Reader Mailbag: Super Weekend

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. Generous severance, no job
2. Should I sell my bike?
3. Road tripping with kids
4. Health insurance in retirement
5. Moving from saving to investing
6. Disability insurance and credit cards
7. Young person starting to invest
8. Sweeping
9. Frugal veganism
10. Single woman wants child

Much like half of America, I spent yesterday half-watching the Super Bowl with a bunch of friends. The highlight was watching my son jump around like crazy whenever there was a big tackle. He actually liked the big tackles more than anything else in the game.

Q1: Generous severance, no job
My wife and I both work, she at a job she’s had for over 30 years. Until recently I had both a full-time day job and a part-time teaching job. I was recently fired from the full-time job and given a year’s salary as severance. While looking for a new job I can also collect unemployment.

My question is: what do we do with that money? It’s a sizable chunk — roughly 28% of our combined household income. I could use it to pay off my credit card and other debt, leaving me with a little more than two thirds of the buyout check. We could use the rest to pay off most of a home equity loan, but its APR is only 3.25% so that is a less attractive option.

Or I could put the severance check in the bank and pay myself my usual salary (deducting for taxes and FICA) while hunting for a new job. Considering my age (60) and the current job market, it could easily take a year before I find anything.

Right now I have some breathing room but the future is a little scary. What would you advise?
- Larry

I would pay off your high interest debts, then bank the remainder of it and issue yourself payments from that account to “replace” part of your paycheck.

However, I would not just issue yourself your “usual salary.” When you return to work, most likely it will not be for a salary equal to what you were making. You’re going to be adjusting to some lifestyle changes.

I would instead sit down and make out a budget so that you’re clear on what your actual expenses are, then issue yourself a paycheck from that account that, along with your other income streams, adds up to what you need to cover that budget.

This will not only push you to live leaner, but it will also help the amount you have in savings to last a lot longer than it would have otherwise.

Q2: Should I sell my bike?
I have a pretty nice and only slightly used Specialize street/road bike that I paid around $350 for about five years ago. At the time, I was living in a small town with relatively flat terrain and wide enough streets, and I used it to get to work and run errands downtown when the weather was nice. Three years ago I moved to a large city with hilly terrain, narrow streets, and almost no bike lanes. I’ve looked at all the possible routes, and right now I’m neither in shape nor daring enough to try to bike to work, much less anywhere else. The bike has languished in storage all this time. Is it worth it to sell the bike now and bank the money away for replacing it at some point in the next few years when I’m in better shape (working towards that now), or should I hang onto it until I’m ready to start riding outside again?

- Anna

Well, you seem to have an intent to use it again, plus you seem to also have an active plan to get to that point. This suggests to me that it’s an item worth keeping unless you have serious financial needs.

Of course, if either of those attributes changes (your plan for riding it again or your intent to actually ride again) goes away, then I would probably sell off the bike because, at that point, it’s sitting around gathering dust with no serious intent for future use.

Be honest with yourself about this and you’ll make the right move.

Q3: Road tripping with kids
My husband and I just moved about five hours away from my parents. We plan on visiting them every few months because in the past we lived down the block from them and we have a close relationship and want them to know our kids as they grow up (they’re two and three). I know you take similar road trips to visit family. How do you make that long of a car trip work with little ones without going crazy?

- Cammie

We often do our road trip in the evenings, starting off with dinner and any bedtime prep we need to do. The kids will get their bath, they’ll use the toilet, they’ll put on pajamas, and then we’ll put them in the car. If that’s not feasible, then we try to bank on the period right after lunch for departure, as it’ll encourage the young ones to nap for at least some of the trip.

Always go prepped with activities in mind, as well as supplies for the most common kid problems (wet pants, hunger, thirst). We often sing songs for parts of the trip, for example, or play some sort of “I spy” game where the parent who is the passenger gets the kids to look for things outside the windows.

We used these tactics in 2009 to take a three year old and a one year old from north of Des Moines, Iowa to Dallas, Texas in a single day.

Q4: Health insurance in retirement
My spouse is likely to retire this year and our income will be cut in half. He is over 65 and developed a chronic condition last year that costs us about $1000-2000/year beyond what insurance covers, and has potential for developments that are more expensive. Usually I would ask around for other couples in the same situation as we, but he doesn’t want his age publicized.
First half of our figuring…
Better to put him on my plan which isn’t in-network for his specialist? Cobra his plan at $600/ month? Find a Medicare part B plan. We hear of doctors no longer accepting Medicare plans.
Second part to figure is insurance for our just-out-of-college son …
He is on Dad’s plan at $400/month and we cobra-ed the dental plan.
I have a not quite as good plan. To put both on my plan will be $1000. $500/month for spouse alone.
Our son has applied for many jobs, including part time, and is still looking after 6 months. It seems likelier he will find part-time before full time. So long as he is actively looking and doing volunteer work, we want to keep him insured. We live in an expensive area for health care and insurance.

My take home pay is just over $2000/month (affected by high flex withholdings – last year over $5000 in dental and medical bills). Hope to live on my salary as much as possible and put most of SS into savings. Our only debt is $900/month mortgage. In a year we’ll begin taking money out of IRAs (about $1700/year minus taxes).
- Mitch

If I were you, I’d sit down with his doctors and get some realistic pictures of his needs over the next few years. Is he going to need the specialist for continued care over the next few years (with the understanding that you would return to that specialist if necessary)? What self-care options does he have? What are the chances of a severe downturn in his condition?

