Reader Mailbag: Spiritual Journeys

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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. Life insurance and chronic illness
2. Handling work stress
3. Set back to the edge
4. Handling door-to-door people
5. Credit card dependency
6. Starting self-employment today
7. Collecting experiences
8. Current reading
9. Recovering from major car failure
10. Fantasy sports’ hidden costs?

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve asked myself the question of why I’m here. I’ve read countless books on philosophy and spirituality and religion over the years.

I haven’t really come to any final conclusion on the subject, and I would be the last person to beat you over the head with my beliefs, but I can say this: over the long run, your life improves in almost every way if you abide by one simple rule.

Treat others as you would genuinely want to be treated.

It doesn’t solve the mystery of life, but I think it’s a clue.

Q1: Life insurance and chronic illness
I have an issue with life insurance I would like some input on. I have bipolar disorder and to put it bluntly affordable life insurance is seemingly of reach, if it is available at all. I have been turned down for life insurance recently, and according to my research this illness sends premiums through the roof. (To the tune of 150% more and upwards, and that is on term insurance.) I had no idea insurance companies would have such a big problem with the illness.

If, and that’s a big if, an insurance company will carry me, besides the high premiums the payout has been max $150,000. That’s not even close to enough to the guidelines you give for the amount I need.

I will never be without bipolar disorder but I need life insurance. I am between a rock and hard place here. Do you have some input on this matter?
- Lindsay

Unfortunately, insurance companies can easily deny people or raise premiums based on any condition that they can tie to an increased likelihood of having to pay out on the policy. That’s just the reality of the business.

All you can really do is just keep shopping around for insurance. There’s really no magic trick here.

Also, don’t consider misrepresenting your situation on the insurance. It’s fraud and has a high likelihood of eliminating the payout should a claim need to be made on your policy.

Q2: Handling work stress
Whenever I feel stressed out by work, I seem to unconsciously fall back into “retail therapy” as a treatment. The only problem is that it usually adds to the stress because now I have a credit card to deal with.

- Angie

The solution, of course, is to find a different way to deal with your stress.

The effective stress-reducer depends heavily on the person. For me, playing a game or reading a book reduces my stress, as does spending time with friends and alone with my wife. Escapism and human relationships work for me.

Try different channels for reducing stress. If you feel stressed out, try going to the gym and punching a bag or running. You’ve just got to find what clicks for you.

Q3: Set back to the edge
I am married with 4 kids and can’t get ahead. My husband has a good job but 18 mos ago we had a family emergency that put us over the edge. We are about $2000 from being caught up but have nothing. My husband has been working a ton of overtime which is helping but as summer winds down so will the overtime.

I have tried starting a travel and virtual assistant business from home with no luck. I have also tried daycare in my home without any luck.

What do I do? We still have one child at home so to work out of the home I would need childcare since my husbands hours are all over the place and doing that would defeat me working.

Needless to say we fight all the time. I hate our situation so it makes him angry but he doesn’t want to do anything to help. I am supposed to work, do everything around the house and take care of the kids and he isn’t going to change some of his spending habits or try anything I suggest.
- Margie

This is more of a marital problem than a money problem. If you’re not able to communicate about financial issues or household chores due to anger issues, then there are marital issues that need to be resolved first and foremost.

The situation here is that you’re both under a lot of pressure and stress and you’re both overlooking how much the other person does. Do you think your husband enjoys a “ton of overtime”? You obviously don’t enjoy shouldering most of the household responsibilities and child care responsibilities. You’re moving through a stressful time right now.

Your focus shouldn’t be on nit-picking each other, but focusing on how you can get through this together without getting mad at each other and without breaking the bank. Yes, he could pay more attention to your contributions, but he’s not perfect. No one is. The reverse is also likely true.

If I were you, I’d hit the library and look for some books on marriage counseling and how to fix a wobbly marriage, because this sounds like an uncomfortable situation.

Q4: Handling door-to-door people
Whenever someone comes to the door selling something, I feel guilty somehow and usually end up buying stuff. I think I must be on some list of “people to sell to” because there seem to be a lot of people that come to my door.

- Agatha

You very well might be a person mentioned in conversations among salespeople in your area if you’re a frequent buyer.

Having said that, buying stuff from door-to-door salespeople is usually a poor idea. They’re not addressing your actual needs in any way unless through pure luck, though they’ll do their best to convince you of a need.

You have no reason to be talked into having a “need.” Just say, “No, thank you!” as politely as possible and shut the door. Don’t even let them get started.

Q5: Credit card dependency
I am concerned about being too dependent on my credit card. I use my credit card for all of my everyday expenses for the purpose of earning cash back, but I pay off the balance every month. I have no issue with this way of living/spending, except that it bothers me that I am borrowing that money throughout the month. What if I needed to suddenly switch back to using my debit card? My account is typically pretty low until I get paid, then I allocate my money to different accounts and pay my credit card bill. I am financially stable and consider myself to be very responsible. I have $5000 in an emergency fund, and save as much as I can. My thinking is that I would have to break into my savings or emergency fund to cover myself for the first month or so if I weren’t able to use my credit card. Is this how it would be?

- Aimee

If you’re able to pay your credit card bill in full every month, then you’re doing fine. You’re spending less than what you earn.

