Reader Mailbag: The Cost of Friendship

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. Balancing limited income and values
2. Getting started with a Roth
3. Balancing social obligations and money
4. Investing for non-retirement goals
5. Economical recipe collections
6. Overpaying for life insurance?
7. Student loan dilemma
8. Daycare options
9. Cloth diaper recommendations
10. Huge student loans versus retirement

Just a rhetorical question to think about: if you moved into a new home and discovered that your best friend was allergic to some aspect of that home that you couldn’t change, what would you do? Would you try to move again? Would you accept that the friendship would probably end?

Those kinds of things are never easy to answer, but I see those kinds of situations pop up all the time. We are all faced with really hard choices in life, no matter what our specific situation is.

The more reader emails I read, the more sympathy I feel for everyone involved. The situations usually come about as a result of a lot of choices. A little more understanding never hurt anyone.

My wife and I are in a quandary. We live in coastal (read: expensive) California and bought our first house, a modest townhouse in a nice neighborhood, in October after finding out we were expecting our first child. A while back we went through some of your exercises to determine our values and priorities.

The main ones upon which we agreed are:
Quality time together with family and friends
Sharing great food experiences (cooking/dining/entertaining)
A home to call our own
A strong foundation/stable future for our child(ren)

To make a long story shorter, ever since we bought our place, we’ve watched our $40,000 cushion dwindle to now just shy of $7K. Part of that money was invested in furnishing our home and a few niceties for ourselves, but mostly it feels like it’s been death by 1,000 cuts. I think part of the problem is that we never adjusted our expenditures to meet the higher costs of homeownership and baby, my wife leaving her job to care for our newborn, and my salary cut (I’m furloughed 10% since July of 2009).

After months of this slow budgetary attrition, we finally broke down and crunched the numbers last weekend. It was pretty grim. I bring home about $3500 a month after taxes. Our fixed costs including mortgage, student loans, retirement savings, insurance, utilities, gas, and formula/diapers total about $3,000. This leaves us $500 for everything else including dining out, entertainment, groceries. We’ve basically talked about using cash only and when it runs out we have to make do, but the thing is we truly value entertaining friends (my wife is a chef) and dining out. We generally encourage pot lucks when we entertain, but somehow we always wind up making the expensive entree.

I’ve done everything I can think of to reduce our fixed costs: reduced insurance coverages, pared back our cell phone plan, minimized our internet service, made energy efficiency improvements to our home, etc, but the savings aren’t enough to free up money for our interests. I feel like maybe we’ve exhausted other remedies. With the money remaining to us, some of our favorite things feel like an impossibility. We can’t afford to shop at more expensive natural grocers anymore, farmers markets bleed us dry because we’re like kids in a candy store. Blogs like “Cheap healthy Good” are helpful, but even those ingredients tend to add up, and that still doesn’t solve our dining out issue, which we’ve agreed to cut out entirely to our extreme displeasure. Any suggestions you could offer on how to balance our value of food with our newly restricted budget would be much appreciated!
- Brad

If you’re living in a coastal California community, live in a furnished home, and are making it on $3,500 a month, you’re doing incredibly well for yourself. I’m genuinely impressed that you’ve managed to make ends meet while retaining any ability to entertain guests at all.

The difficulty is that you’re living in an area with a very high cost of living. Maintaining a life in an expensive community while also entertaining and dining out regularly is a set of choices that is simply beyond your means.

This leaves you with a few hard choices to make. You can live in a less expensive community. You can reduce the amount you spend on entertaining (probably through entertaining less). You can reduce the cost of each time you entertain by moving more towards potlucks, etc. than dining out. You can do something to raise your income level, whether through another job or a business or something.

I can’t tell you which choice to make, but one of those choices will have to be made. You seem to be consistently spending more than you’re earning and it’s eaten through your savings and is about to start sinking you into debt. Make the choice before you go down that road.

I graduated from college in ’09 and was blessed by my grandparents to have my federal student loans immediately paid off. Since then I have begun a 5-year graduate program. In my field, we are paid to go to grad school so while I have a rather small budget I do have income. At the beginning of the month I immediately pay rent (my only monthly bill), send 10% to my church and sock 20% away for savings. I have always been a frugal person so even on a small budget I find that I usually have a couple hundred dollars left at the end of the month that gets added to savings. In the last year I have a sizable emergency savings account ($5,000) which seems more than adequate considering that I am single with no dependents or debt and a paid graduate program.

My thought was to stop saving more for an emergency savings fund and start saving so that I can open a Roth IRA retirement account. From what I can see it will take ~$3000 to open an account which will take me roughly a year to save for. I do not intend to put the whole 20% I had been saving directly toward retirement, but rather portion it out into other financial goals. Am I missing anything to consider before I begin routing 10-15% of my income to retirement?
- Rachel

Why would it take you $3,000 to open a Roth IRA?

I’m guessing that you went to Vanguard (that’s who handles my Roth), looked at the funds available, and observed that virtually all of them have a $3,000 minimum. I would suggest starting with the Vanguard STAR fund, which has a $1,000 minimum balance and is well-diversified. Once you reach a $3,000 balance in the STAR fund, you can move the money to whichever fund you wish to have your money in.

Before the $1,000 mark, you’re probably better off just keeping the money in cash.

We are in our mid-30s and have a 1 year old daughter. We live in a small condo outside a large city and our daughter goes to daycare 11-hrs a day, 4-days per week (my husband works 5-days, I work 4). We are both only children with hobbies we love and most enjoy spending our free time together with our baby at home. Exhausted at the end of the work day, our main free time is on weekends. My question for you surrounds the myriad of social invitations we receive: not only weddings, baby showers, etc…, but going out for dinner with friends, visiting others’ homes, staying with my parents for the weekend (they live 1.5 hrs. away). It may sound as if I don’t appreciate having a great social network, but it has become overwhelming for us and our friends and family do not seem to grasp that we need time to ourselves and that many of these outings are costly. Given the choice of attending a graduation party at a catering hall with 100 other people and loud music or spending time at home, enjoying each other, reading to our child, engaging in our various hobbies, we’d pick staying at home every time! (The graduate, in this instance, has basically threatened us into attending her party even though she knows it’s not really our thing.) I have slowly been attending graduate school to begin a career in elementary school teaching, but have put it on hold due to expense, so we’re really trying to cut back. In addition to not really being excited about attending these outings (perhaps we’re just anti-social), the cost really does add-up. Before we alienate everyone by declining their incessant requests to visit, attend parties, etc…, any suggestions?
- Beth

If it’s something that’s not fulfilling to you, don’t attend the event. Being close to your family is not a requirement. If it does not bring positive value into your life, don’t throw time or money or effort into it.

Having said that, I think there’s a happy middle ground here. To put it simply, if I want someone at an event, I don’t care if they bring a gift or anything else. If I invite someone to a birthday party, they don’t have to bring a gift. They can if they want to, but they don’t have to. The same goes for any event in life. Gifts should never be an obligation – if they are, then they’re a cost of admission, not a gift.

The best thing you can do is talk these things out. If you feel uncomfortable doing so, then there are other problems at work in the relationships beyond the ones mentioned above.