To make a decision like this, you need facts. You need the clearest picture possible of his condition, what the minimal care requirements are, and what the odds are (in their best estimates) of further care.

Right now, you’re spending $X a year on care. Is that truly the minimum, or is that spending based on what the doctor throws out there without considering cost issues (in other words, a doctor assuming that insurance is paying for everything)? Obviously, if you can minimize costs, you should be on the least expensive insurance that really only kicks in in the case of a serious downturn.

Q5: Moving from saving to investing
my husband and I went through very hard financial times a couple of years ago (we owned a house in California that the value dropped two-thirds, and we couldn’t find work due to living in a county with a 20% unemployment rate) and we have since relocated to Oregon after filing for bankruptcy and including our home in it. So far, we have been successful in re-establishing credit with a used car loan with a reasonable payment and we each have a secured credit card. Our credit scores are back up to the 700s. Now, we each have steady jobs and have been able to sock away some savings each month. We are both contributing 5% to our 401ks (our employers contribute another 5% as well) so we have 10% going into each 401k monthly. We have emergency savings with ING as well as sub accounts set up for various items (a small vacation fund, and a fund for large purchases, for instance, our washer and dryer are on the fritz and we don’t want to have to finance that purchase when they finally give out). My question is what else we should be investing in. As our emergency savings grows to a point where we could pay for our living expenses for several months in the event of a layoff, we would like to invest in a vehicle to make our money grow, in the event that we ever decide to purchase a home again (which we are not sure we want to after the heartbreak of losing our first home). We are in our late 20′s.

- Lexie

When you reach that point – and I wouldn’t jump into investing until you do – your best bet would be to open a normal investment account at an investing house that you trust (I use Vanguard) and invest in a very small handful of investments that are well-diversified and that you understand.

Since you’re not quite at that point yet, I would suggest picking up a book or two on general investing. My personal pick is The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by Larimore, Lindauer, and LeBoeuf. It’s my single favorite book ever on investing.

Take it slow. If you’re unsure, leave it in savings – it’s not losing value there and it is gaining a small return. There are far worse things to be doing with your money than simply leaving it there.

Q6: Disability insurance and credit cards
I am currently a 53 y/o female battling cancer. I have been following your site for about 2 years. Last year in an effort to get my financial house in order I started saving for an emergency fund and really looking at the future. I was working full time at a job with no benefits…..my choice, as the money was better. Health insurance is through my husband. I bought a disbility insurance policy in March 2010 with the plan to get a job with benefits eventually. In June of 2010 I was diagnosed with cancer. Since I’m older the premium was a little high and I opted for a 3 month elimination period before I could receive benefits. The wonderful folks I work with knew my dilemma and between them all they collected over $2000. How awesome is that? That money paid for all the medical bills I was responsible for. I have set aside enough money to cover my share of medical bills for 2011. I have applied for social security disability and was denied. Folks have told me I need a lawyer to facilitate that process of appealing. Do you have any knowledge of that? Also, if I should die will my husband be responsible for my CC debt? I owe about $7000 and a car note for about $3500. I realize how incredibly lucky I am that I listened to that little voice telling me to get disability insurance. I would encourage all who do not have that benefit to look at getting it.

- Joyce

I am not familiar with the Social Security appeals process, but I would assume an appropriate lawyer would help you with that process.

As for whether your husband would be responsible for your credit card debt, it depends on how the assets in your life are arranged. If the cards are in your name, then assets that are in your name will have to pay for those debts before he can claim them. You also can’t simply switch everything to his name immediately and avoid it, because laws also check property that was in your name within the last several years.

Some of the stickier areas – such as checking accounts you both use – likely come down to the aggressiveness of the credit card company in getting what they can from your estate.

Q7: Young person starting to invest
‘m a young student (around 20) and I’m starting to invest my hard earned income. I’m lucky to live in my parents’ house, so I don’t have rent or grocery to pay. Therefore, I think the timming is right to start. What book would you recommend me to read to get a better knowledge of investment (read here placement, investment fund, bond, etc.)?

- Gabe

Above, I mentioned The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by Larimore, Lindauer, and LeBoeuf, which is certainly a great one-stop-shop for investment information.

However, you’re in a different situation than many of the readers of that book, so I’m not sure it would be the perfect choice for you. My first question would be whether or not you’re using student loans to cover your education. If you are, I would be focused more on minimizing the impact they will have on your future than on investing that money, because the weight of a large pile of student loans will heavily restrict your post-college choices.

Beyond that, I would probably suggest reading Michael Masterson’s Automatic Wealth for Grads (probably the best all-around “college graduation” type of book out there) and focus on putting yourself in the best place to execute the ideas in that book.

Q8: Sweeping
What do you think about sweeping (going online and entering in a ton of contests in the hopes of winning money, prizes, trips, etc)? I’ve heard of people making some significant money and/or selling the items that they won. The only drawbacks I can come up with is the spam (use a different email address) and the time involved in visiting thousands of websites every day or week to enter into these contests. I was just curious if you had heard of this being done before and what your thoughts were?

- Josh

If you’re looking at it as a hobby, I think it’s a reasonably good one. There are no costs involved other than the time you spend (and the resources you already have, such as the computer and the ‘net access) and if it’s something you get a great deal of personal joy from doing, then go for it.

If you’re looking at it as a revenue stream, then I’d say that it’s far too risky to actually bank on in any realistic way. You have no certainty of getting any type of return for your efforts when sweeping.

