Questions About Hot Air, Credit Ratings, Loose Change, and More!

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Air escaping through the roof
2. What’s needed for personal loan?
3. Helping spouse get credit rating
4. Getting on same financial page
5. Reducing cost of family Thanksgiving
6. Cash and inflation
7. Locking down with a CD
8. Spouse wasting money on survivalism
9. Notebook of tasks
10. Value of online classes
11. Bank won’t take change
12. Elections and market timing

We have a small, extremely playful dog that our children picked out last summer from an animal rescue group. His previous owners simply didn’t have time to do much of anything with him, so he spent a lot of time alone in an empty house.

You can still see the reality of his previous experience in his behavior. He gets incredibly excited whenever someone comes home for the day. As soon as you approach the door he’s right up against the side window watching you come in and when you do come in he’s barking and jumping around your ankles and acts as if your arrival is the greatest thing that could have possibly happened. He plays a mean game of fetch and tug-of-war and has chased all mice and rabbits and other small mammals away from our yard. In short, he’s a pretty good dog.

The only minor complaint I have is that he barks furiously whenever someone is walking another dog near our house. He seems to genuinely view the other dog as potentially attacking our home and our family and thus he barks to warn them off. He often spends his time perched on the back of the couch so he can peer out the window and wait for dogs to go by so he can bark at them.

It turns out that this is a pretty big distraction when I’m working. His bark is almost perfect at interrupting me when I’m trying to get a task done, and even shutting myself up in my office doesn’t work because his barking is loud enough that it still interrupts me.

What’s the solution? Well, we’re trying several experiments. The most successful one thus far is to simply spray him with a water bottle when he barks as a nonviolent deterrent to his barking. He does not like to be sprayed with the bottle, so whenever my train of thought is interrupted by barking, I simply grab the spray bottle off my desk, head into the living room, and give him a couple of squirts. Another approach has been to just put him in my office with me and close the door so that he doesn’t hear the other dogs and he usually ends up sleeping at my feet (as he’s doing right now).

In other words, we’re trying out free solutions first for our challenge rather than turning to other things that might cost money, and it turns out that free solutions might just solve the problem.

Q1: Air escaping through the roof

I just wanted to add to your advice on sealing windows in the colder and (and warmer) months. Although a well-sealed window always helps, in many cases in older homes, the unseen culprit for a cold house is heat loss through your roof. Roofs that have batt insulation along the sloped roofs do not always have a tight seal around the joists at the soffits (similar to small gaps around drafty windows). The problem is that this exacerbates heat loss since heat naturally moves upward then immediately escapes at the uninsulated joist ends. This of course causes your furnace to continuously replace the warm air, and the monthly heating cost adds up without ever keeping you warm enough.

A DIY and quite frugal solution is to go into your attic with the lights off, and if you see daylight through any openings at the perimeter, you need to seal them up. You can buy spray foam insulation in a canister at any Home Depot and spray it into the openings. For larger openings, buy rigid insulation (pink or blue foam board), cut it into small pieces as needed, and then use the foam spray around it to keep it in place.

This is hopefully helpful advice for people who have not seen results with sealing windows and doors in the winter. There may be a larger unseen problem!
– Kelly

This is great advice!

There’s no reason not to head up to your attic this fall and look around for any poorly-sealed areas. If you see any daylight, then you’ve got an issue that should be sealed up, especially before winter begins.

I actually check our attic about once a year, just in case the foundation has shifted a little. I’ve never seen any sign of daylight and our attic is usually pretty warm, which seems to indicate good sealing up there.

Q2: What’s needed for personal loan?

I am inquiring about a personal loan. I have bad credit, but i also have a full time job. It pays $10.00 per hour. Do i qualify for a loan?
– Stephen

Honestly, if your credit is poor and you’re earning just $10 an hour, you probably won’t be able to get a personal loan from any sort of financial institution. They’ll want some kind of collateral in order to lend you money.