My question is on investing for something other than retirement. I recently opened a High-Yield Checking Account and Brokerage Account with Schwab in an effort to both earn some interest on the money in my checking account and get some investing experience. I don’t have a lot of money to devote to this at the onset (between $1,000 and $2,000 when I fund the Brokerage Account, adding about $100 a month thereafter), and I’m not terribly well-versed on the finer points of investing. What I’m wondering is, if I’m looking to potentially use this money before retirement (say, to buy a house in 5 or 6 years), how should I go about investing it? Most of the information I’ve been reading has been geared towards investing for retirement, and this money is separate from my retirement accounts, as well as my more short-term savings goals.

Just for the sake of background, I’m 24 years old, have a steady job, contribute to my 401(k) and Roth accounts, and have a sufficient emergency fund, as well as an ING account for more immediate savings needs.

I’d love any advice you could give me, even if it’s just to suggest a book or two that would give me more information on this. I would really like to have a solid understanding of the different types of investments before I dive into this venture, but I’m not sure how exactly to go about finding the information I need.
- Katie

Your best bet is to just pick up a general investing book and read it cover to cover. I recommend The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing as a great book to get started with.

As for a more specific answer, the best approach is to treat your investing as though you’re going to be retiring in five or six years. In other words, your investments should be fairly conservative at this point. Why? If the stock market has another 2008 in a few years, your five to six years will become ten to twelve years because you’ll lose half of what you’ve saved.

I would probably stick with index funds (which are basically big collections of investments, so you own only a little bit of a ton of different stocks, different bonds, or different commodities, depending on the specific index fund). Buy mostly conservative ones – bond funds and the like.

My biggest challenge is in the area of finding reliable, “you don’t need to be Cordon Bleu trained”, recipes that actually contain protein and no tater tots! :)

Seriously, rice and beans would be great, we even like them, we cannot seem to locate good recipes that are also economical to prepare.

Do you have any thoughts/cookbooks to recommend?
- Celia

I’m guessing that you’re vegetarian. The best cookbook for beginning cooks with a focus on vegetarian dishes is How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman, which focuses pretty much exclusively on easier dishes with fresh ingredients. It’s the only strictly vegetarian cookbook on my kitchen bookshelf.

The most important thing to learn about cooking is that recipes are generally just suggestions. You’re almost always well-served by substituting things in-and-out as you desire. The advantage of being skilled in the kitchen is that you easily understand how to substitute things, like how to substitute a few grated potatoes for tater tots, for example.

Practice in the kitchen is more important than recipes.

What is a good resource to learn about different kinds of Life insurance?I’m paying almost 1500 dollars for our family of 5 in universal life insurance that a friend sold to us but feel that its the wrong thing for us.But I don’t know who to ask for more info and would just like to know more about all types of insurance.Any suggestions?
- Preethy

Over what period are you paying the $1,500? That makes a huge difference.

I generally don’t recommend that people get anything other than term life insurance. The only exception to that would be insurance for newborns, often purchased by a doting grandparent.

The reason is that the investment potential of the insurance isn’t very good, especially during the first decade or two of the insurance. Almost any diligent investment plan will beat the investment potential of such insurance.

Why do people still get it? It can be good in a few situations, like a grandparent picking it up for a grandchild. At first, it’s a gift to the parents, protecting them from the financial burden of losing a child early. As it grows, it becomes a gift to the grandchild. Also, it’s often a product that earns a very nice commission for the salesperson, so they often pitch it whenever they can.

As it stands now, my tuition for the next eight semesters will be around $9086. I have four more semesters of state financial aid and a university scholarship at $6000. I also qualify for a Subsidized Federal Direct Loan at $4250 a semester and an Unsubsidized Federal Direct Loan at $6000 a semester.

I could accept only $3086 worth of Subsidized Federal Direct Loan, which means I would be declining $1164 worth of subsidized loans.

When my state and university scholarships run out, I don’t believe that my Subsidized Federal Direct Loan awards will increase at all, which means I will have to pay the difference either from my savings account or using Unsubsidized Federal Direct Loan (something I do NOT want to do).

Should I go ahead and take the full amount of Subsidized Federal Direct Loan and put the excess in my savings account to gather interest and then use it when I need it after my scholarships run out? Is there some other option you believe would be more advantageous?
- Justin

That’s probably the best option available to you. It’s essentially taking out a student loan this year for your education bill next year.

There are a few things I’d worry about. First, I’d make absolutely sure that you never touched a dime of this during the passing year. Don’t get tempted to spend it or else things will end badly. Second, before you take it out, make sure that you will have enough to cover your schooling during the following year.

In short, you don’t want to take out this debt and then not wind up in school the next year.

My wife and I have a 1-year old who goes to daycare (one that is very hard to get in). I’m currently unemployed and have been freelancing while looking for a permanent position; my wife works full time but is worried she may get the axe. We have a large chunk in savings (ING at a decent rate) that we are loathe to use except for emergencies.

For most of my life, I have had a sense that I need to be prepared, so when I was single, I often paid ahead for services (electricity, phone, etc.) by a few months should I become unemployed. My wife is more concerned with money earning interest. She is also more learned about investing.

We had a discussion last night in which we asked ourselves what would we do if my wife lost her job. W/out her job (and if I hadn’t found a job), we would have to take our child out of daycare b/c it is the largest expense outside our mortgage. I proposed that we use our savings to pay for an entire year (or half year) of daycare (if they permitted that) so that we could look for work w/out having to also care for a toddler all day. She nixed that idea right away b/c we’d be losing money. I think she is too short-sighted, but is she correct in her thinking? She’d also love to be a stay-at-home mom, so I believe that factors into her thinking.

She also recognizes that if we take our girl out of daycare, she’d lose a lot of the constant interaction and attention she receives, and wouldn’t see her new friends as often.

What do you think about this? Have you already discussed this? I’m betting it’s a discussion many new parents are having.
- Choi

I wouldn’t worry about the friends at your child’s age. I have a four year old and a two year old and their friendships are extremely fluid at this stage. Even my four year old just moves on with life if he doesn’t see his friends or they move away. What’s important is the social skills – the ability to meet people, interact well, and form new friendships.

As for whether it’s better for your child to stay in daycare while your wife seeks another job, I think that more depends on what her goals and values are – and yours, too. Does she want to be a stay-at-home mother? If she does – and you can financially swing it – why not use that opportunity to let her be a stay-at-home mother?

More than anything, this seems just like a value conflict between you and your wife that you should talk through carefully so that you’re on the same page. It may be that your wife really does wish to be a stay-at-home mother but isn’t doing it for various reasons.

You often refer to how your family uses cloth diapers for your kids. We do this as well. I have kept track of all the diapers I have bought and sold, and I figure with my first son, we will just about break even over the cost of buying disposables. Now that my second son is due in about a month, we will finally start to actually save money! But I’m trying to figure how the cost of water and electricity figure into the equation. We have a top loader washing machine, and just the standard dryer. I wash the diapers in hot water with two cold rinses to get them really clean. Have you ever figured out what the cost is to wash the average load of laundry? I would also be curious to hear what brand(s) of diapers you use — there are a ton of options out there!
- Juli

There is such a huge variance in the cost of a load of laundry that such a calculation is almost meaningless. You have to pro-rate the cost of your washer into each load. Water prices vary greatly, as does the amount of water used in a given load (though in any case, this is still a small cost). The cost of detergent varies enormously. There’s just no consistent way to calculate it.