It comes down to you and what you enjoy. For me, entering contests isn’t an enjoyable thing, so you wouldn’t find me doing it much, if at all.

Q9: Frugal veganism
I’ve had an interest in veganism for a while now, but I can’t justify the additional costs associated with it. How do you find cheap tofu and quinoa? How do you avoid noodles that are made from eggs? That last part is particularly important to me, since I run marathons, and the noodles are essential acquiring energy. Even brown rice doesn’t seem to do the trick for me.

- Garrett

For one, tofu and quinoa aren’t the backbone of my diet. A great deal of my protein comes from beans and from raw vegetables, which, if eaten with any realistic abundance, will provide all the protein you need. Beans and raw vegetables are pretty inexpensive if you take the time to shop around.

Of course, you’re throwing another kink into the equation – you’re wanting a cheap vegan diet for a marathon runner? If you want to be vegan and also want to engage in very high-impact athletic events like that, I would consult dieticians and your doctor before making a move. Your body’s metabolism is going to have exceptional demands and I would want to be certain that those demands are met.

As for eggless noodles, you can easily make noodles from just water, flour, and a bit of corn starch and salt. I’d try three cups of flour, one and a half cups of water, and maybe a teaspoon each of corn starch and salt.

If you’re looking to buy them in a store, I’d look at the selection of a wide variety of stores. Some stores with health food sections sell such noodles.

Q10: Single woman wants child
I am a single woman, 32, never married nor do I want to. I am considering adopting a child. I have a fiexible career in which I earn $35K, plus I have $25K put aside to pay for the adoption and another $10K saved as an emergency fund. Is this a financially realistic thing to do?

- Mindy

I think it’s financially realistic if that’s your current situation. My concern would be for the child – and for you – in terms of emotional and intellectual needs.

Being a parent is very demanding. Your child will need a lot from you in ways that you can’t even anticipate yet. It’s not easy at all. There are times where you’re going to need emotional support and there are other times when your child is simply going to need the perspective of someone else in their life.

If you’re going to do this, I would not do it completely in a vacuum. Do you have a sibling that can help in certain situations with regards to giving parental advice and encouragement when needed? A close friend?

Make sure you’re ready to do this and that you’re going to have all the resources needed to give this child everything he or she needs.

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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61 thoughts on “Reader Mailbag: Super Weekend

  1. Brit says:

    To #9, Frugal Veganism, have you checked out Brendan Brazier’s book “Thrive”? He is a marathon runner and vegan, and gives great advice on the nutritional requirements. I’m not sure how much emphasis, if any, he places on the cost of food, but it would be worth looking in to!

  2. Dean says:

    Rice noodles don’t contain eggs as far as I remember.

  3. Adam P says:

    @#1 – a year’s salary blowout is only 28% of household annual income? So if they wife is the breadwinner and he has a part time job still (if I read that correctly)–I see a problem with spending more than a problem with income. They have HELOC and high interest credit card debt, they aren’t living in their means. They really need to get realistic about their lifestyle and cut back. Probably could cut their spending by 20-30% if they tried, and the money will go a lot further. Almost afraid to ask but what is their retirement savings like? Is early retirement a possibilty? Not much of a job market for a 60+ year old male.

  4. Rebecca says:

    It is very easy to be vegan and a top athlete, not that I am one, but follow the blogs of several who are. I would also recommend a good vegan web site to direct those questions to, like vegweb, just because Trent hasn’t been vegan very long, nor is he a top athlete.

  5. Johanna says:

    Q9: Pretty much all ordinary dried pasta (spaghetti, penne, etc.) is made without eggs. Just check the ingredients.

    Cheap quinoa does not exist, but the least expensive way to get it (in my area at least) is from the bulk bins at Whole Foods. It’s usually in the neighborhood of $3/pound – and since it cooks up to three times its weight, that’s not *that* expensive.

    Whole Foods also sells the cheapest tofu I’ve seen ($1.50/pound), but I prefer the stuff from Trader Joe’s ($1.80) or from the bulk buckets at my local independent health food stores ($1.70-$2.25, depending).

  6. Kevin says:

    Re: Q1

    You can collect unemployment benefits while living off a substantial severance? In Canada, they calculate how long they think that severance should last you (as replacement for your wages), and make you exhaust it before you can start to collect unemployment benefits.

    I would make absolutely sure that’s not the case for Larry before advising him to spend his lump-sum, in case the government expects that to last him a year before they’ll start paying him benefits.

  7. jw says:

    Q 10: I adopted a child as a single woman. It was one of the best and happiest things, I ever did, but it was NOT easy. It was much more expensive to raise a child as a single than I thought it would be. Depending on where you live, I think it could be hard to make it on 35K, but it would be doable. (I made 50K, lived in a very rural area, and was still amazed at how much it added to my expenses, and I am very frugal.) If you would like to chat in more detail, feel free to e-mail me via my blog. Best wishes to you!

  8. Interested Reader says:

    @Q9 – Johanna’s suggestion is good. I don’t have a Whole Foods in my area so I either buy quinoa in the bulk bin at my food co op or get it from Costco.

  9. Kevin says:

    Trent, I liked your answer to the adoption question. You were very diplomatic. I would have had a hard time finding a gentle way of saying “Stop selfishly putting your own desire to be a parent above the needs and well-being of an innocent, helpless child.”

  10. Cheryl says:

    Mindy–also consider that most children in the US available for adoption have been abused in some way or have significant problems due to drug/alcohol abuse of the mother while pregnant.