Rather than looking for more debt, your route to a better financial situation is through doing everything you can to fix that bad credit. That will definitely be a challenge at a $10 per hour job, even one that offers full time hours, but it can be done. Live as cheap as you can, for starters, and do everything you can to bring every bill you have up to date, then start whittling down any debts that you have.

It’s a hard road, but if you ever want to get to a point where bad credit isn’t dogging you and you have some control over your financial state, it’s a road you’re going to have to take.

Q3: Helping spouse get credit rating

I recently got married and my husband has NO credit. There is literally nothing on his report (he is 25, I am 26). I want to help him build credit because we would like apply for a mortgage in 3-5 years. I added him as an authorized user on my account so he at least has *something*. Should he wait any length of time for this to help him before applying for his own credit card? I just don’t know what/when the next step should be.
– Gail

Your next step would be to wait a few months, then check his credit report at the government’s annual credit report website. Make sure that the credit card he’s authorized on is showing up on his credit report, because that’s the only way he’s going to start building credit.

If it does show up, he can apply for a card in his own name and should get one with a low credit limit. I see no reason to remove him as an authorized user on your card, though, as it should mostly serve as a continued credit boost for him.

If it doesn’t show up, contact your credit card company and make absolutely sure that they’re reporting his authorization on your card to the credit bureaus.

If he’s still getting declined, you can head down to your local credit union and get him a secured credit card. A secured credit card is essentially one where you pay a deposit before getting the card. Once you have the card, it functions like a normal card unless you misuse it (at which point your deposit is used to pay your bill) or you cancel it, at which point you receive your deposit back. It’s a great “option of last resort” for building credit.

Q4: Getting on same financial page

Was wondering if you can help – my husband and I recently got married and I’m having a hard time getting on the same page with him in regards to finance. Every time I bring something up like following Dave Ramsey’s baby steps or combining finances, he always verbally agrees, but doesn’t really help in actuality. How can I get him to be more collaborative with me? It really just seems like it’s me spitting out suggestions, him agreeing, and then nothing happens.
– Lindsay

Here’s the thing: actions speak louder than words. Your husband might talk a good game about being on board with you, but his actions indicate that he’s not really on board with the changes you’re suggesting.

You can’t make him be more collaborative with you. You can’t make anyone do anything if they don’t want to do it. It’s up to him to do it.

Having said that, if he’s seemingly telling you one thing and doing another, that’s a sign of a lack of honesty in your relationship. There’s a communication failure going on somewhere, whether it’s you taking more out of what he’s actually saying or him overpromising and underdelivering. If you can’t have trustful communication with your spouse, you’re facing real marital troubles.

Since I’m not there to see what’s actually going on, my suggestion would be to sit down with your husband and try to spell everything out as clearly as humanly possible. Focus not on “going through a program,” but on real tangible steps that move in the right direction. Try to choose steps that would be easy for him to follow – perhaps ones that give you greater control over your shared financial responsibilities where he perhaps gives you some money each month and then you handle the bills while he retains a portion of his paycheck to spend freely.

Remember, compromise is the only way things work in a marriage. If you can’t meet in the middle, you’re going to have constant troubles.

Q5: Reducing cost of family Thanksgiving

For the cost of hosting family Thanksgiving, how about everyone bring something? This is different from what has been done but is a lot less work for the host and not that much for each family member.
– Nina

This is a great idea if everyone lives locally. However, that’s often not the case for family Thanksgivings. With my wife’s extended family, for example, everyone who would attend their Thanksgiving dinner lives in different places spread across five cities in three different states. It’s really difficult for someone coming from a couple of hours away to bring a side dish to a Thanksgiving dinner.

A better idea would be to simply split the financial burden and the work. Have a family conversation about the realities of Thanksgiving dinner when responsibilities begin to shift. Who’s willing to put in some work? Who’s willing to put in some money?

The solution to a situation where the hosting of a family Thanksgiving meal is changing is usually best found by having a candid conversation with everyone involved.