A friend of mine wrote a guest post on The Simple Dollar about such costs and she basically concluded that the first child is a wash and that the second child generates very nice savings, even with all sorts of costs figured in. Disposables really, really add up.

As for what we use, we use BumGenius diapers. They were initially expensive, but they’ve held up through three kids very, very nicely and are about as convenient when using them as disposables are.

Currently I owe $95,955 in student loans – all loans are issued through the federal government and have been consolidated. My current interest rate is fixed at 5.250% and the loans are in forbearance until March 2011. The only other debt that I have is $1300 dollars in monthly credit card bills that I pay off in full each month – I use my credit card because it earns me airline miles, and so far I’ve booked 2 free tickets back home to California!

In terms of employment, I’m one of the lucky few at my graduate school that have landed a job working for the federal government. While my starting salary is $52,527 – as long as a meet expectation in all 4 of my six-month reviews, I will receive a 7.55% raise. So in 2 years my salary should be around $70K.

My problem: I don’t know what to do first. Part of me wants to start paying my student loans, but part of me wants to wait until I’m making $70K to start paying them off. My rational is that since I’m a public employee my loans can be forgiven after 120 consecutive payments (http://www.finaid.org/loans/publicservice.phtml).

What I’m currently doing is putting $200 dollars a pay period – which is $400 dollars a month – into a savings account with my credit union. I contribute 5% of my salary to my TSP – Thrift Savings Plan – since the government matches me dollar for dollar up to 5%. Other than that I don’t really do much with my money. The worse part is that my credit score is at about 654. I really want to raise my score because I eventually what to buy a house, but I have no idea where to start, or how to start chipping away at my debt.

Can you please help me!
- J. P.

Your credit score isn’t devastatingly bad at all. You’re in an area where you probably wouldn’t get the absolute best home loan, but you’d likely get a pretty good one. The best part is that your credit rating will slowly go up as you consistently keep your bills paid.

I think your plan in paying off your student loans slowly is a good idea considering you have that payoff option. Make sure you know exactly how that plan works (it seems straightforward).

I think you’re doing the right things overall. Keep it up. When you get your raise, amp up your savings for the house down payment and make sure you have no other debts.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Jules says:

    Rhetorical question? Like the one where you suggested that people just get rid of the cat so that family could come and visit? That one really galled me the wrong way.

  2. Kat says:

    I don’t understand the rhetorical question. Why would the friendship end? Couldn’t you visit the friend somewhere other than your house? Is this allergic friend homeless and therefore cannot invite you over? Couldn’t you meet at the park, a mall, a restaurant, online?

  3. Katie says:

    Seriously, I have plenty of friends who rarely if ever come over to my house and it would be simplicity itself to just always meet at their house or outside of our homes altogether.

  4. Emma says:

    For the poster wanting recipes, my recommendation is to either use recipe books from the library or allrecipes.com. You can sign up for allrecipes for free and it will save recipes that you want it to in a ‘recipe book’ so you can find them later. If you have a scanner, you can scan the recipes you liked to save them for later.

  5. Barb says:

    My suggestion to beth is that she commit to at least two weekends a home, and maybe even tell people she has another committment. some of us love our homes and would prefer to be there during much of our free time. Also, call on the no babysitter card-there are some places small children should not be, period. As for your retorical question, Trent, why would you give upyour house? Is this someone who needs to be living with you? One member in my family has allergies, all the rest of us have dogs. The dogs are not leaving. she takes meds when she comes to us, we go to her more than she comes to us,a nd it all works out in the wash.

  6. Kevin says:

    @Choi,

    Why would you keep a child in daycare, when BOTH parents are unemployed? Surely one of you can find a few hours out of your busy day to raise your own child, no?

  7. Johanna says:

    @Brad: You probably already know this, but it’s just not going to work long-term to squeeze groceries, entertainment, and all other expenses for two people out of $500/month. You need to find a way either to cut your fixed expenses (which will probably mean selling your house and moving) or to earn more money.

  8. Natasha says:

    For the poster wanting recipes, I recommend checking out Jamie Oliver’s books (Jamie at Home and Food Revolution have many veggie recipes with inexpensive ingredients and simple technique).

  9. Kat says:

    Even though you learned to not buy the newest toys to impress your friends, you are still trying to bend over backwards for your friends. A real friend would pop an allergy pill or suggest you meet somewhere else. A real friend would not suggest you give up your house or your pet. Stop having shallow friendships with people who don’t care about you or have a huge sense of entitlement that the world should bow to their wishes.

  10. Lauren says:

    Add me to the group that doesn’t understand why a friendship would end because they can’t visit you at your home. There are hundreds of other places to meet. I hardly ever actually vist my friends at their homes. We go out to eat, meet at a park, grab ice cream, sit in a coffee shop, have a cook-out outside on the patio, etc… When I visit friends out of town, I usually stay in their house, but I would get a hotel room if that wasn’t possible.

  11. Kevin says:

    Brad,

    Johanna is right. Quite simply, you’re living beyond your means. You’re spending more than you earn. That’s the #1 mortal sin of personal finance. It’s a recipe for bankruptcy. Even if you’re able to wring the necessities out of your $3500 for a few months, the one-off expenses are going to kill you. Eventually, you’ll need to replace a car. Property taxes will be due. Your condo board will increase the condo fees. You or your wife will get injured. A relative will die and you’ll have to take time off work and travel somewhere for a funeral. You’re going to want a vacation. It’ll eventually occur to you that your new baby needs a college fund.

    You’re going to perpetually feel strained, and that’s no way to live. It’s a recipe for misery, and perhaps even divorce. The answer isn’t fewer parties, or switching to mass-produced food instead of organic. Those are band-aids. You need a long-term solution. You need to find a way to increase your household income.

  12. zoranian says:

    @ J.P.
    The Federal loan service forgiveness program does require actual payments for the 120 months, so making payments sooner, at your lower salary, is more beneficial if you hope to participate in that program. Make sure your consolidation loan is with the Direct Loan program and not with some outside agency.

    Also, you will need to make sure your payments comply with the loan forgiveness program. Based on your current salary, if you are single with no dependents, an income based repayment would be about $453 per month, at $70,000 an income based repayment would be $672 per month. Or you could pay under your “standard” repayment terms. The biggest thing with student loans is to pay them off, they will never ever go away and if something happens in the future, they cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

    As far as credit scores go, review your credit report and see what’s on there. The biggest thing that affects your score is payment history and account balances. If you don’t have any payment history, you need to start to build some. If you have any collections accounts, pay them off. If you don’t have anything to show positive payment history, start to build it with a regular credit card (Don’t apply for more than one as this will hurt your credit and keep the balance less than 10% of the limit). Also, as you pay down the student loans, that will help your credit score. If your balances on the loans are currently higher than the original balances (such as when interest has been added) this will reflect negatively on your credit score.

  13. ETF says:

    Wow. Isn’t there something a bit sexist about your advice for the unemployed dad? He’s unemployed and the child is in day care – maybe he could be caring for the kid if they’re worried about expenses. Why do you only ask whether the mother (who’s not even unemployed and may have better job skills) would like to stay at home, when the more obvious choice right now is for the dad to stay at home?

  14. Molly says:

    @Celia -
    I agree, rice and beans ARE delicious! As for veggie dishes, my partner and I have a subscription to Vegetarian Times, but you can also get all their recipes online. In fact, I’m currently eating hummus made last weekend from their recipe. Also, Americans tend to eat far more protein than they actually *need*.

