Reader Mailbag: Sorting and Organizing

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. Simple Dollar recipes
2. Cleaning clothes from Goodwill
3. Impressing people you don’t like
4. Unequal will
5. Prioritizing expenses
6. Overcoming small impulses
7. College credit card debt
8. Father and son baseball expenses
9. Emotional challenges and overspending
10. Wife’s cosmetic expenses

I love taking lots and lots of items and sorting and organizing them.

Books. Trading cards. Computer files. Whatever it is, I find it really soothing to take a big pile of them, figure out a sensible way to organize them, and put them in order.

My wife finds this comical. She can’t believe I’ll spend two hours at the table sorting cards or taking over an entire room sorting books.

Of course, she doesn’t mind it as much when she can easily find something she’s looking for.

Q1: Simple Dollar recipes
Can you give some good places to find easy, inexpensive recipes? Have you ever considered putting together some of your frugal recipes into a Simple Dollar Cookbook (even a downloadable one)? I’m definitely going to look back through the “Dinner with My Family Series”, but was wondering if you had any other places I could start?

Basically, I’m looking to step down from a stressful, more than full-time job to low-stress, almost full-time job and would take a pay cut (for mental wellbeing and also to free up time to go back to school for my teaching certification). While my spouse and I have saved up for this possibility, my stressful job has lead to a lot of evenings where I cook whatever is easy (regardless of cost) or just do takeout (far too much of late).

I need to get our food budget under control as that is our biggest money issue right now and I think having an arsenal of meals that I can plan around would be really helpful!
– Angela

I mostly use AllRecipes.com or my own cookbooks to find recipes.

As for my own recipes, the best way to find them is to dig through the “dinner with my family” category or to check out this summary post from my “summer meal series”. Between them, you’ll find 50 or 60 recipes.

As for creating my own cookbook, I’ve considered doing that. I’m not sure there’s really a good market for getting it formally published, but I could make an e-book available for the Kindle (meaning it could be read in any web browser).

Q2: Cleaning clothes from Goodwill
How do you clean clothes that you buy from Goodwill? I’m really paranoid about bugs and other things when I buy clothes from there.

– Jenna

Inspect anything you buy very carefully before you buy it. Look it over for any markings or stains you may not want.

If that’s not enough, take all of the clothes you buy to a laundromat and clean them before you take them home. That’s the best approach for avoiding bugs or other unwanted things in your clothes.

This isn’t just a Goodwill thing, either. If this is a concern of yours, you’ve also got some chance of getting such things from clothes purchased at normal clothing stores and department stores.

Q3: Impressing people you don’t like
Why do people spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like?

– Dan

You tell me, Dan. I don’t get it, either.

I used to spend to impress the people that already liked me, but I realized that when I quit spending, most of those friends stuck with me anyway. Yeah, I lost a few golfing buddies and a few other folks, but I retained most of my friends that mattered.

The only reason I could see for impressing people I didn’t know was to advance my career, but what I found was that hard work and achievements got to them far before buying nice clothes or a shiny car ever would.

Q4: Unequal will
At Easter, my parents told my sisters and I that they had decided how their estate would be split up. It wasn’t anywhere close to equal, with my youngest sister getting far more than anyone else. My other sister got really upset and hasn’t spoken to anyone but me since. Any advice on how to repair this rift?

– Alex

Time is the best thing you have.

You might also want to talk to your parents about why they made this decision. They are surely aware of the rift that’s developed, so they may be able to explain to you why they made this choice. There is surely a reason for it.

Maintain a relationship with the hurt sister and when the topic comes up, try to explain what happened.

You’re simply going to have to give this all some time, though.

Q5: Prioritizing expenses
My question is what do I prioritise first. I am 54 years old, my 30 year marriage has just ended, I have started working full-time and earn $80,000, and I have 2 children both in or about to start university. Their university fees are covered. The youngest will live with me, the oldest is independent at the moment.
I will have about $500,000 but no home as we sold it. I could buy a 2 bedroom apartment outright but then I would have no other savings as I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world (Sydney,Australia). I have some income protection which I need to and will increase and $100,000 worth of life insurance.

How do I prioritise the following:
Emergency fund
Buying a place
Saving to replace my car
Saving for retirement (I have $160,000)

– Sam

An emergency fund needs to come first. That will help you cover unexpected emergency expenses. I would shoot for at least $1,000 in an emergency fund.

After that, prioritize by need. I would probably save to replace the car first, because you may have severe issues without easy transportation. You do have a roof over your head, so I would rank the “buying a place” goal to be relatively low.

Given that you’re 54 and have only $160,000 saved for retirement, I’d make that a priority once the car is secure. Start stacking away what you can for retirement at that point.

Q6: Overcoming small impulses
I can easily control my desires for expensive impulses like a new car or a new computer. It’s the small ones that eat me alive. I see something like a Google Chromecast, see a low price, and just buy it without thinking. My only thought about it is that “Hey it’s only $30″ or something. The problem is that I do it all the time. I can stop myself from a $200 purchase, but then I’ll make 10 $20 purchases over the next couple of weeks. Help!

– Jerome

There are a lot of approaches you can try here, but it’s going to come down to applying the same seriousness to a $20 purchase as you do to a $200 purchase.

