Questions About Moving, Apartment Babies, Weight Loss, Denim, 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. Arguing over frugality
2. Selling possessions before big move
3. Maximizing lifespan of blue jeans
4. Cheap deep fat fryer setup
5. Cracked tablet screen
6. Resolving debts to family members
7. Clothes during weight loss
8. Baby advice in tiny apartment
9. Car downsizing as a parent
10. Subscription service as gift
11. Roth TSP or normal TSP?
12. Basics of learning about money

Over the past few days, I took a trip out to Denver by myself to visit a family member and several friends. I had been intending to see them for a long time but had never really made the time to do so, but Memorial Day weekend offered that opportunity.

I drove out there and the thing that sticks in my mind about the entire drive is how the landscape slowly changed from the flatness of Nebraska and Kansas into the rise in altitude and the mountains on the horizon in Denver. The shift is gradual, but if you drive 100 miles or so from the western end of Nebraska well into Colorado, the change is really noticeable.

It’s funny – I can travel for several days and the things I remember about the trip are all about the landscapes and about the people I was with. Expensive meals fade quickly. So do expensive hotels. What I remember are the people and the scenery. To me, that’s a hint as to how I should plan vacations.

Q1: Arguing over frugality

My hubby and I sometimes argue about my cheapness. Whenever we have date nights I usually suggest doing something cheap and I buy store brands at the store and stuff. Sometimes he gets really frustrated and says that we don’t have to live like this and gives me the cold shoulder for a while. I don’t see anything wrong with how we live and we have no debt and plenty of money in the bank. Had a big blowup the other night. Not sure what to do and hope you have some good advice!
– Monique

Marriages work when you communicate and compromise with each other. It sounds to me like there are some areas of your spending choices that are bothering your husband.

What I’d suggest is sitting down sometime when he’s not angry and discuss things. Ask him specifically what things he’s bothered by, figure out which things bother him the most, and give a little in those areas. It may be that a certain brand of product has a strong sentimental value to him, so it’s worth buying it instead of the store brand that you buy, or maybe you can agree to his more expensive date night ideas sometimes.

At the same time, make sure he appreciates the strong financial state that you’re in and that you’re deeply worried about falling into a pattern of overspending that will undo that great financial state.

There’s a happy medium between the two things you’re both wanting here. The trick is finding it together in a peaceful way.

Q2: Selling possessions before big move

I currently live in a 1BR apartment in Sacramento. I accepted a job in Boston with a nice pay raise and am moving there in a month. My employer is paying for some moving expenses. I am considering what items it makes sense to move to Boston and what to sell off. Part of me wants to sell everything and move with basically two or three bags of stuff and then use the moving money and the sale money to buy new stuff when I arrive. I will pay a markup to replace a lot of this stuff though. Which is the smarter route?
– Jim

If I were single and moving across the country, I would probably lean toward selling off the vast majority of my possessions before the big move. I would not want to deal with the effort of moving so much stuff and, honestly, having less stuff means you have more flexibility.

To tell you the honest truth, if I were single, I’d mostly live out of a bag or two. I might have a small apartment somewhere, but it would be basically a place to rest my head and prepare a bit of food, not a place to spend my time. I’d spend a lot of time at community events, at the library, at Meetup events, and so on. I’d barely be home, so why have a bunch of stuff at home?

In your shoes, yes, I’d lean toward a big selloff. Unless your apartment is loaded with incredibly expensive decor and you plan to decorate it with similarly expensive stuff upon arriving in Boston, transporting your possessions will probably cost more than they’re worth, especially when you include the sale value of the items.

Q3: Maximizing lifespan of blue jeans

Do you have any suggestions for making jeans last as long as possible? Do they last longer if you wear them several times between washings?

I wear jeans pretty much any time I’m not in the office and so I wear out a lot of jeans and I want them to last as long as I can. My jeans usually wear out at the ankles first.
– Roger

Jeans most certainly do not need to be washed after every wearing. Inspect them when you’re done wearing them and if they’re actually dirty, wash them. If not, then don’t wash them.