    @Beth -
    I’m a homebody, too. It’s ok. Could you split with your husband and take turns going to events, if required? Could you just cut out the people in your life whom you don’t enjoying seeing? (I realize that one might be seen as harsh.) Could you keep some weekends, weeks, even a month or holiday, that is non-negotiably YOURS? To not go anywhere, to not see anybody, to be a total homebody and enjoy your husband and child? For instance, I refuse to go anywhere or visit anybody for Christmas. It’s too stressful, and I would rather wake up in my own bed and enjoy a quiet day. Good luck with this one.

  15. Leah W. says:

    Celia — you should REALLY start reading more food blogs! Most of them are written by everyday people who, no, are not Le Cordon Bleu trained. Here are some I like:

    The Pioneer Woman Cooks: thepioneerwoman [dot] com
    A Year of Slow Cooking: crockpot365 [dot] blogspot [dot] com
    Steamy Kitchen: steamykitchen [dot] com
    Smitten Kitchen: smittenkitchen [dot] com

    The allrecipes suggestion is a good one, too!

    I’m with Trent, though — the best way to cook is to EXPERIMENT! Recipes are good for the inexperienced, but remember that cooking is more about a method than following a recipe to a T. Once you’ve got the basic method down, vary ingredients at will. You might discover something new and great!

  16. reulte says:

    I move about every other year to places where my friends and most of my family can not or do not visit. It changes the relationship, but doesn’t end it unless that’s the way the friendship is headed anyway. Friendships don’t end because of moving or allergies or income differences; they end because at least one of the parties has changed in a fundamental way. The cat is only an excuse.

    Brad – It seems that every month you’re ‘bleeding’ over $3000 or $100/daily. You have no choice besides “adjusting your expenditures”. It appears that one of your ‘core values’ is spending money, entertaining, showing off. valuing extravagance. I would say that you need to stop “acting like kids in a candy store” and grow up. Learn to budget, learn to make do, learn to garden or wild forage. Invite friends/family over for a card game and not to show off your wife’s cooking skills on expensive ingredients (try a lovely acquacotta instead!) or how you can pair the perfect wine the dinner. You’re bleeding monthly almost as much as you make and, Trent’s comment notwithstanding, you are not making it on $3500 a month; you’re making it on $6800 a month. Can you continue that?

    Beth – Learn to say “no” politely. It’s a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life. A good one is “I’m sorry, but we already have plans”. You don’t need to tell them that your plans are to go to the park with your daughter or to curl up with a good book or watch a TV program with your husband. Another reason is “I’m sorry, but this week has been so hectic, we have to catch up on our sleep (or cleaning or bill paying)this weekend”. Choose the events you wish to attend, spend according to your budget – not expectations and enjoy.

    Celia – Trent hits the spot with his suggestion of Mark Bitman. I’d like to suggest checking every cookbook in your local library – just look at pictures until you find something interesting – and develop regional cooking (Italian, Mexican, Greek, Thai) styles with a variety of spices. The same ingredients taste so very different with different spices.

  17. lml says:

    Trent, I get the feeling you didn’t like the response to your advice to get rid of the cat and now you are trying to maneuver the readers into agreeing with you.

  18. Johanna says:

    @Celia: Two resources I really like are “James McNair’s Beans and Grains” and Robin Robertson’s “Vegan Planet.” The former is out of print, but there are used copies on Amazon. It has some pretty complicated recipes (fried squash blossoms stuffed with something or other), but it also covers the basics pretty well, and has some great suggestions for flavor combinations. Plus, the pictures are really pretty.

    Vegan Planet is one of the few books I have where the majority of recipes are things that I would actually consider cooking but would not have thought of on my own. The only downside is that the binding is really low-quality (on my copy, anyway), and the book itself falls apart almost immediately.

  19. boophilus says:

    Trent, please expand on your rhetorical question — which you seem to want a response to, so maybe it’s more hypothetical?.

    My best friends and I live in different cities. They visit me only about 20% of the time — the rest is either going to their city or meeting in our mutual home town. This has been happening ever since we split for college, about 10 years ago. Yes, still best friends.

    In school, I also had a friend with pretty bad allergies to cats. Between my roomies and I, for a while we had seven (7!) cats. My friend medicated beforehand and spent more time outside when we had events at our house.

    Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet and be willing to do more of the leg work. Yes, even if you have small children. If that is too much effort, it wasn’t much of a friendship to begin with. And depending on how allergic your friend is, at least occasionally they can still come over — just with meds and outdoor time.

  20. Chris says:

    Seriously, insurance on a baby? What income loss will that be replacing if a child should die? Why would whole life be good for a child but not an adult?

    If a child should die (or anybody, and you have to pay for a funeral) surely that is what your emergency fund is for?

  21. Johanna says:

    One more comment for Brad:

    “I think part of the problem is that we never adjusted our expenditures to meet the higher costs of homeownership and baby, my wife leaving her job to care for our newborn, and my salary cut (I’m furloughed 10% since July of 2009).”

    I don’t think that’s part of the problem – I think that’s the entire problem. You went from two people with two incomes to three people with one income (or 90% of an income), and it didn’t occur to you that you’d need to adjust your spending?

    The obvious solution, it seems to me, is for your wife to go back to working for pay ASAP. Is that possible?

  22. Brad says:

    Johanna:

    My wife and I have discussed this very idea but I am loathe to push it right now because it takes away from quality time together and it’s hard enough on her caring for out baby daughter and keeping on top of housework. It’s a balancing act. I have been supplementing our income by teaching a couple of back-to-back one month classes at a private professional university a few evenings a week, but that is taking a toll in other ways, even if it nets us $3K extra over the course of a few months.

    I think it will come down to her going back to work, but it won’t be during the day because not only are child care costs astronomical (she’d essentially be working some crap job JUST to cover childcare), but the job market here is highly limited based on our region. Working evenings will mean less time together but if it enables us to do more of the things we enjoy when we -are- together including maintaining our comfortable and modest lifestyle (townhome), then it’ll be worthwhile.

    I think we’ll do the best we can to live within our means and if we eat at savings a bit more it’ll be fine. We’ll probably revisit the working-wifey idea when the baby is a little bit older.

  23. KC says:

    If my friend was allergic to my home I’d suggest we either get together at their house or meet at some other location. I sure as h— wouldn’t spend the money to move again unless there was something I was allergic to. I love my friends, but …

  24. Beth says:

    I don’t think there’s any downside to Justin’s plan to accept the full subsidized loan, as long as, like Trent said, he doesn’t touch the money before he has to. Since there’s no interest to pay as long as he’s in school, he should be set for the time being. Also, taking out unsubsidized loans isn’t the end of the world, and may be the right choice if the alternative is having to drop out and work for a short time.

    Good luck, Justin!

  25. Johanna says:

    @Rachel: If your only income is a grad-student stipend, you might not be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA. As I understand it, it depends on whether your school treats the money it pays you as “earned income” or as a “fellowship.” Talk to someone in your school’s accounting office to be clear on the details before you try to open the IRA.

  26. Natasha says:

    Add mine to the perplexed responses to the leading question- why can’t two people with differing preferences/tastes/oddly vague allergies be friends? You’re friends because of some shared interest- why not persue that interest together outside of the one house to which Friend is allergic? Maybe it’s a frugality-in-rural-Iowa thing?