All that would happen if your credit card went away is that you’d use your debit card or cash for the same purchases.

The problem comes in if you have credit card bills that you cannot pay in full at the end of the month. If that happens, then you have a genuine concern.

Q6: Starting self-employment today
If you were starting down a path to self-employment today and had only ten or fifteen hours a week to devote to it, how would you start?

- Marvin

Given that my skills have always been computer-related, I’d probably start with my own website or my own YouTube channel.

I’d figure out a topic that I was passionate about and wanted to produce content about and either start making videos on that topic or start writing articles on that topic. I’d put the videos on YouTube and start a website with ads on it for the articles, eventually bundling them in an ebook format and selling them for the Kindle.

It’s one of those things that slowly builds on itself. It takes a long time to get going, but when it does, it’s a train that just keeps going and going and going. Many people give up on it long before that train can start rolling.

Q7: Collecting experiences
Another way of keeping the act of collecting (and thus spending foolishly) as the central focus is to use and *savor* the collection. I collect books, but I’m also a re-reader. No book makes it to my shelf unless it’s one I will *want* to re-read. Others go straight back to our local used bookstore (frequently where they were purchased to begin with!) for credit, or are given to charity. The collection grows, but it grows more slowly, and it is USED and cherished. For example, a couple of days ago I got the urge to revisit Lois Bujold’s Vorkosigan universe. I just walked to the shelf and got the first book of the series. (“Shards of Honor” and if you’ve never read any of Lois’ work, I ***strongly*** recommend it. Complex, strong, believable, *honorable* characters who by now are like old friends to me.)

Having it in a collection means it’s right there when I want it. Limiting the collection to re-read-worthy books means that the collection is of REAL value to me.

I also have a small collection of tea cups and saucers. All bone china; all but one Japanese set were made in England. I inherited about ten cups and saucers from my grandmother (half of her collection), and friends have given me a few more since. They are lovely and delicate, and I should probably check about getting an insurance rider on them. No idea what my little collection is worth, but one cup and saucer that was given to me is so lovely I wondered if the pattern was used for full sets of china. Turns out it is, but I’d need to be a one-percenter to afford it. That single cup and saucer set sells for four hundred bucks. !!!

But I *use* it. I use almost all the tea cups in my collection, rotating among them. I like good tea, not the stuff in bags but real tea, and to me it always tastes better when I drink it from a delicate, lovely cup. So I savor the cups and their beauty as much as the taste of the tea.

Yeah, there are some risks involved; I broke the handle off one of the cups, and one of the saucers cracked. They can be repaired, when I can afford it, but it doesn’t matter. Even if I smashed a cup to powder, it wouldn’t matter. My cups and saucers are being used and appreciated; that gives them more value than any dollar amount.

I don’t think I’m collecting accomplishments, but I collect *experiences* each time I use and savor my collections.
- Sarah

I agree with you completely about experiences. They’re the real things to savor in this life.

The problem that I’ve had in the past – and that many people have – is that the experience they savor centers around buying something new. They get a “jolt” from that, rather from the re-use of products.

If you can move on to finding that joy in using things and experiencing things rather than buying and accumulating, you’ll have made a great move for your life and for yourself.

Q8: Current reading
What books have you been reading lately? I love it when you drop a few reading recommendations in your reader mailbag!

- Jim

I’m currently re-reading Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. It’s a cautionary tale about genetic manipulation gone wild and it happens to be one of my favorite books of all time. I think this is my sixth or seventh re-read of the book, and there aren’t many books I re-read even once.

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr has been weighing on my mind heavily as of late. It’s a nonfiction book that discusses how the internet is actually modifying how people think.

Those are the two really noteworthy books I’ve been into as of late.

Q9: Recovering from major car failure
My wife and I just moved to a small college town from a major city. During the move our 12-year-old sedan suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure which resulted in it being scrapped. We are trying to get by with one car but our schedules are very different and we need two vehicles.

I am debating between buying a used car and a scooter (my commute will be ~ 3 miles each way). What are your thoughts about the cost-effectiveness of a scooter? I would be new to riding so I would need equipment (helmet, etc) as well as a few lessons.

Any advice on how to pick a used car?
- Dan

A scooter can work really well provided you’re not driving through high-traffic areas. I would not ride a scooter on a city interstate, for example. If you have a route to get to work that mostly involves two lane roads, it’s probably a good choice. (A bicycle is even better.)

Since you’re in a new city, I’d really assess your needs before you buy a car. You may be able to fulfill everything you need without getting a replacement car, particularly if you’re near the services you use the most.

You should also assess the mass transit system in your city. Will it fulfill your needs?

Q10: Fantasy sports’ hidden costs?
My husband spends much of the year playing either fantasy football or fantasy baseball. He’s constantly on ESPN.com looking at his teams and making trades. He says it’s all free but I don’t see how that’s possible. What are the hidden costs here?

- Jane

Aside from time, there may not actually be any.

There are a lot of optional costs with fantasy sports. You can pay for all kinds of improved stat packages, guides, and other materials. Some leagues have an entry fee and pay out prizes.

Still, if you’re goofing around with friends, it easily can be free and still be incredibly fun. I speak from experience here.

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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