Your instinct regarding the fact that washing jeans puts a lot of wear and tear on them is absolutely right. Washing machines are the primary source of damage to a lot of garments over time, and jeans are no different.

If you’re noticing a lot of wear on your jeans near the ankles, consider wearing slightly shorter jeans or “boot fit” jeans. This used to be a problem for me until I realized I was choosing jeans that were perhaps an inch or so longer than they needed to be, so now I get jeans with a shorter inseam and I rarely have this problem.

Q4: Cheap deep fat fryer setup

We often have fish fries where we will fry up a bunch of fish filets and whole fish and some onion rings and fries in a deep fat fryer that’s basically a big kettle of oil with a basket on top of a propane burner. We have to replace the burner every 2-3 years and the cost of all of the propane and oil adds up. Suggestions on keeping costs down?
– Dylan

I talked to an avid fisherman who often hosts fish fries in order to answer your question and he suggested three things.

First, if you’re just using the oil to cook fish and onion rings and fries, you can probably reuse the oil a few times. He suggests saving the oil in a big resealable container in the refrigerator between uses. At some point after it cools, strain the oil through several layers of cheesecloth at once to get out all of the tiny particle matter. He says you should be able to use the oil three times using this method before you should throw it out.

Second, he strongly encourages you to thoroughly clean your propane burner every few months because, according to him, propane burners don’t usually go bad that quick and there’s probably some clogging involved due to not cleaning it. He suggested using a cleaning brush and cleaning it thoroughly inside and out and to look up a guide on how to do it for your model if you’re not sure.

Finally, he says that if you’ve got the oil heated up, you should cook plenty of fish filets because they’re quite good when reheated and you can eat leftovers. This reduces the propane cost per piece of fish. Just store them in a container with paper towels separating the layers. If you’re making fries that are just sliced potatoes dropped in the fryer, I recommend making extras of those, too, as those are good reheated as well in my experience.

Q5: Cracked tablet screen

I have an iPad Pro which I use so much that it’s now my main/only computer. I have a keyboard case for it and use it for email and writing and then I take off the case for lap use and reading.

A few months ago, I cracked the edge of it. There’s a crack that extends into the screen area. When you’re using it, you definitely notice the crack. It’s visible when you’re watching or reading something. However, the touch interface is just dead around the crack and it makes it hard to open the app that’s in that area of the screen and can sometimes mess up other interface issues.

When do I make the leap and just replace the thing? It still works, mostly, but the cracked part is a constant annoyance.
– Connie

The first thing I’d do is look into the cost of getting the screen repaired. Is it under any kind of warranty? Did you get a protection plan for it that might cover it?

I’d take the device to an Apple Store and have them look at it and provide an estimate for repair. If it’s high, you can also talk to independent phone and tablet repair shops, who may be able to repair it at a nice price. You may find that it is far less expensive to repair the screen than it is to buy a replacement.

If you do need to go for a replacement, do your homework first and take your time. Evaluate your needs very carefully. What does your tablet actually do for you? Are there other devices that could do all of those things at a lower price? Do you need the most current version of that tablet, or would an older one suffice?

Q6: Resolving debts to family members

I am a former meth user who has been clean for three years. During that time I borrowed a lot of money from family members to feed my habit. I kept track of those debts in a notebook. Now that I have a good job I am starting to try to pay them back but all of them keep telling me no and that it is forgiven and that I have repaid them by getting clean. But I am still feeling really guilty about taking their money and using it for drugs and stupid things.

I borrowed money from my older brother, my uncle, and my mom. For my brother I am going to pay him back by putting money in a college savings plan for my nephew and for my uncle I am going to do the same for his daughter. For my mom, I am going to put money in a savings account and buy her a car to replace her old beater.

What is the best way to do these things?
– David

David, first of all, I have a ton of respect for your character, not just for getting yourself clean, but for wanting to make things right. Your family is full of awesome people, too, as they seem to have just forgiven this debt that you owe to them.

If these moves will make your conscience clear, then you should absolutely do so, but you shouldn’t feel like you have to. Consider this not a repayment of debt, but a gift back to them.