  27. Kitty says:

    I’ve never commented before, but I had to say this:

    @Justin – My husband (then boyfriend) and I had the same plan for his “extra” subsidized loan money when we were both in school. Investing it in savings would have worked out great if we had actually stuck to the plan. Unfortunately, we found ways to justify spending it little by little (new computer when the old one bricked, new printer, etc). My advice is simply this: only accept the extra loan money if you have the discipline to follow through on your savings goal. We thought we were disciplined enough to handle it, but we weren’t, and now we owe more money than we would have if my husband had accepted a lower loan amount.

  28. Matt says:

    “Maybe it’s a frugality-in-rural-Iowa thing?”

    Is it just me or is limiting friends to those who are frugal just as bad as limiting to those who are extravagant? It seems like they are two sides of the coin – obsessing over money.

  29. Melissa says:

    @ Brad, are you a State Worker or similar? We are in a similar situation. I am sole earner and my husband is a full time student. We closed on our house right before the initial 10% furloughs. Now I’m furloughed 10%

    I recommend looking for ways that you can cut costs. For instance, we still entertain regularly and we make homemade “Chipotle” style burritoes with costco tortillas and rice and beans bought in bulk. It may not be fancy, but it allows us to entertain our friends at home within our supposedly temporary furlough budget. We also had to cut back severely on our eating out budget.

    To those in the comments recommending he sell the home, the problem, if he is a State Worker is that this furlough situation is supposed to be *temporary* and currently goes “until the budget passes” which may or may not be until California gets a new governor. Once the furloughs end, his budget will go up 10%. Even if he is not a state employee it is likely his employer is telling him it is a temporary furlough. It doesn’t make sense to follow a permanent solution to a temporary pay cut.

  30. Melissa says:

    err… that was last sentence in my first paragraph supposed to read, now a year and half after a 10% furlough, I am furloughed 15%

  31. Andy says:

    BumGenious are by far the most expensive way to cloth diaper. We found that “Indian” pre-folds with a whisper-wrap has been fine. We use 12-hr disposables for nights. I haven’t done the math, but it seems we have barely spent any money at all of the cloth diapers or the laundering of them ( we do line dry when we can).

  32. Joe says:

    @Brad,

    I realize you seem to already be getting ripped apart. Here are a few more ideas on the softer side.

    Of course there is the obvious for finding ways to increase your income. My suggestion is, if your wife is a chef why not have her attempt out of home catering? Everyone in the community obviously knows she is a great cook if they always come over for these dinners. Maybe she can help bring in the extra income necessary.

    Another idea would be- when entertaining guests with these fancy expensive dinners, why not have the guests buy some of the ingredients? I know I would gladly buy some of the necessities for a great cooked meal from my friend. It’s the equivalent to going out to eat in my eyes as a guest.

    Good Luck!
    Joe

  33. CM says:

    Trent, I know this has come up before, but really: Do you READ the mailbag questions before you answer them? The unemployed dad is NOT working; his wife IS WORKING FULL TIME. Why can’t they withdraw the child from daycare and let the dad take care of her, seeing as how he is UNEMPLOYED? Why would you suggest the mother stay at home with the baby at all?! She is providing a FULL TIME INCOME for the family. It is a lot better than none of the parents working and trying to support an entire family on unemployment, not to mention possible loss of insurance benefits!

    For the reader asking about recipes, nowhere do they state they are vegeatarian! Why would you guess that they are? They are asking about cheap, good meals that are PROTEIN-BASED. Allrecipes.com was a great suggestion.

    If you are going to respond to readers’ questions, PLEASE invest the time to read the questions correctly, get a good understanding of the situation, and provide and appropriate answer!

  34. Debbie M says:

    @Brad, if your wife is a chef, she can combine inexpensive ingredients creatively to make fabulous flavors so that your main dishes don’t have to be expensive.

    Another strategy is to make the main dish something that’s part of the potluck. For example, guests can bring pasta sauce (and you make the pasta) or bring smoothie ingredients (and you have the yogurt or whatever) or bring soup ingredients (and you have the broth) or bring dunkers (and you have the fondue).

  35. Johanna says:

    @Katie: On the other hand, you might decide that if your investments go down in value, and you have to delay the purchase of whatever you’re saving for, that’s ok – it might be worth it to you to take that risk in exchange for the possibility of better returns.

    How conservative or aggressive an investment should be depends not only on the time scale of the goal, but also on its flexibility. If you know that X years from now you want to have exactly $Y, then you probably shouldn’t invest that money in stocks. But it sounds from your letter like maybe you’re not wedded to the idea of buying a house in 2015-2016, and you’re not entirely sure that you want to use the money for a house at all. If that’s the case, then putting some of the money in stocks might be appropriate.

  36. Josh says:

    @ETF (#12),

    Why don’t you read the actual question before getting all pissy and throwing out the “sexist card”.

    The guy specifically said his wife WANTS to be a stay at home mom.

  37. Crystal says:

    @Trent, I’m allergic cats and a few of my friends have them…it doesn’t end the friendship, we just meet at my place or elsewhere. It’s not that big of a deal.

    @Brad, $3500 in a coastal community is pretty amazing. You’re going to want to talk to your friends and see if some of them can start hosting the potluck. If you are friends, they will understand that you can’t carry the load all the time. My hubby and I are in a board gaming group with some awesome people. We host the monthly potluck at least a third of the time, but we never put more than $50 into an evening and that is a pretty expensive evening (usually we cook chili or something for about $20 for the whole main course)…we all understand that the load has to be shared.

    @Rachel, you could also open a Roth IRA with Fidelity for free if you sign up for auto-contributions of at least $200 a month. That’s how we started. We auto-contributed $200 a month and topped off the remaining $2600 when we could for the first two years (mostly done in Nov-Dec). I also picked the Fidelity 2040 target date mutual fund so saving is easy.

    @Beth, we only accept the invites that seem like they’d be fun. If we end up turning down people we haven’t seen for a little while, we ask if they’d like to come over for dinner or a movie or something…something laid back and more enjoyable than whatever we turned down. I love seeing our friends, but sometimes we just don’t see eye-to-eye on what’s considered a good time. Then it’s all about a fun compromise. :-)

    @Choi, I’m with Trent on this one. You and your wife need to talk…she may want to stay at home more than you think or you may want a duel-income household more than she thinks…come on and communicate. :-)

  38. AnneKD says:

    Mark Bittman’s cookbook, definitely. I use that book all the time. Allrecipes.com was also mentioned in one or two comments, I also use that all the time- read the recipe comments on Allrecipes and you’ll find even more ways to prepare a dish.

    @Brad- Your wife doesn’t have to work in a restaurant to earn money. She can become a personal chef and work on her own time. Worth checking out. I totally agree with #26 Debbie M, that’s exactly what I thought when I was reading the question.

    And, is the expensive hard-to-get-into daycare more important than keeping the child at home with an occasional sitter during interviews when you’re unemployed? The child can get all sorts of social activity more cheaply.

  39. aryn says:

    Don’t count on a raise until you get it. When I first started with my employer, we had twice-yearly reviews and generous raises. Then we went 21 months without reviews or raises when the economy soured. Raises have not returned to previous levels and I don’t expect them to (they really were insanely generous before). So, no matter what they say, economic conditions and company policies can and do change. Do what is best financially now, regardless of what may happen in the future.