  11. Diane says:

    Q9: I’m an omnivore who loves all kinds of meat, but I eat vegan a lot of the time out of choice, because I eat a TON of Indian food. South Indian food, especially – if one leaves out the ghee or yogurt – is mostly naturally vegan, healthy, filling and CHEAP. My total budget for groceries is $40/wk and I cook almost everything from scratch. I shop a lot at Indian groceries and in Chinatown for supplies.

    There’s a myth in the US that to be vegetarian or vegan one needs to buy weirdo, specialty prepared products. That simply isn’t true. You can do that, but it’s expensive and probably not all that great for you. Instead look to ethnic cuisine from areas of the world that already eat that way: Black beans (no lard), yellow rice & plantains (Cuban); South Indian rice, dal and veg dishes; Japanese tofu stews; etc.

    Plus, I have recently started making my own tofu from scratch. It’s way, way better than store tofu and super-cheap. You can get a pound of soybeans for under a dollar and that’s enough to make maybe 3 pounds of tofu. It’s kind of a specialty thing to do, but if you are into cooking and concerned about budget, it’s quite feasible. I do it for taste, not budget, but it’s very cheap too.

  12. sewingirl says:

    Wow, Des Moines to Dallas with one and three year olds? Straight thru? I’m impressed!

  13. Interested Reader says:

    Another suggestion for good information about vegan diets is the blog Cheap Healthy Good. While it’s not entirely an vegan blog there are a lot of vegetarian/vegan options and information and links to recipes and information about healthy eating on the cheap.

  14. Kathleen says:

    Most pasta is vegan.

  15. Tracy says:

    Q4: Trent hit the nail on the head with the first part of his answer – that it’s really an important time to get the big picture and find out absolutely all the options.

    But disregard the “Obviously, if you can minimize costs, you should be on the least expensive insurance that really only kicks in in the case of a serious downturn.” – that’s great advice for someone who doesn’t have any health problems currently, who is young, working, has decent savings to cover the unexpected health emergency, etc. It’s absolutely awful advice for someone who already has a poor health situation AND is in the position where with age, there’s a very high chance that there will be lots of little issues. Not to mention the letter writer absolutely said that there’s a chance that more expensive complications will develop.

  16. Michele says:

    Q#4- when my husband retired (much younger than 65) we took our son off of our insurance plan- it dropped out costs by $400 a month!! We did buy a plan for him through American Medical Security-PacifiCare. It started at $77 a month and when we finally canceled it this year when our son graduated from college and found a full time job with benefits, it was at $94 a month. Our out of pocket expenses for 5 years was $191 as our portion for one emergency room visit. This is a great option for a young relatively healthy person. We live in Oregon, he lived in southern CA. It’s a nationwide plan, so it doesn’t matter if you live in an expensive area or not. Good luck!

  17. Aaron says:

    #6. My mother went through having to apply for Social Security disability and was also denied. From what my parents mentioned about the process, virtually everyone is denied on their first attempt. They appealed without lawyer and were accepted on the first appeals process. I don’t know how many appeals you get, but if it’s more than one, you might try to appeal it without a lawyer first, then seek legal counsel if it doesn’t go through again.

  18. tarynkay says:

    Cheryl- many children available for adoption through the State do have issues with prenatal exposure or abuse- these are children whose parental rights have been taken away by the State. State adoption can be a wonderful option for many people. But from the fact that Mindy has saved $25K towards this, it sounds like she is considering a private adoption. She does not mention whether she is looking into domestic or international adoption. International adoption can also be a wonderful option, but the children do tend to be older, and have often experienced abuse/neglect/exposure issues. In a domestic private adoption, the parent(s) of a child who are unable to parent at the time place their child for adoption. Most of these children are born to perfectly healthy women and placed at birth, so this is an entirely different situation.

  19. Lex says:

    I think she was asking about advice for the financial aspect of adoption, and I’m know for sure that if she does end up adopting, social workers will visit her home and she will have counselling and do all the research and in the end be more ready for parenting than people who are parents by accident. I felt a lot of judgement in your answer (and in several comments – way to assume that she hasn’t thought this through).
    Adopting a child isn’t any more selfish than having a child biologically – if anything, it’s less selfish.

  20. Katie says:

    Yeah, I’m boggled by the idea that taking a child out of foster care or an orphanage is “selfless.” People really must have a lot of fantastical ideas about the super-ideal situations all children are magically born into.

  21. Kevin says:

    @Lex:

    “Adopting a child isn’t any more selfish than having a child biologically – if anything, it’s less selfish.”

    Oh don’t get me wrong, Lex – I think single people who deliberately seek to get pregnant are just selfish, too.

    Children do better with 2 parents. Sometimes life happens (divorce, death), and that’s not always possible, so you make the most of a bad situation. But to deliberately and knowingly walk straight into a single-parent situation, just to fulfil some selfish desire to feel like a parent, is misguided and self-centered, in my opinion.

  22. Katie says:

    Kevin, have you ever met anyone who was raised by a strong, prepared single mother and asked them how they felt about their upbringing? You might find it enlightening.

    Also, “feel like a parent”? Wow. That’s the most dismissive sentence I’ve read in weeks. People who raise children are parents; the addition of a second parent isn’t the decisive factor that creates that status.

  23. Adam P says:

    @ Kevin…just wow.

    Maybe some, or even I will grant you that most children do better with 2 parents. But children do a hell of a lot better with one loving parent who wants them than with no parents at all, or even with 2 biological parents that abuse them or fight all the time.