Q6: Cash and inflation

i’ve read many places that it’s a bad idea to keep a good amount of cash in reserves, since inflation devalues the cash. So assuming I have my 3-5 months of emergency fund saved up, what are some of the more popular methods of storing that cash? I’m assuming some stable index funds or etfs? Witha mix of stocks and bonds, but still a chance of decline, no? Not sure my 1% savings account is the right direction.
– Eric

Most investments outside of cash involve a great deal of risk over a short timeframe. If the stock market returned 7% like clockwork each year, having your money in the stock market would make a ton of sense. However, that 7% is an average and it includes years with 40% drops in value, and if you need your money just a year or two down the road, you can easily be facing a loss in value. A lot of investments really only make sense for the long term.

Basically, if you think there’s a strong chance you’ll need that cash in the next year or two, then a savings account is definitely the right answer.

So, where do CDs fit into all of this? I think they’re the right vehicle if you’re very sure you’re going to need that money in a year or two, but you won’t need it in the next several months. For example, if you’re saving for a new car and intend to buy it in 2018, a CD can be a good place to stick that cash and earn a better return than a savings account for the time being.

I really wouldn’t even think about any sort of stock market investment unless you’re either a very active “day trading” type of investor or your time horizon is more than a few years out. Bonds are somewhat safer, but they tend to run the same gamut – the most secure bonds earn little more than a savings account and you have to start taking on real risk to earn more than that.

Q7: Locking down with a CD

My scenario: 30 yrs old. 250,000 net worth. Married. School teacher and NGO worker. Wife is 14 seeks pregnant. Living overseas for 20 more months. We have 76k+ in an Ally savings account earning 1% as part of our future home down payment (99k). Adding $2,390 every month. What do you think about taking 50k and locking it in an 18mth CD with Ally at a 1.3% rate of return. Rate chasing…but 15-20 min of work for over $100 in gains… Appreciate your time and wisdom.
– Drew

My advice to Eric in the question above really does apply almost perfectly to you, too.

It looks to me like you’re shooting to buy a house in 2018. In that case, putting that money in an 18 month CD to earn a better rate than you’re getting right now in savings is a pretty solid choice. You have no intent to touch that money in that 18 month period, but you’re going to want it shortly after that period expires.

As I mentioned above, other investments are still pretty volatile for that short of a timeframe. I think a CD is a safe but very solid choice for your situation.

Q8: Spouse wasting money on survivalism

I have a difficult situation with my spouse and I am hoping that you can help me figure out what to do. My husband is completely convinced that the dollar is going to be worthless very soon and is spending basically every dime we have on survivalist crap. He bought like 100 pounds of seeds that are just sitting in a box in the downstairs closet and he keeps buying more and more ammo. We have tons of prepackaged meals that almost fill up our guest bedroom so we can’t really have guests stay any more. He is talking about cashing out his 401(k) to build a wind turbine and some other stuff so we can go off the grid when “things go bad.” We’re 52 and if he cashes out our 401(k) we’re going to have a hard time retiring at all before we die.

Whenever I try to talk some sense into him he just tells me that the money is worthless and not even worth the paper it’s printed on.

Is there any approach I can take here to keep him from sacrificing our future?
– Anna

Before I say anything else, I think that spending your extra money on things that improve long-term self-reliance and independence and security are fine. If you budget for it and plan for it, for example, a wind turbine can have a very positive effect on your electricity bill going forward and it’ll be a godsend if the power grid ever fails.

Having said that, sacrificing your financial future at the altar of something that is fairly unlikely to happen in the near future is not a strong choice. Regardless of the words of any doomsday prognosticators, the United States still has one of the strongest economies in the world and, in the era of globalism, most major world economies are linked together so tightly that trouble in one nation will be buoyed by the trade agreements with other nations. In short, it would be almost impossible for America to fall off the cliff without some sort of external event happening (like a global pandemic or something) and those types of external events are rare.

