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. Small versus big changes
2. Cutting back on energy drinks
3. Best games with playing cards
4. Fans or air conditioners?
5. Scientists as heroes
6. Mom versus loans
8. Funeral expenses
9. Homemade candles
10. Sound planning, so what’s next?
Several readers have asked, so I thought I’d share our children’s bedtime routine with you.
Sarah and I alternate nights when it comes to the bedtime routine, so one of us handles bedtime while the other takes a break and then we swap places the next night.
The first order of business is a bath. Our oldest child is able to independently shower and clean himself well, so the focus is on giving the younger two children a bath while our oldest showers.
Once that’s finished, everyone gets on their pajamas and brushes their teeth. We then read bedtime stories, which consist of one short picture book or a chapter of a longer book chosen by each child. At various times, we’ve also read a longer ongoing chapter book chosen by Sarah or myself, but with the increasing length of the choices by our older two children, we’ve had to put those aside for the time being.
After that, we all say some things that we’re thankful for, then we sing songs (again, a song chosen by each child) before the lights go out and a lullaby CD is played. The entire routine takes an hour and a half or so.
This has more or less been the routine for several years now.
Q1: Small versus big changes
My husband and I are battling with paying off credit card debt (about $31K). We have an ongoing difference of opinion about what changes need to be made to whittle down the debt to $0. He says we need to make one BIG change – like rent out our hose for a while and move in with his mother. I prefer to make smaller day to day changes (cancel cable, coupon clipping, etc..), even though I know it will take longer to pay off our debt – I will still be able to maintain some sanity and our family relationship will not be jeopardized. He says we are beyond the point of small changes making a difference for us since we have so much debt and that one big change would be more beneficial for us. We can’t seem to see eye to eye on this and I was wondering what your thoughts were for our situation. To top it off we also have 2 small children;)
Are you making progress on the debt with the small changes you’re doing now?
For example, are you in a better debt situation now than you were a year ago?
If you’re not, then your husband is probably right and you need to make a drastic change to fix things. If you are actually making consistent forward progress, even if it is slow, there’s more merit to what you’re saying.
Q2: Cutting back on energy drinks
I recently (within the past 6 months) landed a great job opportunity that’s a perfect fit for me, financially, quality-of-life-ly, and in-all-other-ways-ly. Before that, I had been struggling with my own company, but really didn’t have enough savings put away to support myself. In general, I had been as financially irresponsible as I could manage. I’m happy to say that I’m quickly paying down my debts, building up a savings, and am excited to have just been approved for my first-ever car loan. I was in immediate need of reliable transportation for the awesome job I now have, and turned a 2010 (certified pre-owned) Yaris into a solid investment, and as a way to bolster my credit rating. I’m pretty happy with myself, and with where things are going right now.
However, going over my expenditures for the past 5 years (I’m fanatical about tracking, from fuel economy to finances) I realized that I’m averaging around $100 each month on energy drinks. I enjoy them as my one guilty, unhealthy pleasure, but I’d really love to cut that cost down. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a suitable off-brand or recipe for home-made energy drinks that are satisfying. I realize that morning habits are often expensive, but this seems excessive to me. Can you recommend any way (other than quitting/cutting back) to cut down on that budget?
If you’re not considering cutting down or quitting, your best bet is to buy these energy drinks in bulk. If you’re consuming $100 of them a month, you must be drinking at least two or three a day, which means you can get away with a very large bulk purchase of these drinks.
Your best bet, for starters, would be to check out the bulk energy drink offerings at Amazon. The prices there are pretty solid.
You can certainly try shopping around for them, but be careful about buying from completely unknown retailers. Be safe with your info online.
Q3: Best games with playing cards
My husband and I were talking to another couple that we’re good friends with about how, when we were kids, our parents used to play cards with other couples on Friday and Saturday nights. We’d play with their kids in one room while the parents played cards in another room. This seems like a great way to socialize on the cheap without worrying about child care too much.
The problem is that none of us really know any card games beyond children’s games. Do you have any suggestions for card games that would be easy for couples to learn?
There are countless great card games out there. I’ve played literally hundreds of games that can be played with an ordinary deck of cards or two.
Q4: Fans or air conditioners?
I have a question about which is more economical: using fans or running the AC. During a typical summer day it is about 105 outside. My husband (he is home all day) runs the AC at 80 degrees and then also runs all of our ceiling fans (7 total), plus yesterday he went and bought 2 box fans. First of all, is this wasting more money than it is helping cool the house?
