Reader Mailbag: Sleep Interrupted

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. Starting kids with credit
2. Trailing large vehicles on interstates
3. Gifts for children
4. Cost of cheap looking decor
5. Moving and car trading
6. Swimming in ponds
7. Distributing inheritance money
8. Safe place for cash
9. Keeping employment records
10. Playing cassette tapes

Our two year old loves to wake up at about five in the morning and crawl into bed with us.

One of his favorite things to do is to pull himself in very close against my side or my back so he can whisper in my ear. He’ll whisper “Daddy” and I’ll say, “Hi… what?” and he’ll just giggle.

After that gets old, he’ll spend fifteen minutes making bicycling motions with his legs, with each kick striking my side or lower back.

Of course, at this point, we both might as well get up.

Q1: Starting kids with credit
My kids are young (10 and 12) but I was wondering how I can help then establish credit. Is it possible to get a credit card (co-signed) in their name and use it once a month for gas or something? They would sure have a long credit history then! I wonder what age one is even allowed to have a credit card (when co-signed or secured or whatever?)

I was also thinking that when they are college aged putting a house bill in their name might help them establish credit. What do you think? I had zero credit for a long time so I would like my kids to have a better start.

All of this of course with the understanding that they know all about credit cards, to pay them off, how to use or not use them, etc!
- Leon

In order to have a credit card under their own name, a person must be eighteen years old. There are no laws concerning minimum age for authorized users; however, many credit card companies have adopted minimum age policies on such users.

In your situation, you would want to add the children as authorized users on one of your own cards if the credit card company allows it.

Of course, none of this helps if the company does not report information on authorized users to the credit bureaus. You’ll have to inquire with the bank that is offering the credit card.

Q2: Trailing large vehicles on interstates
Whenever we go on a long driving trip, my husband likes to get fairly close to a semi, set his cruise control to match the speed of the semi, and just follow the semi for a long while. He says that we get much better gas mileage because there’s less wind resistance right behind the semi. I’m scared to do this and it doesn’t feel safe to me. Does this really save money? If it does, is it worth the money you save?

- Jamie

This isn’t particularly safe. You should follow cars with at least a two second gap between the two vehicles, if not more. So, if a vehicle passes a landmark in front of you and you can’t count “one mississippi, two mississippi” before you pass that same landmark, you’re following too close.

The problem is that the drafting effect is reduced at that distance. You may still get some benefit from the drafting effect at that distance, but it’s not an incredible advantage.

I don’t think the risk is worth it to follow any closer.

Q3: Gifts for children
My husband and I recently had our first child. I’m generally concerned about chemical exposure in our day-to-day lives, and I’m particularly concerned about chemicals in baby toys, which seem to invariably go straight into our son’s mouth. I prefer to only give him toys that I’ve checked out and am confident are safer. We received many items during our baby shower and immediately after birth that I’m not comfortable giving to our son. I’ve donated some of these or, if I’ve discovered the chemical load is very high (for example, if it tests for lead or arsenic on healthystuff.org) I’ve thrown it out. My question is how to handle gift-giving occasions in the future. I’m grateful that people think of our son and want to get him gifts, but I feel guilty that they wasted their money on something I’m going to donate or dispose of. Should I just take a “It’s the thought that counts” attitude and continue to donate/dispose those items I’m not comfortable with? Should I offer close family (grandparents, etc.) a curated list of toys and use the previous approach for gift givers I’m not as close to? I see this as becoming more of an issue as he becomes older and more aware and I’d welcome any advice you might have.

- Patricia

I think your plan makes perfect sense for now. For people you’re not close to, accept the gift with a smile and then quietly return it. For people you are close to, talk to them about it and offer them guidance.

Be aware that this is going to be much more difficult when the child gets older. When your child reaches school age, the items that he would receive as gifts are going to be very different than items received as an infant. Your son is also going to have interests and opinions of his own.

Be prepared to talk to your son about these things as he grows older – and also be prepared for an inevitable pushback against these limits.

Q4: Cost of cheap looking decor
My husband and I purchased a home recently and I’ve slowly been trying to decorate it. The problem is that whenever I look at decor options at what I consider to be a reasonable price, I usually think they look terrible. My husband says I’m being silly, but I think that cheap-looking decor makes us look cheap to our guests. What do you think?

- Karen

If you don’t want it in your home, you don’t want it in your home.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with budgeting a reasonable amount each month for home decor. You can then spend it every few months when you have enough for items that you want for your home rather than spending it on items that you don’t really want.

For now, there’s nothing wrong with a spartan look for your walls and floor area. You don’t need to fill space with stuff if you don’t like it. Take your time and get the right stuff. Just be sure that you’re not spending in a way that is financially detrimental.

Q5: Moving and car trading
I’m moving away from a mountain town to Albuquerque, NM. Last year, after much research, i purchased a new Hyundai Tuscon to get around in winter road conditions. I’m making payments but they are affordable in my budget and I plan to pay it off in full next spring. However the winters in Albuquerque are much milder and I won’t have to deal with the ice and snow as frequently. Also, my new home is in a central location and I’ll be able to take the bus to work and walk 2 blocks to the grocery store and many other places I’ll need (this is rare in a western city). I’m trying to decide whether to keep the Tuscon, pay it off and drive it till it dies in 10-15 years or so or to trade it in for a less expensive, more fuel efficient car that might be cheaper to insure. Did I mention that the Tuscon has heated seats?

