Reader Mailbag: World Series

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What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Visa renewal worries
2. Cheap exercise in winter
3. Cheap package mailing
4. Bankruptcy and libraries
5. Selling plasma?
6. Thief in home
7. Hand sanitizing and long life
8. Cutting hair at home
9. Games with eight year old
10. Prime rate and credit cards

Two of the teams I was really pulling for in the playoffs are now playing in the World Series. I would be perfectly happy with either team winning, and thus I don’t actually have a rooting interest in the series.

This has actually made it very fun. Game 1 was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve watched in a long time because I wasn’t completely biased towards one team or another. I got to just admire the good performances on both teams and applaud when someone did something amazing on either team… like Sandoval’s three home runs.

I’m beginning to think I would enjoy baseball more if I wasn’t a die-hard Cubs fan (and an A’s fan in the American League).

Q1: Visa renewal worries
I’m from the mid-western USA and I currently live in the UK working in finance. I recently accepted an internal transfer to one of my company’s Asian offices (will likely be there within 1-2 years, no specific time-frame required though). I have been with my company almost 6 years – 4 years in USA and almost 2 years in the UK. The UK has a visa classification called Tier 1. This visa class means that you don’t need to be sponsored by a company (Tier 2 visa). As long as you have sufficient income and academic qualifications then you can keep the Tier 1 visa. I have a bit of a quandary as to whether or not to keep my visa. I have enjoyed living here for the past 2 years but I’m not sure whether I’ll want to come back or just move back to the states. The classification of visa I have is no longer available to apply for but current visa holders can keep extending theirs. Therefore, if I let it lapse then I would have to go through the normal process of being sponsored by a company which comes with decreased flexibility. This would limit my options if I choose to come back to UK as companies can frequently be averse to sponsoring candidates. To renew my Tier 1 visa for 2 years (current expiration is March 2013) would cost nearly $5,000 USD and to maintain the visa I would need to visit the UK at least once every 6 months (about $1,000 each trip when you include flight + expenses). My new job in Hong Kong will pay about $200,000 USD. If you were in my situation, for the peace of mind, would you renew the Tier 1 visa?

- Charlie

Once you move to Hong Kong, will you have any sort of legitimate reason to visit the U.K. every six months?

If not, then I wouldn’t keep the visa, as it would seem that you don’t have strong ties to the U.K. and the expense seems extreme for that. If you would visit anyway, then I would keep the visa, as you have some compelling reason to return there.

You might also want to talk to your company about the situation. If there’s value for them in having an employee with that type of visa in the U.K., they might help you to retain that visa.

Q2: Outdoor exercise in winter
I live in Minnesota and the weather is getting a lot colder. As per your suggestion, I picked up the great book Your Body Is a Gym from the library and started doing a lot of body weight exercises and jogging to get in better shape and it’s went really well. I’ve lost 30 pounds just due to diet and home exercise. With the weather change though it’s getting way more difficult to exercise outside. Do you have any suggestions as to how to exercise on the cheap in the winter without buying a gym membership?

- Nathan

I often exercise in the basement doing basic calisthenics (pushups, situps, jumping jacks, toe touches, squats, etc.). Most of these work just fine in our family room and don’t require me to be outside.

Jogging is a bit more difficult, though. In my area in central Iowa, if I want to go for a walk or jog in the winter, I go during the day, put on several layers of clothing, and just avoid anything that looks slick. That means there are days when I simply don’t get to go outside.

If you’re committed to a daily routine, look for a seasonal pass at a local gym. Look for the one that gives you treadmill access until spring at the lowest price.

Q3: Cheap package mailing
I know you have experience mailing board games, so I was wondering about your take on the cheapest way to mail packages. I ship things to my nieces and nephews and my youngest brother all the time.

- Geoff

For me, there’s a balance between convenience and cost, since there’s a post office within walking distance but there’s no UPS or Fedex location within ten miles.

For smaller items, I simply use Flat Rate Priority boxes most of the time. They give you the box for free, so all you have to do is pack the stuff inside, tape it shut, address it, and bring it to the post office. I do this for almost every small thing that I mail.

However, for anything larger than a flat-rate box, I get a large shipping box from my local office supply store, fill it with what I need to ship, then mail it using UPS at the lowest rate available. I’ve found that they generally have lower prices than Fedex if you just walk in off the street to mail a package.

Q4: Bankruptcy and libraries
I filed a chapter 7 bankruptcy which went great but now I’m not able to use my local library. One of my included debts was one that I owed for losing books before college. Now since I legally don’t owe the debt they still won’t let me use the library without still paying the money to them which I feel is me paying twice now. How should I deal with this?

- Eric

They have the right to do that, so unless you’re willing to pay the fine, you’re going to be barred from that library.

Your best approach would be to negotiate with them. Make them an offer to restore your account, one that’s lower than what they claim that you owe but not as much as you actually owe.

If they won’t bite, find a different library to use.

Q5: Selling plasma?
There’s a business in our area that offers $60 for selling your plasma. From what I understand, it takes about three hours, which means you can make $20 an hour. Is this a legit way to make some extra money?

- Carla

You can make extra money that way, but there are a few caveats.

For starters, that’s usually the “teaser rate” for the first visit or two. After that, the rate usually drops to $30 or $40 per visit, knocking your hourly rate down to the $10 to $12 per hour rate.