    You are welcome to your opinion, but it makes you sound very ignorant.

  24. Ken says:

    I agree with Adam P – if people don’t want to see single parents (or gay parents) adopt children, then they should be doing their best to encourage “nuclear” families to adopt them all up. As it stands now, there are 147 million orphans in the world…

  25. dot says:

    Q6 – My husband has been battling cancer for about 2 years now also. Our medical insurance carrier provided us with a lawyer free of charge to file for his social security disability and it was granted in 3 weeks ( he is 50 years old). The reason the insurance company provided this service is because after 2 years on disability, medicare will become his primary coverage.. big big savings for the insurance company since he had chemo 3 times a week for 55 weeks. ( total cost per month $29,000) Hopefully this could be a avenue for you to look at also.

  26. Kevin says:

    Sorry guys, I just don’t believe that everyone has a RIGHT to have children. It’s a privilege. The world doesn’t owe you a baby. Nature has constructed you to be capable of having a baby on your own, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. To plow ahead and have a baby just because you really really really want one, while knowing full well that it’s going to be a hard life for the baby, is selfish.

    You can try and distract with red herrings about abusive parents and whatnot, but there are plenty of great, loving COUPLES out there with kids too, and those kids do better than the baby-crazy single women who are hell-bent on having a talking doll that looks like them.

  27. valleycat1 says:

    Team Adam P @ #23.

  28. Diane says:

    Is this going to descend into a philosophical debate about child-bearing? Everyone has different ideas and will never come to consensus on a message board, and to expect people to believe exactly as you do is arrogant. People will have different ideas, will act on them, and will live according to their own priorities and ideas, not others’.

  29. Interested Reader says:

    Wow there is so much judgement and mysoginy in that last statement of Kevin’s I don’t know where to start.

  30. Todd says:

    I work in disability insurance, and reccomend that you check with your individual disability carrier to check if they have SSI application assistance. In my knowledge of the industry, most will provide a lawyer for you who specializes in the SSDI application process because it reduces the indemnity they will have to pay you. You should check with them first and foremost before hiring a lawyer on your own.

  31. DivaJean says:

    Don’t forget that some states pay full adoption costs (on fully surrendered children)and pay a monthly stipend to adoptive parents. This may make an adoption even more realistic financially speaking.

  32. lurker carl says:

    Reproducing is neither a right or privilege, it’s a fact of life. Good luck revoking it.

  33. Adam P says:

    “baby-crazy single women who are hell-bent on having a talking doll that looks like them”
    So exlpain how is that any less of a “red herring” than my bringing in abusive parents or parents that fight a lot? Other than it’s more offensive.

    Also, given a choice between never being born or “a hard life” because you had a single mother, personally I’d opt for the hard life. That’s just me I guess. My parents divorced when I was 2 so I suppose I should have been aborted, in hindsight, as I didn’t grow up with two biological parents in my household. Somehow still managed to grow up happy, healthy, and successful.

    I’m trying to follow your logic there.

  34. wow, I’m not even going to get in on the adoption debate with Kevin. Lady, if you think it’s right for you, go for it. You’ll find a way to make it work, and you’ll make a great mom.

    As for long car trips with young kids…Snacks, drinks, and a PORTABLE DVD PLAYER!!!! We made it from Ohio to the Outer Banks of NC (about a 10 hour drive) with our 2 year old with no fussing at all!

  35. Daria says:

    #8 Entering sweeps should be looked as similar to buying a lottery ticket. The better the prize, the more entries and the worse your odds. Last year’s HGTV home giveaway garnered 39 million entries. The person who won entered one time. Taylor Morrison homes 2010 winner entered 139 times. Some people can enter online daily for a year and never win anything while other people will mostly win small prizes of $10 or less in value with instant win games. I like to enter about 20 minutes a day. It doesn’t cost me anything. I started in Nov. and have won a couple of small value instant win games.

  36. jim says:

    Q4 – Hard to say without knowing more about the medical issues. I think Trents advice about talking to medical professionals more about that is good. Otherwise given your finances, I think you should be looking for cheaper insurance. Medicare would seem the way to go. You have $2000 income and $900 mortgage and youre looking at paying $1000 monthly premiums. That doesn’t add up very well. I’d also shop around to see if you can get your son on cheaper individual policy. He’s young so he should be relatively cheap to insure. In many/most states someone in their 20′s can get a high deductible policy for $50-$200 a month.

    Q6 – How the debts of a deceased spouse are handled will depend on the state laws. If you live in a common property state then each spouse is generally responsible for the debts of the other regardless of how you have your finances setup. Generally the estate will owe bills if one person passes so the creditors will come after the assets of the estate (your savings) to pay the bills.

  37. jim says:

    Kevin, Are you married? How many children do you have? How many children have you adopted?

  38. Kevin says:

    @Adam P

    “So explain how is that any less of a ‘red herring’ than my bringing in abusive parents or parents that fight a lot?”

    Because I assert that in the statistical aggregate, children raised by 2 parents are more well-adjusted than children raised by a single parent, hyperbole aside.

    Your statement was a red herring that sought to distract from this fact.

    “Also, given a choice between never being born or ‘a hard life’ because you had a single mother, personally I’d opt for the hard life.”

    That’s an false paradox. If you had never existed, you would be unable to experience the consequences of not existing.

    “That’s just me I guess. My parents divorced when I was 2 so I suppose I should have been aborted”

    Wow… Red Herring, Invalid Reductio ad Absurdum, False Paradox .. hope the readers are taking notes, you’re getting the whole encyclopedia of desperate logical fallacies being put to work here!

