Reader Mailbag: Toothbrush Uses

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. Retirement or school?
2. Board games for free
3. Earning money on YouTube
4. Cheap routine meals
5. Expensive IRA
6. Aggressive insurance salesman
7. Blogging for free
8. Music for focus?
9. Family first over money? How?
10. Video games and life

When toothbrushes start to get worn down, many people toss them out. I don’t.

I have yet to find a tool that’s better at cleaning tight corners and bad spots than a toothbrush with a drop of all-purpose cleaner on it. It reaches so many places my hands cannot (or places that I won’t put my hands). For detail cleaning, nothing beats it.

Even better, I’ve found that a friend uses one for touch-up painting around the house, which actually makes a lot of sense, too.

Keep those old brushes. There’s some life in them yet.

Q1: Retirement or school?
I’m currently 24 years old and have my first job that offers any form of benefits. I’m also finishing my undergraduate degree. I’ll be leaving college with $30,000 in debt, but I’m out of aid. I’ve been thinking of foregoing my company 401k program to ensure I have enough money to finish my last semester of college so I can move on with my life. I feel like I need to get my degree and move on with my life (this semester signals my 6th year of college- I wasn’t expecting to be in school this long), but at the same time I’ve heard that I should contribute to my 401k early for compound interest and company matching. I doubt I will be with this company long enough to really take advantage of company matching (until you work there a year, they penalize the company match rate). I’m torn. Should I not worry about retirement funds until I have a degree under my belt and am not distracted by school? Or should I focus on retirement and possibly not afford my last semester of school?

- Kelly

If it’s a choice between completing your degree and starting with retirement savings, complete your degree first. You are still very young in terms of retirement savings, and waiting another year to get started at this point isn’t going to be an enormous detriment.

On the other hand, delaying your college degree could be a huge problem in terms of your future income, especially if you’re facing student loans.

Of course, there is the option to borrow from your 401(k) to pay for education, which works if you’re planning to continue to work there while you’re taking classes. I’m not sure if that’s the case or not, but it’s an option.

Q2: Board games for free
I really appreciate the idea of having a “game night” where everyone brings something for a potluck dinner and then everyone plays board or card games. However, there is a cost for that – the games. How do you get past that? Even worse, how do you know whether the game will work well for your group unless you buy it and it might just not work?

- Jeff

There are actually a lot of options.

My personal favorite is “community game night.” Most larger cities have a community game night or a boardgaming club that you can participate in. It gives you a great opportunity to try a variety of games in a friendly environment. I am an irregular participant in the Des Moines area community game night – I love to go, but it’s often hard for me to make it.

Another option is to head to the local store that sells board games and ask for a demo. Some shops have particular times where they demo board games, while others (like the excellent Atomic Games in Manitowoc, WI, or the local Mayhem Comics and Games in Des Moines, IA) will pretty much demo anything immediately upon request.

There’s also the option of borrowing, if you have a friend that has some games.

Q3: Earning money on YouTube
I was just reading your suggestion on making YouTube videos and that you can earn $1-2 per viewing. I did not know that. How does it work?

- Erin

You don’t earn $1-$2 per viewing. However, you can earn a few dollars per thousand views.

Here’s how it works. You sign up for YouTube and start uploading videos. Avoid anything with copyright. You’ll also want to join Adsense and link that to your Youtube account.

If people start watching your videos, you’ll start earning a trickle of money that will steadily grow over time. The more videos you have made, the more often your videos will show up in search results, which means more people watching, which means more income.

It’s slow at first. You don’t earn much. It takes a lot of work without any significant immediate return.

Eventually, though, the money does start flowing. I know people who make their living due to YouTube.

Q4: Cheap routine meals
I’m trying to find a set of about fifteen inexpensive and easy-to-prepare meals that I can use as part of my family’s routine. My mother used to have such a repertoire, but we had the advantage of things from the farm which we could use for cheap ingredients. I don’t really have that option.