    For the hypothetical question, why would I give up my home because my best friend is allergic? She’s not my friend just because she can come to my house.

  40. con says:

    “Hard choices?” As in moving because someone is allergic to whatever? I think the commenters have it right. There are so many alternatives available. Maybe it’s time to take the blinders/blinkers off and think outside of the box. Whoever is writing about that stuff…well, that’s just downright silly to even mention it. And I mean this in a nice way.

  41. Margaret says:

    Beth – you could also just tell your family & friends that your family is overwhelmed with all you have been doing and need to cut back. Or you could say your one year old is overwhelmed. And as for the graduate who “threatened” you into accepting an invitation — I would just not show up and pretend that my kid had vomitted or had diarrhea and I couldn’t risk the travel (if this hasn’t happened to you yet, IT WILL). I know that is rude, but it is also rude not to have graciously accepted your regrets. Besides, unless the graduate is the first person ever to graduate in your family, it’s really not that big a deal outside of the immediate family, and by immediate family, I really only mean the graduate and the parents.

    I also second the other advice about having no babysitter and having other commitments which are actually scheduled family time. You child is only one. Chances are, things are going to only get more and more hectic the older your child gets, so there is nothing wrong with starting now to set boundaries for your family.

  42. Natasha says:

    Celia,
    If you’re just starting out cooking at home, I recommend seeking out recipes you like, making the dish as written, then experimenting when you’re ready. I found it massively frustrating as a beginner when I asked for recipes/tips/tricks from good home cook pals and received answers of “experiment”, “just throw things together”, “you’ll know what substitutions to make”. You have to have a framework of understanding first.

  43. bethh says:

    I have a suggestion for the potluck/chef couple: have you considered pooling costs for the nights you entertain in your home? I’m part of a monthly dinner group where everyone contributes to the menu, but we all submit our costs and then divide the expenses evenly. Of course in your situation this would still require that you ask everyone to keep costs low – if someone spends $50 on cheese it might muck up the budget!

  44. Diane says:

    Brad,
    Have you checked your withholdings? Now that you own a home, you may be overestimating your tax bill. That fix alone could make all the difference.
    Beyond that: you’re in a situation of your own deliberate making: neither the house or the child fell out of the sky without warning.
    I hear a hint of whining when what is needed here is a paradigm shift. You’re homeowners and parents now, your success as a family depends on how well and how willingly you embrace the changes you’ve chosen to make in your life. You’ve made adult choices, but you still want the lifestyle you had pre- commitments. Man up and embrace your new, grown-up life. Look at what you *can* do with what you have. I see this challenge as mostly mental. You are much closer to success than you think.

  45. bethh says:

    I’m allergic to cats, and my best friend lives 2,000 miles from me. For various reasons it’s marginally easier for me to visit her than vice versa.

    When I visit, I am able to medicate and hang out at her house, or we go out, but I sleep elsewhere – she has friends who have a furnished room in their basement, and no cats. No, it’s not the most convenient thing in the world, but it’s worth it!

  46. Sandy L says:

    Beth,

    How many of these people go out of their way to accommodate your schedule? We were much like you when we had our first and it was definitely an adjustment to realize we couldn’t do everything anymore. The biggest being holidays. We did it for a while, but then realized that if the tables were turned, it would be a rare thing to have people drive out of their way to visit us. So now, we go when we want to and stay home when we don’t. If people really want to see us, the door is always open.

    I’m fine hosting people in our home. I think it’s a good compromise.

    Brad,

    Like the others have said..$500/month is not sustainable when you factor in periodic expenses like car repairs, maintenance, etc. You need more income or a cheaper home. It’s that simple.

  47. Anon says:

    @Beth

    I’ve been in a similar situation, where my (and my husband’s) life have been very hectic and we couldn’t/didn’t want to go to every single event we were invited to. I found it frustrating when our family and friends couldn’t understand how worn out we were with me in grad school, my husband working 60+ hours a week, on top of our helping (and wanting to help) an elderly family member on a regular basis. Our friends showed their true colors in this situation, and we ended up drifting into more casual relationships with them. I’m totally happy with that because I didn’t want to spend so much of my regular free time with people who only cared about their own social needs and didn’t give a darn about what we were going through.

    As for our family, well, it was difficult. My family lived closer to us and were more compassionate and understanding about how stressed out we were, but the in-laws seemed be envious of the closeness (they moved away from the area we all lived in) and also couldn’t grasp what we were going through. It also happened to be a time where we had 3-5 weddings a year, baby showers, graduations, etc. We’d go to weddings but not to showers (and mostly I skipped out on baby showers), and tried our best to balance our need for peace and to keep the peace with the family. We got some slack because we often would need to drive 90 minutes to 3 hours to attend events, but we still felt that pressure.

    I often felt that no one really seemed to care if we did show up, but if we didn’t, then we’d be in “trouble”. A lose-lose situation.

    It’s not an easy situation, you don’t want to hurt people’s feelings and you would like your own feelings considered. The best thing to do is to get allies where you can, such as your parents, who DO understand your hectic life and can help you ward off those who would give you a hard time. Compromise a little and try to go to a few events every so often, and otherwise politely say no to the rest and stand your ground. It’s not really an easy situation to be in, unless you absolutely want to cut all social ties, in which case you can just ignore everyone. :)

  48. jim says:

    Rhetorical question: The friend and I can see each other at their house or other locations. They don’t ‘need’ to come to my house and a good friendship should be able to continue without that happening.

    Beth: Generally I don’t think you should feel a need to go to parties you don’t want to. You are also not obligated to bring a gift. But consider this: Did the people asking you to their wedding, shower, graduation party, etc attend YOUR wedding, showers, graduation parties, etc? If these people attended your parties (and possibly brought gifts) then I’d return the favor. If they came to your party and you don’t go to their party then thats not really fair of you.

    Choi: If both you and your wife end up unemployed then why would your 1 year old daughter have any need for daycare? I don’t know why you think she needs daycare right now given that 1 parent is already unemployed.

  49. Joanna says:

    @Celia
    I second the suggestion to check out food blogs. You can set up a free delicious.com account which lets you bookmark recipes and tag them however you want. You might not be ready for that step, so start with skimming blogs like 101 Cookbooks and Gluten-Free Girl (and the other suggestions above). They are usually seasonal, so the recipes can be great inspiration for how to use produce that’s in season.

    Oh, and recipes can’t be copyrighted but sources are usually listed, so food blogs may also help you find a cookbook or magazine subscription that appeals to you most.

  50. Mister E says:

    I agree with most of the other posters on the hypothetical question.

    It’s entirely possible to maintain a friendship even if the other party is rarely (or even never) able to come around to your own home. You can go to their house, you can go to a public place of some type or perhaps you can even go to the house of a third party. Depending on climate and weather maybe they CAN come around and you can just do most of your socializing outdoors.

    My Mother’s long-term boyfriend is allergic to cats but he’s able to just tough it out for a few hours when they visit us. If the allergy isn’t too bad that’s an option and of course medication may also be possible.

    There are a lot of possibilities.

    My wife and I live in a small apartment in the city and most of our friends and family live in larger apartments or houses in the suburbs where we grew up and so consequentially we do most of our socializing at other people’s homes just for the sake of more space.