  39. Kevin says:

    @jim:

    Yes, I am married. I have no children. I believe a child deserves to be raised by a parent, not a stranger, and neither my wife nor I are willing to give up our careers to raise a child. So in the best interest of our unborn children, we’ve opted to remain child-free.

    For the record, we could easily afford the best child care money can buy. I simply believe a child deserves better than that. A child deserves a parent. 2, ideally.

  40. Des says:

    Mindy asked about adoption, not IVF. While it can be argued that 2 parents is preferable to one, one is still preferable to none, which is how many parents and orphan or foster child has. Even if she is going to adopt a US infant (who are in high demand), she will still need to be selected by a birth mother. If you don’t think single parents should adopt, you should take it up with the birth mother.

    Also, I think the moralizing is misplaced. Mindy asked for financial advice on a financial blog. If she wants parenting advice, she’ll visit a parenting blog. If she wants moral advice, I’m sure there are religious blogs in abundance.

  41. Diane says:

    Who cares whether Kevin is married or not, or what he thinks about some random lady on the internet? His opinion about childbearing isn’t relevant to the question at hand – which is a FINANCIAL one. All the pissy back-and-forth judgmental stuff about people’s families, and whether or not they have kids is not a key requirement to answer the question. It doesn’t matter what some other child-rearing arrangement might be with other parents, or what in some perfect world might happen, or whether someone was raised by one, two, or four parents. The question is about THIS woman with THIS adoptee, and THIS set of finances.

  42. jim says:

    Kevin, What do you and your wife do for a living?

  43. jim says:

    Des & Diane, you’re right. Sorry. Kevin’s opinions on parenting are not relevant to the question. WE shouldn’t take the discussion on a tangent like that.

  44. Adam P says:

    “Because I assert that in the statistical aggregate, children raised by 2 parents are more well-adjusted than children raised by a single parent, hyperbole aside.”

    I already conceeded that point. I also said that being raised by a single stable, loving parent is preferable to being raised by no parents at all or foster homes. And yes, also preferable to an abusive household or a household that has parents that stay together but should be divorced due to their fighting all the time. I fail to see how that is a red herring, just bringing up a point that you can’t apply the logic of “studies show that” to every situation.

    Anyway, I’m sure people are taking lots of notes on my debate skills! You win at the internet. Except you don’t because you’re taking stereotyping and prejudice and making sweeping pronouncements based on nebulous statistics. Almost like a troll would?

    Apparently lesbian couples produce the best kids of all, according to some study I read about some time during reading on the gay marriage debate. Should therefore only lesbian couples raise children? The study says children born to hetero couples aren’t as well adjusted as lesbian raised children.

    Of course not, because even if you don’t get the ideal start in life you still have children who grow up happy and healthy and successful. And if a stable loving person wants to adopt a child, why would you deny them that right? Because statistically, that child would be better off having been born to two married parents?

    That doesn’t make any sense.

  45. Johanna says:

    Kevin, do you also assert that in the statistical aggregate, single women are both crazy and too stupid to realize that there’s a difference between a human being and a doll? Because it kind of sounds like that’s what you’re saying. Just trying to understand here.

  46. Ginger says:

    I am the child of a single parent, and though she had a much large income we struggled. Also because of the stress we fought and she tried to go it alone, refused the aid of my grandmother until it was too late that it harmed my relationship with her. I am now 3000 miles away and have not worked through the issues, though I do work on them. Having a support system is important if you are a single parent and not one mentioned a lot.

  47. Amy P says:

    “I am a single woman, 32, never married nor do I want to. I am considering adopting a child. I have a fiexible career in which I earn $35K, plus I have $25K put aside to pay for the adoption and another $10K saved as an emergency fund. Is this a financially realistic thing to do?”

    Mindy’s done very well to accumulate $25k for the adoption, but I have a lot of concerns about ongoing expenses. Also:

    1. We don’t know what the cost of living is in her area.

    2. We don’t know what her family situation is, how much back-up she has in case of extended illness, etc. If the child couldn’t go to daycare or school for a week, who would take care of the child? How much help can you count on from friends and relatives? Does Mindy have friends or relatives who have a child of that same age?

    3. What would the health insurance situation be for Mindy and the kid? Is Mindy in pretty good health?

    4. Does Mindy own a home? What’s her rent? What’s the mortgage? Is there a room available for the kid? What’s the school district like? Where do you want the kid to go to school?

    5. In case something happened to Mindy, is there somebody in her life who would raise the kid?

    6. I think Mindy should find parents with kids at different ages and discuss what the level of expense is that she needs to expect (it will change a lot).

    7. How much experience has Mindy had with children? I think some babysitting of children of different ages would be a good idea (and you can make some money, too!).

    8. How is Mindy’s retirement investing going?

    A lot depends on the answers to those questions (not all of which are really questions!). I think Mindy may be very close to being able to adopt, but I’d be happier if Mindy were making a bit more money.

  48. Des says:

    @Amp P

    I don’t know how much experience you have with adoption, but numbers 2,3,5, 7 and most of 4 are dealt with by her adoption worker during the home study process. The people who place children want to know that the potential parent has enough room, money, health, experience, and a proper support network in place, and they pay particular attention when the parent is single.

    Everyone seems so distracted by the fact that she is single and adopting that NO ONE has really answered Mindy’s question. This woman is 32 and has saved (at least) $35k on a $35k income. I know plenty of two-parent households that have not accomplished that feat.