- Ashley

We have a small repertoire of these ourselves. Spaghetti with marinara sauce. Tacos. Stir fry. Broccoli and brown rice.

For us, though, the best thing to do is to just have a lot of staples on hand that you can turn into something edible. Buy the vegetables that are on sale each week. Buy the meats, too, if you’re not vegetarian. Keep some pasta and some rice on hand. Keep on hand a few things from your favorite meals, like pasta sauce.

With just those things, you can make nearly infinite meals. Just toss stuff together that seems like it would taste well as a group. You can make soup in a crock pot. You can cook up burritos or tacos or stir fry in infinite varieties. You can make casseroles or risottos. You don’t need a whole lot of ingredients for these things, and none of them take a whole lot of time. All you have to do is know a few frameworks.

Q5: Expensive IRA
I have a small 401(k) that I rolled into an IRA from a previous job. It is with ING, and it is worth just under $1000. The annual fee for the IRA is $20. Since the value of the account is so small, is there any point in keeping it since the fees are so high? Are there any low cost alternatives

- Denise

That’s pretty high, especially for a low-value IRA.

Your best bet would be to transfer the IRA elsewhere. You can simply transfer the funds in that IRA to an IRA held by any other investment firm. I use Vanguard personally, so I highly recommend them, but you should do your own homework.

I wouldn’t just withdraw the money, as you’ll be hit with taxes and penalties if you do so.

Q6: Aggressive insurance salesman
There’s an insurance salesman in our neighborhood who is really aggressive at trying to get new customers. He leaves leaflets all the time and stops by everyone’s house a few times a year just to see if we have insurance needs. I considered buying from him at first, but he’s so overbearing that I am avoiding his insurance even though the prices seem really good. I’d like to get the insurance, but I don’t want him. What can I do?

- Leon

You could always try to contact the firm directly. With many large firms, you can completely avoid the local agent and deal with the insurance company one on one.

That being said, they may or may not match the numbers that their agent on the ground is talking about. It entirely depends on their sales and marketing practices.

You never have to interact with an agent on the ground unless you choose to do so. For many people, it’s a good option. In some situations, though, it’s not.

Q7: Blogging for free
I really enjoy your site, I’ve been a reader for some time. I’m impressed with the high quality articles you put out on a consistent basis, and your advice always seems to be so practical and straight forward. I was hoping I could pick your brain on something I’ve been considering.

I recently contacted someone about producing content for their new blog. They have a mutual interest, but the work would be unpaid. I’m really interested in the topic (craft beer) and would enjoy an opportunity to expand my writing capabilities.

The issues is that I am uneasy about producing endless content for someone else, and then having them profit from my hard work. How should I go about approaching this subject with them? Would I ask for a share of advertising revenue when it begins to roll in? Any advice you can give me would be very much appreciated.
- Charlie

The truth is that the blog owner might not have the resources to pay you.

Blogs with niche topics and relatively small audiences don’t make a lot of revenue unless there’s something else going on (an owner willing to throw money at a pet project, for instance, or a corporate owner who sees it as great PR). You need to either have a great supporter or a very large audience to make any significant money.

If you ask for money, the owner will likely say that they don’t have any, and they’re probably telling something pretty close to the truth. You can sure ask, but don’t expect a big revenue stream.

Q8: Music for focus?
One of my coworkers who has a desk near me uses headphones to listen to music while he works. He claims it makes him focus better. He does good work, so I tried it, but it completely didn’t work for me. Does music really help some people focus? Is there some music that is better for focus than others?

- Roger

I can write well to any kind of music, as well as to podcasts. It doesn’t bother me. I think it depends a lot on the mind of the person.

For me, I find that I actually remember big chunks of the podcasts I listen to even if I don’t pay much attention to them at the time. Similarly, I can make songs become very familiar through repeated listens, even if my focus is elsewhere.

