, and took lessons from a school in town. My husband decided to follow her lead and registered for classes, too. 2 evenings per week they were togethr doing something they both enjoyed. Several years later, they are still kicking each other in the kitchen…it was a great way to connect. DD#2 is into cooking, and after looking to see if there was a series of cooking classes that they could go to together, we realized that cooking together could be done in our own kitchen, following recipes. So, now, every Monday night while DD#1 is doing a different martial arts club, Hubby and DD#2 are cooking up a storm in our kitchen. They decide over the weekend what they’ll cook on Monday, and if anything needs to be picked up at the store, I can do that on Monday after work. (Also, I get a night off of cooking:))So far, they’ve made homemade mac and cheese, lasagna, and spaghetti and meatballs. They both are having a lot of fun together…together being the opertive word.
    Find something your girls like to do, and then actively pursue it with them…they are only home for a few more years…then you’ll say you wish you had the time back.

  22. ChrisD says:

    RE snacks. I feel that the bodies natural appetite controls can work pretty well for ‘natural’ foods, but are overwhelmed by ‘superfoods’ like all junk food. Thus if you keep snacks on hand that are healthy, fresh fruit or, for the convenience of forgetting something in your bag for a week and then still having good food, dried apricots or almonds, you can eat them guilt free because they are ‘full’ calories. You are getting nutrition and vitamins along with the calories. Also low glyceamic index means no yoyoing blood sugar which is part of what can make you fell hungry. Personally I can’t get through the morning without feeling like I’m starving to death and a small packet of apricots and another of almonds kept in my desk drawer is perfect. They are not too tempting, like chocolate would be, so after lunch I can easily ignore them.
    This would also be my number one parenting tip that my parents used on us very sucesfully. Whenever we told our parents we were hungry and could we have some crisps or chocolate, they would point at the fruit bowl and say, ‘if you’re hungry have an apple’ we were rarely really hungry.

  23. jim says:

    Q8 Michelle: I would not dump ALL your savings into your house. That will lock it up so its out of reach in case of an emergency. Plus we don’t know what house values will do, its possible your house could drop in value even further. Thats not worth the risk to avoid PMI.

    You might also ask if you can a 80/10/10 or “piggy back” financing. I’m not sure how common that is nowadays but worth asking about maybe. If you did that you’d get a mortgage for 80%, put 10% down and then a 2nd mortgage for 10%. The 2nd mortgage would be higher interest so you’d want to pay it off faster, but it would avoid PMI and not empty your savings.

  24. jim says:

    Q2 Rachel:

    The easiest way to get started generating money from ads is to use Google Adsense. Just sign up for an Adsense account, create an ad then insert it on the blog. There are undoubtedly some how-to and step-by-step guides available on the process. The details of how to insert the ad on your blog will depend on what blog software you use.

  25. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    @Johanna
    In your second comment you mention that the biggest danger of these auction sites is that someone else will win causing you to lose your “invested” bids. That’s not true with Quibids. You always have the option of buying the item at retail price and they’ll credit you the amount of money you spent on bids. This is why Trent mentioned that if you already want the item and are willing to pay retail then you’re probably ok with Quibids.

    Otherwise, you’re right and these sites become a losing game.

  26. Johanna says:

    @Gal: Oh, OK. I’ve read about and seen ads for so many similar-sounding sites, I didn’t realize that there was any difference between them. Thanks for the information.

  27. prodgod says:

    @#3 Michelle: I had to chuckle at the irony of your reply.

  28. Johanna says:

    @prodgod: You don’t suppose she did that on purpose?

  29. SP says:

    I can’t believe a person can listen to podcasts while working. Too distracting for me, I listen to mine while running. Which if i run a lot in a week means i need to fill up hours a week with podcasts.

    I’d add The Moth, On Being (krista tippett), and maybe the splendid table if you are into food/cooking. But it really depends on your interests.

  30. Kevin says:

    Q6 Valerie: She writes “I find every morning I’m going through the list again and re-prioritizing, which takes a good bit of time”.

    From personal experience, this can develop into an obsession which end up devoting all your time to the lists, rather than actually getting things done. While there were other issues, this ultimately led to the suicide of my father almost 25 years ago – and that was pre-spheadsheets!!!

    Try and restrict re-prioritising to once a week or less, and instead devote this time to actioning items from the list. Ideally target things you can complete in this time each day, to get some quick wins, reduce the list length and importantly for your own positive motivation and self-esteem. Good luck!