    Mindy – Is it financially feasible? Yes, of course, and it sounds like you have done a good job with what you have. Is it financially a good idea? Of course not, children never are. You are obviously a good saver (assuming it wasn’t a gift or anything) and that is awesome. But, your income is well below the household average in the US, and that is going to be a challenge. Child care alone in my neck of the woods is $600 per month, per kid. YMMV.

    As someone else noted, there isn’t enough information available to know what kind of shape this will put you financially. Based on the numbers you gave, I would think you will either need someone that can watch your child while you work (a parent, perhaps?) or a better paying job. I wish I could be more encouraging (as a pre-adoptive parent, I sympathize with you).

  49. Amy P says:

    “I don’t know how much experience you have with adoption, but numbers 2,3,5, 7 and most of 4 are dealt with by her adoption worker during the home study process. The people who place children want to know that the potential parent has enough room, money, health, experience, and a proper support network in place, and they pay particular attention when the parent is single.”

    Sure, but she asked us.

    Also, there have been some very bad placements over the past couple years, like that kid whose adopted American mom put him on a plane back to Russia with a backpack full of candy. I wouldn’t count on the adoption process itself to take care of everything.

  50. spaces says:

    Joyce @ #6 — I work in this area some of the itme. I am not your atty and this isn’t legal advice :-)

    Are you still working? It sounds like you’re not but I’m not crystal clear. FYI, if you are making more than about $1k/month, then you will not qualify for SSDI.

    Assuming you’re not, no, it is not uncommon to get denied at the first level or two but go on to get approved. The cases that tend to get approved at the early stages tend to be those where the affect of the condition is objective and impacts everyone the same way. However, cancers impact everyone differently. Also cancer is disease that many, many people recover from. Some don’t miss work at all, some miss for a short time, while others are unable to go back to work. That would be my best guess as to why you were denied at the early level.

    Also social security is not very good about getting medical records together. Another reason you could be denied may have been that they simply lack the information from your treating physicians.

    FYI when you answer social security questions, be careful not to minimize. Rather than exaggerating, my experience has been that most people minimize their symptoms. I think it may have to do with getting used to what you’re experiencing on a daily basis over time. Try to think about how you felt and acted before the cancer even occurred, long before diagnosis. THAT is what you’re comparing yourself today to.

    Most states have two levels of review before a claimant has to go to a hearing with a judge. If yours does, then there’s no harm in going it alone. However I would encourage you to use an attorney if you have to go for a hearing, and to choose that attorney long before your hearing date. There are a few reasons for this. First, while you have a right to represent yourself, as a practical matter some judges do not like to hear cases from unrepresented claimants, and will pretty much order you to get an attorney. Not having one in the first place could cause your case to be delayed by more than a year, depending on the backlog in the hearings office. Second, it is very difficult to get an attorney once you have a hearing date. If you line up your attorney in advance, then social security will call that attorney and schedule the hearing with them. If you do not, they will just assign you a date and time. Most folks who do these cases keep a very busy calendar and fill up months in advance. So if your attorney is not able to work with the judge to schedule it for a time when they are available, you may not be able to get anyone who is open that day.

    Good luck. Try not to take the denial personally. They deny a LOT of people who deserve to be on disability in the beginning.

  51. Leah says:

    for Mitch with the college son on insurance:

    get that kid on a different plan. I’m a 28 yo female on a plan w/o maternity coverage, and I pay $420 every 3 months for my pretty darn good coverage. I get $1k worth of office visits a year free, then I have a $5k deductible, and then everything is covered 100%. Plus, even within that 5k deductible, my insurance will negotiate 1 ER visit a year for me. So far, this has worked out really well in my favor. $400 a month is way too much to pay out of pocket for your kid’s health insurance unless there’s some sort of underlying issues going on.

  52. Stacy says:

    #9:

    In bigger cities, childcare for an infant can cost $1200+ a month for full time. A very important thing to look into beforehand.

    If you do foster to ad0pt, often children are eligible for a state child care subsidy, which saves on child care costs significantly.

  53. deRuiter says:

    Gabe Q7: “I‘m a young student (around 20) and I’m starting to invest my hard earned income.” Oh Gabe, open a ROTH IRA and put up to $5,000./ year in it. Then you can do your investing IN your ROTH and the money will grow tax free for your entire working life! WHAT A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY. You can start today. If you earned money in 2010, you can put up to $5,000. in your ROTH up to April 15. You can also put another $5,000 in the ROTH for your 2011 contribution. Until you decide how you want to invest this money, have it in a money market or CD (certificate of deposit) IN the ROTH. The interest isn’t much but you’ve got the money squirreled away from the greedy paws of the government. When you decide how you want to invest the money, whether it is an index fund, or individual stocks, you are ready. YOU HAVE ONLY ABOUT 9 WEEKS IN WHICH TO MAKE THE 2010 ROTH CONTRIBUTION, DO IT NOW, DO NOT WASTE THIS GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY, once April 15 passes, you can never again make the contribution for 2010!!!! The ROTH money accumulates tax free. If you wish to withdraw your ORIGINAL CONTTRIBUTIONS from the ROTH for some reason, you can do so totally penalty free, at any time, unlike a regular IRA with tax and penalties for withdrawals. You can also (you’re young, you won’t realize the benefits of this now) leave the ROTH tax free to the person of your choice when you shuffle off this mortal coil. The most important thing is to get that 2010 ROTH contribution DONE before April 15. Any FDIC insured bank is fine for now, you can transfer to a brokerage house at any time. YOU WILL NOT WITHDRAW THE MONEY FROM THE BANK TO TRANSFER, YOU WILL HAVE THEM DO AN INSTITUTION TO INSTITUTION TRANSFER!