For another, if you donate multiple times a week, it can take the energy out of you. This comes from both my own experience and Sarah’s experience. If you do it infrequently, it’s no big deal. If you do it twice a week, you will feel it.

If I were you, I’d get their teaser rate and then not bother when it drops to a lower rate.

Q6: Thief in home
I have four children between the ages of 11 and 18. One of them (or more, I guess) is stealing my pocket cash. I’ve had many fives and tens come up missing in the last few months out of my wallet. How do I catch the right kid?

- Fred

Clue Spray is something you can use. Take a fiver, spray Clue Spray on it, and leave it out somewhere where it can be grabbed. When you find it missing, call all of your kids in, turn off the lights, and examine their hands with a UV light (an ordinary UV lightbulb that works in any socket). Whichever kid handled the money will have obvious markings on their hands.

Be sure that you actually want to go down this path, though. You may end up finding out that the person taking your money isn’t who you expect it to be. It might be a spouse or a cleaning lady or a friend of one of your children.

By doing this, you’re showing your kids – and most of them aren’t doing anything wrong – that you don’t trust them. That can be problematic, so tread carefully.

Q7: Hand sanitizing and long life
In reading the biography of the two Delaney sisters who lived to 103 and 106, I noted in their health approach that they washed their hands whenever they’d been out and about and returned home. I think that makes sense, particularly I’ve read of germ spreading by handling gas station handles when you put gas in your car, also post office standing boxes. They also sanitized their door handles to outdoor doors.

- Margie

That’s an interesting idea. I wonder, though, whether the two things are related or not. It’s really hard to tell from an anecdote like this.

For example, the two men I knew who had the longest lifespans both played amateur baseball and softball until they were in their sixties. Is it fair to say that softball is a way to extend your life? Maybe, but I think it’s probably just a matter of exerting themselves.

In this case, is it the sanitary habits that these ladies had, or was it just that they were mindful about many aspects of their life and this happened to be one of them? It’s hard to tell.

I think it’s perfectly fine to wash your hands regularly. I’m just not sure that it is a cure-all or a life extender.

Q8: Cutting hair at home
I recently learned that Mark Frauenfelder, one of my favorite writers, has cut his own hair for decades to save money and time. How does one even do this?

- Thomas

There are a lot of ways to do it.

I often cut my own hair using hair clippers. I’ll go out in the field behind our house with an extension cord and run the clippers all over my head until the cut is even. Other people simply stand in front of a mirror with scissors and use a mirror behind them for the difficult angles. Some people cut hair for their family members.

Remember that if you try something and mess it up, you can always cut it shorter. If it’s really a mess and you don’t want to shave it off, take it to a salon and have them fix it.

Q9: Games with eight year old
My oldest is about to turn eight and we’re thinking of getting him a family board game or two for his birthday. We’d ideally like to get one that requires some thinking, but is simple and fun to play and doesn’t take too long. We’d also like to get one that will remain appealing as he grows older.

- Jim

My top suggestion is King of Tokyo, which is themed around a “monster movie” like King Kong or Godzilla. This is a pretty straightforward dice-rolling game, but it has some nice complexities to it that make it much more interesting than, say, Yahtzee. My almost-seven year old absolutely loves it, though we do have to help him read some of the cards in the game. The game is so enjoyable that our adult friends often request it and it’s become a fixture at our game nights.

We often play four player Blokus with myself, Sarah, our five year old, and our almost-seven year old. It’s a very simple tile-laying game that also ends up requiring a lot of thought if you play it well. This works best with four, but if your son has a younger sibling, it’d be a great hit.

Both of these games play in under thirty minutes, are simple enough that your son should easily be able to figure them out, and are mature enough that I’ve played them with adult friends many times (so they should stick with him for a while).

Q10: Prime rate and credit cards
I have a question concerning the Fed’s policy towards keeping interest rates low. Why haven’t the banks lowered the prime rate and are allowed to keep credit cards rates so high?

I know that the prime rate has typically been the Fed Funds rate, currently around .25% + 3%; so the prime rate has stayed at 3.25% for several years. In addition, the credit card rates started climbing when inflation and interest rates were high, back in the late 1970′s and 1980′s. However, since then inflation and interest rates have been much lower. Yet, the credit card rates are still extremely high.

Wouldn’t the economy be better off if the prime rate was lowered, and the credit card rates lowered. While mortgage rates are lower than ever, not everyone owns a home, or can refinance. But if you have a home equity line of credit tied to prime, or are deep in credit card debt, then lowering the interest costs could allow people to start improving their situation.
- Mark

I agree that it would be better on the surface for most Americans if the prime rate were cut further and they could borrow money at rates under 3%. It would make it very easy to cover the payments for a home loan, for example.

The problem is that it wouldn’t really be worth it for banks to lend money when rates were that low. They have to get some return on their money in order to pay for their overhead – the offices, the employees, and such – and they’re also for-profit businesses that intend to earn money.

Now, if you’re talking about an overhaul of the system that would allow the Federal Reserve to lend directly to individuals at a much lower rate with the government collecting the profit, that would be an interesting proposal, but it would mean the end of the banking industry, at least as we know it. The government would likely have to take over the other services banks offer, because there simply isn’t much money to be earned in checking accounts or savings accounts or debit cards.

Given the power of the banking lobby in Congress, that would never happen.

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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