You should never sacrifice security in the current world for some sense that things might be slightly better for you in one fairly rare hypothetical future. That’s just not reasonable or sound planning of any kind.

Having said that, some degree of compromise is healthy. Your family should probably be preparing at least somewhat for these events if your husband believes in it so strongly, but it should not go to the extent of wrecking your future. Closing out a 401(k) plan should be off the table because of the damage it could do to your finances in the most likely future.

Q9: Notebook of tasks

Just wanted to share a productivity strategy that I learned from my mom. This is something she did her whole life.

Basically, I just keep a notebook with me all the time. I write down tasks as I become aware of them with a dash at the start and a little bit of indenting on additional lines if they’re needed so I can quickly see each separate task. I basically just spend each day doing the tasks in the notebook, crossing them off as I complete them and adding new ones to the bottom. At the end of the day, I go back to the last few pages and copy forward any tasks that were undone from previous days so that I never have to look back more than a page or two for my current tasks.

It works really well for me. I use a steno notebook and keep a pen in the spiral at the top. I work as a surveyor.
– Dennis

This is actually pretty similar to what my own mother used to do – and she still does it during busy times in her life. She actually even uses a steno notebook for it.

Honestly, it’s not all that different than most other to-do list strategies. Most electronic to-do list managers essentially do the same thing as this. Whenever you “cross off” a task, it just disappears, leaving you with just the things left undone. It’s just a bit less physical than a steno book and a pen.

Personally, I find that writing things down is better for things that need to be more permanent in my brain. I trust my electronic task list for the tasks I have to do. I prefer to use pen and paper for things I want to learn and embed in my mind.

Q10: Value of online classes

What is the value of taking an online class if you don’t receive any kind of certification from it? You can’t put it on a resume or anything.
– Daniel

The value of taking an online class is that you learn something from taking it, and having a diversity of ideas in your head and skills in terms of solving problems means that you’re more likely to come up with novel solutions to the problems you face in the workplace and in life.

You’re pretty much always adding value to your life whenever you’re learning new ideas or a new skill. It doesn’t matter whether you earn a certification or not. That certification might look good on a resume, but that certificate won’t help you develop a great new idea in a pinch. That comes from the learning.

The question is whether you want to actually be the person with those novel ideas and solutions, or you just want to be the person with a padded resume.

Q11: Bank won’t take change

I keep my pocket change in a big glass on my dresser and in the past I have taken it to the bank when the change glass is full and cashed it in to take my wife out to dinner. I went to the bank with my change on Friday and they said that they no longer accept loose change. What can you do with loose change if the bank won’t take it?
– Arnie

For starters, try calling other local banks and see if they do change sorting for account holders. If they do, consider taking your business there, because that’s a very worthwhile service for a bank to have.

If that’s not really an option for you, you can at least take a peek at Coinstar, which operates kiosks in many grocery stores. They’ll take your change, but there’s a fee involved if you want cash. They’ll also give you a fee-free gift card to a bunch of different retailers if you’d prefer that instead.

If that doesn’t work, try spending it for small purchases. Keep some of it in your vehicle for tolls. Have change in your pocket so that you can actually hand over the change instead of receiving it – give over eight dollar bills and 41 cents in change instead of handing over nine dollar bills and receiving back 59 cents in change.

Q12: Elections and market timing

Would it be a good idea to buy mutual funds just before election day? Because of the uncertainty of this election the markets will go down just days before.
– Roger

Market timing is a bad idea, period. It almost never works out well, for a lot of reasons.

My belief is that the stock market has already incorporated the likely outcome of the presidential election and the other races that go along with it this November 8. Unless there is an unexpected event – the proverbial “October surprise” – I don’t anticipate any changes in the stock market in the days leading up to the election. There might be a rise or a drop the day after the election as a large likelihood shifts to a certainty, but it’s really hard to tell in what direction that will go.

My advice is to just ignore all of it and keep doing what you’re doing. It might go up or down depending on the day’s news, but it’ll balance itself out in fairly short order.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. 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 many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.