  51. mary m says:

    rhetorical answer – would not move or get rid of my pet because of a friend. I have to draw the line at my house. your home is the one place in the world that you can have just about whatever you want. for an outside force to restrict that, or make me feel i should restrict myself, would not work for me.

    @beth – i echo what someone above said, sometimes I say I already have plans, even if my plan is to go home and eat leftover chinese food and watch a movie. my time off is sacred to me, i need that time to relax, rejuvinate and enjoy the things i have chosen to fill my home with.

  52. Wow, that allergy question just keeps going and going, doesn’t it? As one other commenter said, “Friendships don’t end because of moving or allergies or income differences; they end because at least one of the parties has changed in a fundamental way.”

    I completely cannot understand why a friendship would end just because a friend wasn’t able to visit my house. Friendship isn’t about WHERE you see your friend, it’s about the relationship you have. And I wouldn’t count that person as much of a friend if they expected me to go through the pain and hassle and expense of MOVING (or getting rid of a beloved pet) for THEIR comfort. That’s selfishness, not friendship.

    My best friend of 19 years moved 1,400 miles away about 8 years ago, and has lived that far from me for most of our adult lives. She’s still my best friend and we’re still just as close as we were when we were growing up; maybe closer. We are lucky if we see each other once a year, and when she and her family are able to come back here, while they can visit me in my home, they can’t stay long and definitely can’t stay overnight because we have a cat and her husband is very allergic. And yet we still are best friends, still manage to visit, they still come to town, and our relationship has not been damaged by distance, OR allergies.

    I don’t think my experience is unique either; I think true friendships prevail despite occasional difficult circumstances. Therefore, I fail to understand why this rhetorical friendship is doomed to end. Unless it wasn’t much of a friendship to begin with.

  53. J.O. says:

    I am mystified as to why so many people answering the rhetorical question about moving/allergies assume that Trent is asking for himself. He even refers to reader emails, if you read all the way to the end.

    And then I’m mystified again by the nastiness toward him for asking the question, even if the assumption were right.

    And, yes, I have read the cat post. If kitty has to go to a new home, maybe kitty would be happier there.

  54. Larabara says:

    I’ve been friends with someone for 11 years who has always had cats. She now owns a non-profit cat rescue. I’m very allergic to cats, and the rare visit to her house breaks me out in itchy hives all over. So we meet at my house, at restaurants, at events, etc. She currently has 17 cats, and I can’t even go inside her house anymore. We’re still great friends, and we still see each other often, just not at her house. She fosters them (5 have feline leukemia, 5 have feline AIDS, and the others are being fostered for adoption. The ill ones are kept separated from the healthy ones, and the house is clean and fresh-smelling, so for now there are no animal hoarding issues). But I’ve told her that I’m keeping my red, itchy, watery eyes on her, just in case!

  55. valleycat1 says:

    Ditto everyone re Trent’s question. Maintaining a friendship doesn’t require being able to be in the other person’s home & certainly doesn’t dictate how I decide where I’m going to live.

  56. Courtney says:

    I am guessing that Choi’s concern of wanting to keep his child in daycare is that he says it’s “one that is very hard to get in” – i.e. if they take their daughter out because of the cost, someone else will be given that spot and then when they are both working again, the daycare will be unavailable. I’m not saying whether or not this is a valid or wise concern, but that’s probably the line of thinking he’s going on and why he’d like to pre-pay now to “hold” her spot, in order to (literally) buy them more time to obtain full-time work.

    And Johanna is correct regarding Rachel’s IRA question. If Rachel has taxes withheld on her stipend, then it is eligible earned income for the purposes of an IRA contribution. If there are no taxes withheld, it is not considered “earned income” for IRA purposes (though it is certainly regular “income” in the eyes of the IRS and they will want their share!)

  57. J says:

    I used to be very allergic to cats. I have 2 that have lived with me for over 6 years. The longer I have been exposed to them, the less my allergies have been a problem. I like cats enough to suck it up and have been rewarded. Just sayin’.

  58. Courtney says:

    RE: house issue

    Yes, that can be a problem, but it’s never been a major problem. There are entire cultures (see also: Tokyo) where the major socialization takes place outside the home because the house is too small.

    RE: rice & beans
    If I were you, I’d develop a taste for peasant food. Most “main” dishes were once only holiday meals. Lasagna, for instance. Go for authentic food as much as possible. For example, General Tsao’s Chicken was created in Cleveland.

    Rice and beans around the world, via epicurious.com:
    Central Asian Rice and Bean Stew
    In Cuba, this versatile dish is known as congrí. Louisiana has its own version of red beans and rice, of course, but in that one you won’t find the oregano, cumin or cilantro.
    Cajun Red Beans and Rice Salad
    Steamed Rice and Bean Dumplings in Spicy Lentil and Radish Sauce by Julie Sahni from Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking
    Yellow Rice Salad with Roasted Peppers and Spicy Black Beans
    Saffron Rice with Peas and Garbanzo Beans
    Braised Chicken and Rice with Orange, Saffron, Almond, and Pistachio Syrup
    Vegetable Paella

    My favorite cookbooks are: The Joy of Cooking. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, classic Indian cooking by Julie Sahni, Laurel’s Kitchen, The New Basic Cookbook, and Three Ancient Cuisines. Most of these can be found used for cheap and/or free.

    I also highly recommend Indian food if you are vegetarian.

    I will grant you that you can invest a little or a lot in seasonings, but buying in bulk from ethnic food stores will cut down expenses quite a bit.

  59. Elizabeth says:

    @ETF I certainly agree. The dad is the one without the job at the moment and it’s completely bizarre that Trent suggests the mom may secretly want to stay home with the kid, when the dad is the one actually in a position to do that! The whole thing is made even more bizarre by the fact that I get the impression Trent himself does the dad-at-home thing (even though he’s working, he made the choice to work from home so he could spend more time with the kids). I’m completely confused as to why he focused only on the wife as the childcare option here.

  60. deRuiter says:

    Rachael, Please make sure you are elligible to contribute to a ROTH, that your income is earned income which is the only income which qualifies for a ROTH. You don’t need $3,000. Go to a bank and open a ROTH to which you can contribute over the course of a year. Even if it is only a savings account, you can add a little at a time. Make sure it is an account with no fees. If your income doesn’t qualitfy for a ROTH, consider a modest part time job, even one or two short shifts a week. The ability to contribute to a ROTH when you are very young is a magfificent thing! Once you accumulate a bit in a ROTH savings account, you can then shift it over into a fund like Trent suggests. The idea is to START! Because if you do not contribute any part of the elligible $5,000. per year in THAT YEAR, you lose that particular opportunity forever. Contribute something to a ROTH every year, stretch yourself to get that money in there! You’ll be thrilled when it’s time to retire.

  61. GayleRN says:

    For Katie, you do not at this point have enough money to consider investing in anything but an index fund. If you are really serious about learning about investing start with the local library and start working your way through the investment section. There is a lot of BS written about investing but you have to know what it is so you can identify it instantly when it is being pitched to you. And it will be pitched to you. Secondly there is a wealth of information available on the internet, starting with the Schwab website to learn some mechanics. Subscribe to some magazines, or Investor’s Business Daily. Read, read, and read some more.