  54. Lou says:

    #6 I was denied SS disability 11 years ago. I worked with an atty who required $200 for consultation & would not proceed further unless she was convinced I had a better than 50% chance of success. She was a former SS employee. 3 months later, I was approved for SSD and what SS pays an atty when your case is successful was the only payment she required. I got a lump sum of benefits calculated from the time of the initial application & offered to pay her more & she declined. IF you are in Eastern PA contact me & I’ll give you her contact info. I believe she is still practicing. Mammaloo at ymail dot comis my contact info

  55. Janis says:

    Q1 – as was touched upon by Kevin #6 (same Kevin as the adoption uproar?), it is most likely that you will NOT be able to collect unemployment benefits during the period covered by your severance payment. Things may be different where you are, but don’t assume you can double-dip, not until you get that information directly from your unemployment agency. That said, you can *file* for benefits as soon as you like, even if you won’t be eligible to collect for a while.

    Also, last time I checked, severance pay in the US is subject to a different federal withholding rate than regular earnings. You may find that withholdings are higher on your severance check. It should all even out when you file your tax return next year, but – in the meantime – it could be an unexpected bite.

    Be prepared for a long and difficult job search that could take well OVER a year. And, as Trent said, be prepared to earn less at your next job. There is an incredible amount of competition out there for every available job. Older workers are being hit hard by the poor job market; I would say disproportionately so.

  56. Liz says:

    #9 – Frugal veganism, I’d highly recommend Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina’s book “Becoming Vegan.” They’re both registered dieticians and it’s an incredibly thorough book about nutrition, veganism, adapting a vegan diet for various life situations (kids, athletes, the elderly, etc.) There’s a good chapter on there for athletes.

  57. joyce says:

    To Tom, Dot, Spaces and Lou. Thank you so much for the feedback. I did contact an attorney yesterday who stated his fee was 40% of any monies received. Wow! My husband found a “advocate” in my area who is not a lawyer but helps people with their claim. She was very nice and spent about 45 minutes on the phone getting and giving me info. Her fee is 25%. She stated her success rate is 98%. She told me exactly what you guys did and gave me many other tips and what to expect. Just for your info. a tumor was found in my back and the cancer mets to my vertebrae and rib. Surgeons removed T2 and part of that rib. Nine hour surgery and a 8″inch scar later I feel as if there is a concrete slab in my back. This is my disability. Not my cancer. And God bless all the folks out there battling this illness and working.

  58. Des says:

    “Also, there have been some very bad placements over the past couple years, like that kid whose adopted American mom put him on a plane back to Russia with a backpack full of candy. I wouldn’t count on the adoption process itself to take care of everything.”

    And how many similar stories of poor bio-parents have you heard in the same time-frame? No vetting process is perfect, but I can tell you that adoptive parents go through A LOT to prove their worthiness.

    And no, she didn’t ask us. She asked if it was financially feasible. She did not ask to have her emotional and intellectual parent-readiness evaluated by a bunch of strangers on the internet.

  59. Amy P says:

    Des,

    There’ve been about 15 deaths involving Russian adoptees. Normally, I’d say the US is a big country and with big enough numbers, anything can happen a few times, but with each new case, I’m beginning to think that the Russian government does have a point and that there is something really broken in the process.

    “And no, she didn’t ask us. She asked if it was financially feasible. She did not ask to have her emotional and intellectual parent-readiness evaluated by a bunch of strangers on the internet.”

    90% of the stuff I wrote in my list had financial implications. If you don’t have close family and friends, you’d have to pay a sitter to watch a sick kid or forfeit a chunk of that $35k a year. It doesn’t matter how frugal you are when you have no income coming in or when you have a high-need child.

    Personally, I think that if she has close, supportive family and friends, can make closer to $50k a year, can provide health insurance of some kind and is knowledgeable about emotional disorders in children, go for it. I don’t see what’s judgy about that. I’m thinking worst case scenarios because I have a fair amount of experience with high-need children, and I have to say, money is very helpful when you need to pay for psychological testing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, feeding therapy, speech therapy, visits to a psychologist, special summer camps, private school, etc. I know there is state help available, but time is of the essence in a lot of these cases, and you don’t really want to wait for them to get around to you, plus the therapy publicly offered may be quite inadequate with regard to quantity or quality. A diagnosis and treatment needs to happen right away if there are problems.

    By the way, I recommend Howard Glasser’s Transforming the Difficult Child, The Explosive Child by Ross Greene, Gravity Pulls You In: Perspectives on Parenting Children on the Autism Spectrum, and My Baby Rides the Short Bus. I don’t agree with every single word in those books, but they are extremely helpful.

  60. BD says:

    @ Kevin: I so agree with you. Then again, people who make the choice to stay child-free always seem to care more about THE CHILD than anyone else. Most people just seem to care about their own feelings and don’t take into consideration the child’s.

  61. jw says:

    To Mindy & other imperfect parents like me, remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt:
    “Criticism is necessary and useful; it is often indispensable; but it can never take the place of action, or be even a poor substitute for it. The function of the mere critic is of very subordinate usefulness. It is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing the stress and the danger.” (1894)

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