  31. Amanda says:

    cheese isn’t a plant based snack =)

    Veggies are! Try keeping cut up carrots, celery, bell peppers, zucchini around!

  32. Dee says:

    I suggest Trent’s “Building a Better Blog.” It’s only $2.00 and answers a lot of questions.

  33. prodgod says:

    @Johanna: Let’s hope so.

  34. valleycat1 says:

    #3 michelle my feelings exactly when I read this q then I was like oh well everyone is starting to write like this and at least it isnt in twitterspeak and has a few paragraph separations so maybe im just getting old and out of touch with contemporary culture so when you put up your comment im like yes at least one other person i can relate to and trent i would also appreciate your editing unreadable questions i dont think it would compromise the content and make it easier for your readers

  35. Karen says:

    @Q10 Mel,

    I bring a cucumber to work every day and in the afternoon I slice it and eat it like chips. It has the crunch and satisfies my hunger.

  36. Michelle says:

    It’s no longer funny once you explain the joke…

  37. Robyn says:

    Q4: I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing in the marriage to reevaluate who pays for TV, as long as it’s not causing hard feelings. We don’t have TV service because neither of us wants it (in fact, we actively do NOT want it), so I’m not sure how we’d handle it. However, my husband likes to play World of Warcraft, which requires a monthly subscription fee. It’s relatively cheap entertainment, and he chooses to pay for it out of his personal money (I’ve expressed on multiple occasions that it could come out of our mutual entertainment budget). I play a little, mostly just because he and some of our friends play. It’s not something I’m really into, but he enjoys it when I play. I don’t play every month, but when I do I pay for half of it and the other half comes out of our mutual entertainment budget. It’s not “fair,” but the fact is that I don’t value the game-playing time as much as I do some other hobbies that cost money (mostly sewing), so it was more than I really wanted to pay (a little less than half of my spending money each month). However, my husband gets more enjoyment out of playing when I’m also playing. So, he suggested I just pay for half of my subscription, and that’s an amount I feel is proportional with my desire to play (or at least is worth it in order to share in his hobby). For the record, I’ve offered to make the same arrangement for him to keep things equitable, but he feels he gets enough value out of his subscription that he’s willing to pay for it himself.

    If the situation is that Ronald really doesn’t want TV and his wife does, it might make sense for her to pay for part of the bill herself. Maybe just enough that she’s regularly evaluating whether or not she still wants it. If she does — great. If other things turn out to be more important to her, so be it. It does need to be a decision they’re both on board with, though, otherwise it would just breed resentment.

  38. AnnJo says:

    Michele re: pay-down and refinance,

    If you pay $90,000 on your mortgage, you stand to save:

    1) About $4,950 a year in interest on the $90,000 (6.5% curent mortgage rate less say 1% earned on it now in savings)

    2) About $5,360 a year in interest on the remaining $268,000 mortgage, assuming your rate would drop to 4.5%.

    So $10,310 total annual return on $90,000 is over 11% and will earn itself back in less than 9 years. (This doesn’t account for loan costs, but I’m assuming those won’t be much.)

    With $160,000 in retirement savings, and assuming you are living well within your substantial means, I’d be less concerned than Trent about whether you have enough of an emergency fund.

    The only countervailing thought is that with your “underwater” mortgage and the current “bailout anything that moves” climate, you may not qualify for some future government subsidy/gimmick if you actually acquire some equity in your home. It’s a safe assumption that all such programs will strictly exclude anyone who acted responsibly in managing their debt. Still, chances are that at your income levels, you might be excluded anyway, so might as well do what makes sense.

  39. Shan says:

    Have to agree with most other posters on Q4, that you need to just let it go. I wouldn’t bother tracking how much you both use the service unless you are willing to evaluate how much you both use EVERY utility in the house – do you eat more food than your wife? Maybe those extra groceries should be bought out of your personal spending.

  40. Pam says:

    Q6: I’ve learned to have 2 separate lists, 1 for work and 1 for personal, as combined there is just too much and it’s overwhelming. Trent’s recommendation for moving some of them to a Someday/Maybe List or Purging them is good. I review my Master Project List for work (down to 30 projects yesterday, it was 45 two weeks ago) weekly and then highlight the projects that must be worked on the next week. As I fill in my calendar for the next week, and as I develop a to do list each day I know that I can ignore every project not highlighted. Only if I have free time during the week would I consider looking at any of the other non-highlighted projects. I keep separate action sheets for each project because of the long number of actions needed for each. So, the project titles are on my master sheet, and I simply pull the project action sheets for the ones that need to be worked on in any given week and use those for the week’s planning.

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