Second, last night around midnight he opened up all the windows and left all 9 fans running all night instead of just letting the ac come on (I have it set for 81 degrees at night). When I woke up this morning the temperature in the house was still 80 degrees at 6am so I feel it didn’t really cool the house more than the ac would coming on sporadically or not at all. Just to let you know, our ac is quite old and probably not that energy efficient.
In your opinion, what do you think is the best option, to run the ac at night or keep all 9 fans running? Also, does it make sense to have all the fans running during the day with the ac on?
An older central air conditioning unit can use anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 watts while running. A box fan uses about 100 watts, while a ceiling fan uses anywhere from 30 to 90 watts. Let’s assume 60.
So, if you’re running two box fans and seven ceiling fans, you’re using 620 watts. If you do that for eight straight hours, you’re using just shy of 5,000 watt-hours of electricity, or 5 kWh.
Now, what about the air conditioning? It’s not going to be running nonstop during that period. Let’s say it runs for five minutes and turns off for twenty minutes, then repeats. That means your central air unit is going to use between 3,200 and 8,000 watt-hours of electricity, or 3.2 to 8 kWh.
It’s pretty close to a wash, depending entirely on how efficient your air conditioning unit is and how much it’s actually running. Since I don’t know that for sure, I made some guesses, but I would expect it to be pretty close in terms of energy use.
In either case, you’re talking about fifty or sixty cents of energy use in either case, so I’d just go with whatever makes you guys happier.
Q5: Scientists as heroes
You mentioned recently that you wish our society had more scientists as heroes. What about Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye? If you want to look at history, there are countless examples. You have a lot of power in helping steer your children towards certain types of heroes. It’s up to you, not society.
I certainly laud scientists to my children. The issue is the larger culture.
Walk up to 100 teenagers on the street and show them pictures of LeBron James, P. Diddy, and Bill Nye and see which ones they can name. Show someone pictures of Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and Barbara McClintock and see who get the recognition. My six year old knows who both of the scientists are, and I bet he’d recognize Albert Einstein before he’d recognize Michael Jordan. We’ll see if that holds up.
Culture does not laud scientists, and that’s very sad to me.
Q6: Mom versus loans
My husband is an attorney and just recently got a raise and makes $55,000. I was working at a clinic making $40,000. That is a sizable income-however, we just had a baby this June and I have always wanted to stay home with my children. The problem becomes our school loans. We currently pay about $1,530 each month and that is only the minimum payments. If I don’t go back to work we won’t be able to make these payments. We have attended FPU (Financial Peace University) and agree with Dave Ramsey about getting out of debt- But at what cost? Do you think it is worthwhile to defer school loans in this type of situation? Do you know of any other way around this?
Student loans are easy to defer but almost impossible to get rid of. Your trade-off here, as you’ve already realized, is more debt in the long run for the freedom to be a stay-at-home mom in the short run.
Is that a trade-off you want to make? For me, it would come down to how easy it will be to survive on the single income. Remember, you’ll not be paying as much in taxes because of the lower income level and the greater deductions.
If it’s feasible and if there’s a parent that wants to do it, I usually encourage that parent to try out stay-at-home parenting. It’s an opportunity that won’t be repeated, and it’s one that can be life-changing.
What are your favorite little trivia nuggets? In our social group, we’re constantly trying to find little surprising nuggets of information to share with each other. It often becomes the topic at our potluck dinners.
We do this as well, at least to a certain extent.
My favorite recent piece of trivia is that the historical Samuel Adams, the real person from the 1700s whose name and face adorns countless bottles of beer, was not a brewer, not at any point in his life. At one point, for a few years, he did make malt, which is used as an ingredient in some beers, among many other things. In no other aspect of his life did he come anywhere near beer making.
One of my friends loves to bring up trivia about Christmas, particularly pertaining to the fact that it was a pretty minor festival until a couple hundred years ago. Christmas was not a national holiday in the United States until 1890.
Q8: Funeral expenses
My husband and I are in our late 50’s. We’ve been frugal throughout our lives. Home paid for, no debt at all right now, though husband will soon be buying a new car as his 12 yr old one is on it’s last legs.
I am planning on going from full time work to part time next year. Husband is working at least 3 more years, until he is eligible for a retirement package from his current employer.
We have no children. My question concerns long time care insurance and prefunding funeral expenses. Have you done any research in these areas?