- Chris

How much of a loss are you going to take if you sell the Tuscon right now? I don’t know what model year you have or what options you have on the vehicle, which would affect the resale value. I also don’t know how much you owe on it.

Are you sure that you’ll even need a vehicle at all? If you’re only going to be using the vehicle to occasionally leave the city a few times a year, it might be cheaper to have no vehicle at all and just rent a car whenever you need one. It sounds like most of your needs are met with your new living situation.

If I were you, I’d first evaluate whether you need a vehicle at all. If you decide that you do, I’d price out everything – insurance, fuel, the cost of paying off this vehicle, the cost of the new vehicle, how much you’d actually be driving, etc. My gut tells me that the smaller car will end up looking like the better deal over a long time frame, but I don’t have enough specifics to say for sure.

Q6: Swimming in ponds
My husband grew up on some property that had a small pond on it. He used to go swimming in that pond all the time when he was growing up. Since we started dating, he’s tried to get me to swim in it, but whenever I look at the water, I can’t make myself get in there. It just looks nasty.

Anyway, now we have two little kids and he wants to take the kids swimming in the pond. I really don’t want him to do it. Am I just being irrational here?
- Janine

I’m biased. I have been in ponds many times in my life, and I know lots of people that have done the same. Unless the pond were particularly foul for some reason, I would have no problem getting in.

Ponds are like any outdoor environment. It’s alive. There are insects and other creatures around, whether you see them or not (of course, the same is true inside your home). It’s up to your personal judgment as to whether or not you should go into that environment.

My suggestion? Let your kids make up their own mind. Explain why you won’t swim in there. If they do swim, make sure they take a bath after swimming.

Q7: Distributing inheritance money
My brother and I are co-trusters of our Mother’s estate. It will be divided into 6 portions, with the 6th divided into 12 (grandchildren). We have given away over $8,000 of her personal items (Good Will donation value,not real) to charitable organizations.

My brother thinks we can divide the $8,000 amongst the siblings and grandchildren receiving inheritance money, and that it will reduce tax owed on a one to one basis.

I told him it will only benefit those who use a schedule A (interest, donations form), and would only reduce the tax liability according to the schedules. So he thinks if at the end of the day he owes $1000 in taxes, and he can use $125 of the above, he will owe $875 in taxes. All others who do not file schedule A will be able to take it off the top as well.

Please advise on (1) can the estate donation legally be divided amongst heirs and (2) how tax benefit is calculated.

I know that if the “standard deduction” is greater than others, it should be used.
- Emma

You should contact a tax professional here to make sure that you’re doing this right.

My experience in the past has been that if an estate makes a donation, the tax benefits of the donation go to the estate. The estate itself is a tax-paying entity which will have received some income during the year and the donation will be tax deductible for the estate.

Of course, this all depends on how you have things set up with the estate, which isn’t clear here. If I were you, I’d have a tax pro handle this.

Q8: Storing cash at home
My father has always been very diligent about keeping a significant amount of cash on his property in case of an emergency. He used to keep it in the top drawer of his dresser in an old cigar box as a big pile of crisp $100 bills.

His thinking has kind of rubbed off on me. I can see the use of having money in my home. However, having a big wad of cash sitting in my upper dresser drawer makes me nervous. What should I do with it?
- Marvin

There are a lot of potential hiding places in a home. You just need to identify a place where you feel secure about the money and where you’ll be able to easily remember where it is and locate it in a pinch.

One family friend keeps a wad of cash buried in the insulation in his attic. I know another friend that keeps some cash in an envelope taped to the bottom of his bottom dresser drawer (he has to remove the drawer from the dresser to get it). I’d tell you where I keep mine… but I won’t.

Remember, you want it in a place that’s not easy for a potential home intruder to find, but a place that you’ll remember and can easily access.

Q9: Keeping employment records
I am working on a household file and keep seeing recommendations to keep “employment records” indefinitely. However, when I’ve searched for a definition of just what employment records are important to keep, I’m coming up empty handed. Can you help, please? Also, can you share what documents/records are important to keep where (safe deposit box, home file) and how long each document/record should be kept?

- Jill

Employment records would include paycheck stubs and any other documentation proving that you worked at a particular place.

I would keep any truly essential records in the safe deposit box. By that, I mean items that prove your identity, prove your ownership of your key assets (like your home), and anything else you might not be able to recover otherwise. Passports, birth certificates, titles, and such are great things to keep in a safe deposit.

I would keep everything for seven years. I would keep any key documents – the kind you’d put in your safe deposit box – permanently. I’d probably keep tax returns permanently as well.

Q10: Playing cassette tapes
I found a box of my old cassette tapes when cleaning out my closet at my parents’ house. Most of them are mixtapes that my friends made for me back in the day and I’d love to listen to them again. Problem is, I don’t own anything that plays cassettes! Is there an inexpensive way for me to listen to them?

- Robin

Your best bet would be to hit your local library. They often have cassette players there and many libraries will allow you to check them out.

If you’re able to do this, try to get one with a headphone jack. Then, check and see if your computer has a microphone jack. If it does, you can get an inexpensive cable to transfer the cassette contents to mp3 format for future use. Just ask at your local electronic store if you need help pulling it off.

I’ve actually transferred a few cassettes to mp3s this way, but I did it almost a decade ago and the software I used is outdated.

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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