I have a friend who focuses very well when listening to classical music or ambient electronica, so you might want to start there if you’re seeking focus music.

Q9: Family first over money? How?
One of the things I noticed though is that you have in a lot of sense’s started putting people and your family first. When you started doing this did you have a pretty big “cushion” saved up or what? Right now I am in the process of planning a wedding with my fiance. We have a 2 year old daughter and I hate that I am away from 4am-6pm everyday. This gives me 2 hours with both my fiance and daughter before I am exhausted, become irritable and crash. While I have been actively looking for a job closer to home (1hr commute both ways), I have been unsuccessful. I did a calculation to see what my actual hourly rate is and came to less than 14 bucks an hour. This was very discouraging. The only debt I have is some furniture (2600), our truck (20k), and our house (96k). Whats the best way to transfer into a life that is more centered around my family? I love to work and dont mind early hours. I am most efficient in the mornings and wouldnt mind being able to work 6-10(11) every morning and a couple hours in the afternoon 1-4 for example which would probably allow me to be more efficient than I currently am. Now if only I could find a way to make the same money. I do not want to compromise my daughters future or my families health (thinking about insurance). Then I am available for my daughter and wife during lunch and we can do some fun stuff during mid-day and also have good evenings and I wont be exhausted. As your probably know, 2 extra hours of sleep really helps. Now I am barely running on 5-6 if I am lucky. Here are my questions. I am presented with a couple ideas.

1. rental properties – a long time friend is very good with lower income rentals and is willing to mentor me. we are looking to use 20k to purchase and fix up a home and rent it out for 6-800 a month. once leased we can take an equity loan on the home for around 44k (home value is higher per bank appraisals) and do two more houses. This would yield 18-2400 revenue (not net income). You can also turn around and get a loan on each of those to houses as well and do the same thing. Going for a cashflow type deal.
2. a lawn business – while I am not the best with a lawn mower, I am pretty good and could easily charge 17-25 bucks a lawn in my area. Would this be something worth persuing you think? Goal would be to make 300-500(15-25 lawns) a week or 1200-2000 a month which would cover the truck payments, mortgage and utilities.
3. freelance work – I am not sure how to get into this. I am very good with excel and things like that. Do you think there is a market for this kind of work? Goal would be to make 300-500 a month off of this.
4. Tutoring – I was also thinking of doing some tutoring. I am very strong in Algebra and Calculus. Would aim to make 100-200/wk, 4-500/month from this.
5. Running/Triathlon Coaching – A little more far fetched but fairly straight forward. Estimated 100-300 a month.

Do these all seem realistic? I understand I should maintain my current job until the rental properties pan out but would it be ill advised to start doing some tutoring and lawns now? Freelance work? Should I use my work laptop or purchase a personal laptop for my fiance and I?

I have also thought about a blog/website but my interests are mainly reading and running/triathlon. I have done some minor running plans/coaching for some friends so maybe I could try doing some coaching. I dont think I would need a credential for that other than my experience. Not sure if I could actually make money off of it though. Do you think so? That would require I get an internet connection though wouldn’t it?
- Ronald

I would not split my efforts up like that. Instead, I’d pick one of them and focus on doing it as well as possible.

They all seem like realistic opportunities in the hands of a committed and interested person. They all seem like failures in the hands of a person who doesn’t give it much focus.

Pick one, draw up a plan, have some people review the plan, then go for it.

Q10: Video games and life
My younger brother spends three or four hours playing video games every day. I keep encouraging him to do something else with his time, but he just shrugs it off. How can I show him the value of putting the controller down?

- Jim

It’s a time-wasting hobby, sure, and he’s probably doing it to excess.

The best approach isn’t to bug him about not playing video games any more. The best approach is to entice him to do something else for some of that time.

Rather than “encouraging” him to do something else with his time, do something with him or find some employment for him. Actions speak far, far louder than words.

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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