We are on the fence about the ltc issue, the premiums we have looked at would be approx 5K per year for both of us, for a shared policy. We wonder if we wouldn’t be better off continuing to save the 5K/yr. I know that 5K would only cover about a month of nursing home care. The 5K a year is manageble while we are still working, but could get a bit tough to manage when we are both retired.
The other thing we have always said we are going to do is to prepay our funeral expenses. We have no life insurance, only what we both have through our employers. We have enough savings to pay for funeral expenses for one or both of us, but we are concerned that if we don’t have ltc insurance and one of us ended up in a nursing home that savings could be gone. As I understand it, prepaid funerals are exempt from nursing home attachments.
I’d be interested in your opinions on these two issues that will impact all of us eventually.
If you get a long term care policy, know exactly what’s covered in that policy. Make absolutely sure that policy is covering what you think it’s covering. What are you hoping to get out of this insurance? Is the assurance that these scenarios are taken care of worth the expense to you?
I can’t really answer those questions for you. Long term care insurance really comes down to the values of the people involved. Is that long term care worth the cost?
As for the prepaid funeral expenses, is a pricy funeral important to either one of you? I’d spend some time discussing actual funeral expectations before investing money in this.
Q9: Homemade candles
I recently learned how to make candles at home. I don’t have a lot of money, but I do know how to make very beautiful and wonderfully aromatic candles for surprisingly little money. My question is whether or not you think these are appropriate gifts at Christmas?
I certainly would appreciate a homemade gift from anyone. A homemade candle makes a fine gift.
From my perspective, it takes a pretty shallow person to look at a homemade gift that someone invested their time, effort, and skill into and call it lacking. Why would you trouble yourself over the opinion of such a person?
If you think the candles are good, give them as gifts without a second thought.
Q10: Sound planning, so what’s next?
I worked fulltime (36h) in the Netherlands when I was 25 for 10 years, putting aside 50% of my income yearly, about 1000e a month. I live the life you describe on your website. Do not have (and am not interested in watching crap) a tv, I have a great social life with really interesting people, in great health, I do couchsurfing, and lots of other free things that are so much more interesting than paying for it. Every year, I look very careful on my internet, energy and insurances bills and choose the best and cheapest on the internet. Without any compromises on low-budget travelling a lot, owning a small car, having lots of (free) fun or buying whatever Apple gear I feel I really needed. That made me around 70.000 euros in the bank. I invested 25% low risk and the rest is at a safe 4% bank rate. And I payed for 50% of my small but cosy house, selling it would bring another 50.000. Now I’m 38 and living a great single’s life. I had the vague plan of stopping to work at 50 or so. In my financial situation, I can already live for 10 years without working. Even more when I really want to.
But, because of totally rebalancing my private and working life, 3 years ago, I started to work 3 days a week doing a boring (but reasonably well payed) job and dropping some more expenses I didn’t really need. Even now, I can easily put aside a 1/3 of my income, about 500 euros monthly. What I also started to do is taking 4 months a year unpayed leave from my job and doing lots of low budget traveling and volunteering during this time. Now, I don’t save much (if any) over a year, but it does bring me lots of free time and more fun, the essence of life!
I think about quitting my job. Do even more traveling, doing volunteer jobs across the world, until I’m totally bored, or cycling the world for a year. If I loose my job, I do not care for a second. This mindset is pure freedom!
So, this money I saved, is really valuable to me. It does not grow as rapidly as it used to do and never will again. But it brings me a nice monthly income. I will never go back to doing a stressfull fulltime job or quit stopping long breaks. It brings peace to my mind so I can do whatever I want to do.
Now, I still have some questions:
– what do you think about managing this money by some professional financial manager or institute?
– what are your ideas of talking to a financial planner? They are really costly and I’m not really sure if they are worth it.
– how do you invest your money? Safety is more important for me than a high potential amount of money in 20 years.
– what are your long term plans?
If you do not feel equipped to manage your own money, then a financial planner is a pretty solid solution. I would stick with a planner that is fee-based only. Ones that make money on commissions have financial interest in steering your money into what makes them more money, not you. I don’t use a financial planner and don’t intend to use one.
My money is mostly invested in index funds – a domestic stock index fund, an international stock index fund, and a bond fund. These are through Vanguard. I don’t plan on changing these for a long time.
My long term plans center around retiring as early as possible, but for me retirement means having the freedom to do whatever I wish to do without stressing about income in any way. If I make income, great, but if I don’t, it’s not a crisis.
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.