    If all this sounds like way too much work, then you need not bother with anything other than index funds. If you are not willing to put a lot of work into learning investments it is just a good way to lose money faster.

  62. Nur says:

    I have a similar question to Celia, I am in the same boat but I live in Canada. Although the book suggested by Trent is great, (I read it), can anyone suggest a book that gives an overview of investing from a Canadian perspective?

  63. Sam says:

    Choi = I have done the prepaid utility thing & understand where your coming from on prepaying daycare.
    I have a 10 yearold so I’m speaking from experience here. I very, very strongly advise against paying more then a month at a time . Daycare centers don’t keep the best records regardless of size & if the daycare director changes your ” credit balance” could disappear.
    While I see the point of sending your child if your doing odd jobs while seeking a full time gig, if one if you isn’t working at all the child would do best at home. Peer relationships have negligible impact upon developement until around 4-6 yrs. Until then Mom & Dad are who the child is best to be with, developmentally speaking. That & also the high turn over in the staff the we saw at most daycares wasn’t real good on my son either.

    Sorry for any typoes. I’m using my iPod while the PC is compling .

  64. Kate says:

    for Celia, whose question was how to get protein into recipes. I’ve come up with a few reliable strategies that don’t require much forethought: top anything with a handful of tasty cheese (goat, feta, etc), or toasted nuts, or both. Start adding protein rich grains/seeds to dishes: quinoa can be slipped in to all kinds of things. As can cooked beans. There are a lot of possibilities and the fun part is figuring out the flavours and textures you like and having those ingredients in your cupboard to add to anything. You can cook pretty standard dishes and transform them by adding adventurous spices and something protein-rich.

  65. Mich says:

    Here is a delicious rice and bean recipe that only takes a few ingredients and is very quick to make. I learned it after I was in Costa Rica and it was so good!

    Gallo Pinto (for 4ppl)
    -1 Can black beans
    -2 cups instant rice
    -1 can chicken broth(regular not the 99% fat free)
    -chopped onions, cilantro, yellow pepper
    -(optional, a bit of jalapeno)

    fry the uncooked rice and chopped veggies in a pan with some oil for a few min, then add in the chicken broth and cover until rice is cooked. Add in the can of beans with some of the black water, cook a little longer and its done. So flavorful and delicious!

  66. Katherine says:

    We have a few vegetarian cookbooks, and actually, we spent the month of July eating completely vegetarian just to see if we could do it (and it wasn’t too hard). Our favorite by far is The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas. I agree with what everyone said about experimenting in the kitchen, but also I completely understand needing a recipe to go off of at first.

    We cloth diaper most of the time, and we use plain Proraps and prefolds. They are on the cheaper end of cloth diapers, but I love them, and we’ve had I think 2 instances of them not containing messes in 10 months (and those were BIG messes). We do disposables at night and on long car rides, but otherwise it’s the cloth ones.

  67. Peggy says:

    For Celia re cooking…These are my favorite sites for great recipes. I was rather indifferent for many years until job circumstances brought us to our current location where, for us, there are not a lot of options for eating out or finding ingredients. We’ve begun making our own yogurt, bread, pizza dough and sauce, grinding our own beef, etc. (you get the pic!)

    King Arthur Flour has lots of recipes for baking, and if you’ve some extra $$$, great products that can be bought on sale. Our bread and pizza dough and yogurt recipes come from here.

    http://www.kingarthurflour.com/

    And this wonderful site: The Pioneer Woman
    There’s a wide range of topics on her site including two cooking sections. Ree has many recipes under “Cooking” and “The Tasty Kitchen”

    http://thepioneerwoman.com/

    Hope these inspire you as they have me.

  68. jo says:

    @ #30 aryn -
    The federal government has a several programs hiring straight from college that are different version of a ladder program. They hire at a salary slightly lower than private sector and promise raises to bring you up to private sector within a specified time. So as long as JP is average or above average in his work he will get those raises.

    @ JP – Make sure to check the income requirements for forgiveness of the student loans does not have an income ceiling. Not knowing what ceiling to base the locality pay off of, it appears that you are starting as a GS-9 with a ladder to a GS-11 or GS-12. The issue is that it may be possible to make it to a 13 or 14 within the 10 years; salaries at those levels are usually above the ceilings. It’s worth a look.

  69. Brittany says:

    Brad– Is your wife willing to work part-time? It seems her staying home is something to two of you value, but a few hours a week with a catering service, a one-to-two family load of regular dinner clients, personal chef, etc. could free up some wiggle room in your budget and give you a “slush fund” once the basics were covered.

    Celia–Have you checked out Sundays at Moosewood? It’s an almost exclusively vegetarian cookbook (a little bit of fish, if I remember correctly, but not much), that has really fantastic and interesting recipes (a lot more variety than standard veggie cookbooks, I feel). For food blogs, I recommend The Casual Kitchen, which is also part (but not totally) veggie.

  70. Emma says:

    Trent, I’m not sure it was a “rhetorical” question you were asking. Did you really ask it not expecting an answer?

  71. KimC says:

    Just want to say that I love the new “What’s Inside” part of these mailbag posts. So much easier to scan and navigate. I used to skim past these because they were just so long; now I can easily find the parts that interest me.
    Thanks!

  72. Kate says:

    Julie, I’m going to offer you yet another advantage to cloth diapers. Once you know there are no more infants on the way, you have got the BEST, softest, most absorbent dusting and cleaning rags ever invented.

    I remember,in my early teens, my mom sighing when the last of the old diapers gave out. And I echoed that sigh, some years later, when I ran out of the last few diapers I’d kept for polishing glass or furniture.

    I seldom manage to persuade anyone, but I always try to encourage mothers-to-be to do three things: nurse their baby, use cloth diapers, and avoid commercial baby food entirely by mashing or chopping the food the family is eating.

    My personal recommendation on this is the HappyBaby Food Grinder. No batteries, completely portable, built-in serving dish. We fed our daughter (now in her thirties) at restaurants with it, and we never bought one jar of baby food. My only connection to the company is that I’ve recommended it for years and given a number of them away, including to my daughter-in-law!

    Hope this helps and/or encourages someone!

  73. Kai says:

    If I had a friend who turned up allergic to my house, I would not ask the friend to come over to my house. Nor would I move.
    I would, however, keep the friendship going. You really think that a friendship would have to be left to die if the friend couldn’t visit you?
    I would meet the friend at other places. We would go for walks in the park. We would do picnics. We would go out to things of mutual interest. Perhaps we would go to her place sometimes. Assuming the friendship also exists in a group, we would also see each other at the homes of others.

    Your all or nothing idea is silly.

  74. de says:

    Brad, we recently moved to the Southwestand were thrilled to discover that we can garden year round. However we have a fairly smal yard (Cali housing–feel your pain on the costs); We have always used the square foot gardening techniques of Mel Bartholemew, but recaently boutht his newest revised book, and he has made it even more simple and time saving. He also has some tips for container gardening, which many of our new friends here do on the patio or balcony. Maybe that could help with your famers market issues(which I fully sympathize with) and entertaining costs, especialy with fresh herbs and salads.

  75. asrai says:

    Prefold diapers and there are tons of covers available. All in one such as bumgenius are expensive and wear out faster. But far more convinient ie they are more like a disposable. But to get 24 you are paying two or three times more.

    Also if you with prefolds get a $2 snappi. So much easier than pins.

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