For me, there have been two things that have really helped. First, I figured out what my true hourly wage was. I added up all of the hours I spent doing things related to work – working, traveling to work, etc. – and took my annual wage and subtracted all of the work-related costs – taxes, cost of commute, food, etc. I divided the adjusted annual income by those hours to get a shockingly small hourly wage, which revealed to me how much of my life I was giving up for every dumb purchase. A $20 item meant three hours of my life devoted to work. I didn’t like that.

The other thing that helped was to assign myself a certain amount of money I could spend freely each month without guilt, knowing that the rest of my bases were covered. I budgeted a certain amount each month for entertainment and hobby expenses.

Q7: College credit card debt
I am a Sophomore studying Business Management and Pre-Law in New York City and am working full time at my college during the Summer, as well as fully supporting my college education. Last year, I needed to use my credit cards to buy food and personal items for the last 3 months of school. However, last month, I put myself on a spending freeze until I am able to pay the credit cards off completely ($2,500). Do you have any suggestions for paying off debt while an independent college student?

– Jeremy

There is no magic trick here. You have a certain amount of money coming in and a certain amount going out. To come up with the money to pay down your student credit cards, you either have to raise the amount coming in – work more, in other words – or reduce the amount going out – live more frugally, in other words.

If you don’t do one or the other (or both), you won’t be able to pay off the debt. That’s just reality.

In your shoes, as a student, frugality is probably easier. You just need to find ways to cut back on your expenses. I don’t have a picture of what your expenses are, but food is probably a good place to start.

Q8: Father and son baseball expenses
This is a problem I have mixed feelings about. My husband and our son have really bonded lately over baseball. This year, they have been following it together passionately. There seems to be a baseball game of some kind showing on the television almost constantly. My husband is so happy because he’s been a baseball fan all his life.

Sounds great, but my husband is splurging like crazy for this. They’ve gone to about 15 Cubs and White Sox games this year and he’s bought his son a ton of baseball cards and several jerseys. He’s spent thousands this summer on baseball.

I am so glad they’re bonding like this, but how do I tell him to cool it? We can’t afford to maintain this forever.
– Janice

Sit down and talk to your husband about how much you appreciate the mutual interest, but show him how much this is all adding up to.

Before you do that, brainstorm a big list of ways that they could enjoy the hobby without spending so much money. Minor league baseball might be an option (I loved going to minor league games with my dad when I was younger). Another option might be to hunt Craigslist and other such sites for jerseys instead of buying them new.

You can engage in a deep passion for a sport without spending a bunch of money. I listen to a ton of baseball games each year and play fantasy baseball passionately and it doesn’t cost me much at all.

Q9: Emotional challenges and overspending
I guess this is a confession. I spend too much on luxury items. I’m fortunate to have a great job, a great salary, and a great family, (son, husband). For the first 30 years of my life, I had a horrible, horrible life, without this being my fault. Just horrible family history of all kinds of abuse. Anyway, that’s over now, and I can proudly say, that I’ve accomplished quite a whole lot.

But since my beginning was in poverty and abuse, now I try to indulge myself in luxury, as I said. I try to play a fantasy where I pretend that my whole life I’ve been surrounded by privilege, education, and safety, and love. Which, sadly, was not the case. I am disgusted by my action, but also proud, that I CAN AFFORD THIS FANTASY!

My irresponsible spending has not yet affected my family, since I always contribute for 50% of family expences, and mortgage, and I have no credit card debt. However, despite my great salary, I only have around $14000 in savings. That is unacceptable, and I want to do something about it. My first step was to give my debit and credit card to my husband, and tell him I need his help in getting in control of my spending. By the way, he’s a little ticked off that I make like a 1/3 more than him, but have less personal savings. What else can I do now, besides enlisting my husband’s help? Any ideas?

I feel, ashamed, guilty, and sad that I’ve been irresponsible, vain, and superficial. This was a way to deal with my emotional pain. In my head, this was better than the alternatives like drugs, or alcohol, or emotional eating (the last one, the emotional eating, at times of extreme stress, im a little guilty too) but nevertheless, irresponsible spending isnt a good way either. I want to be in control of my money, and save for a more certain future.
– Danielle

Here’s the thing: your irresponsible spending has affected your family.

What would you do with all of that money if you had it back right now? Would it help take care of a family expense? Would it provide something great for all of you? Your splurging has taken that away.

Put every splurge into the context of your family. What are you splurging on that your family could use to reinforce what they have? Isn’t that money taking away from your savings and your other goals?

Q10: Wife’s cosmetic expenses
My wife likes to wear makeup. She spends almost an hour and a half each morning “getting her face on” plus some time before bed. She has a closet full of stuff. I hadn’t really thought too much about it until recently when I started looking at the price of some of the stuff she uses. She has literally thousands of of dollars in makeup and cream and stuff in that closet. I’m not sure how to deal with this. Thoughts?

– Jeff

First of all, everything in that closet is a sunk cost. It’s already purchased and you aren’t going to be able to recoup the cost.

The best approach from here is to look at a monthly cosmetics budget. The only fair way to do this is for you to look at what you spend and put something on the line as well. What do you overspend on? What do you do that is taking away from your shared assets as a couple?

When you bring this up, talk about what you could cut back on as much as what she can cut back on, too, or else this will turn into an attack and a major conflict.

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

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