It’s pretty easy to start a 529 college savings plan with a relative as a beneficiary. Just look up the 529 system in your state and start plans for each of those two children and start socking away money in there when you can until you feel things are right. If I were you, I’d keep quiet with the account until they start to move toward making plans for their post-high school lives, then I’d tell their parents first. It’s pretty hard for a parent to refuse a 529 with their kid on it as a beneficiary.

As for your mother, I’d simply sock money away in a savings account, and do it as quickly as you reasonably can so that you can replace that old car that sounds like it might be on its last legs. Just get a savings account at your local bank and start socking money away in there.

You’re making great moves here and it sounds like you have a good family around you. You’ll be just fine.

Q7: Clothes during weight loss

In November I weighed 415 lbs and now I’m down to 355 and I don’t intend to stop. I’ve figured out a rhythm that really works for me and I can stick with it for the rest of my life. I mostly eat what I like for supper with some portion control in mind and eat healthy stuff for other meals.

My problem is that a lot of my clothes aren’t fitting well any more – they are really clown sized on me. I intend to lose another 100 pounds in the next year, so if I buy anything that fits well right now, it will be too big in a few months too.

What’s the cost effective approach to clothes that you will only wear for a while?
– Tim

The best approach you can take is to shop for your entire wardrobe (sans underwear and socks) at Goodwill and other secondhand stores for now and only switch to buying other garments when you start to get really close to your target weight.

I highly recommend going to secondhand clothing stores that are fairly near wealthy neighborhoods, because you’ll often find that such stores are loaded with items that are high quality and practically new. I am amazed at the clothes items that can be found at secondhand stores near the pricier neighborhoods in Des Moines, for example.

Just buy whatever you like that fits. Since all of it is pretty inexpensive, you don’t have to worry about it too much. Then, in six months, when those clothes don’t fit well any more, take the whole bundle back to a secondhand store. You’re effectively renting those clothes for pennies per use.

Q8: Baby advice in tiny apartment

My wife and I share a 400 square foot studio apartment. We currently are expecting a baby in early October. We considered moving but the cost of everything around here is so high that we just can’t make a larger apartment work and a house is just out of the question.

I came across some of your early articles where you describe living in a small apartment with a baby. Do you have any advice on making it work?
– Stephen

To back up a bit, in 2005, my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world. From 2005 to 2007, we lived in a roughly 600 square foot apartment with that baby and didn’t move until a second one was on its way.

The best trick you can use is to recognize that, besides a crib of some kind, you really don’t need much large stuff devoted just to your baby. You don’t need a changing table, as you can basically turn any surface into a changing table with a towel. You don’t need lots of big toys or anything like that. A baby needs love, food, clean clothes, closeness, and soft words. You can provide all of that with very little stuff.

Just focus on what you need for the baby, not what you think you should have. Quite often, a baby’s actual needs are much less than the stuff that parents are tempted to buy during the “nesting” period, where hormones are telling people to prepare their home for a baby and marketers manipulate that emotion like crazy.

Remember what a baby needs. A baby needs love, food, clean clothes, closeness, warmth, and soft words. That’s it. You don’t need a ton of space or a ton of stuff to provide those things.

Q9: Car downsizing as a parent

The argument I’ve always made about getting rid of a vehicle is that it means our children would have to drop out of activities they enjoy. Our two oldest children are both on soccer teams for example and there are just times where it is impossible to get them both to their practices or games without two cars. One of them at least would have to drop out of soccer if we downsized a car.
– Anna

There are definitely life situations where downsizing a car isn’t the best move for you or your family. The thing that really matters is whether the question is even being considered or not, and if it is, whether it’s being considered seriously or not.

If you can point to routine things – things that actually happen on a regular basis in your life – where your current vehicle count is necessary or provides a tremendous time savings, then it probably doesn’t make sense to downsize. It sounds like you’re in that very situation when it comes to soccer practices.

For us, the real challenge would be situations where our children are sick at school, which happens every few months. I am at a loss as to how we would handle that situation. Normally, given my job flexibility, I simply go get sick children and take care of them, but if I were without a car, I couldn’t do that. We’ve brainstormed many times to try to come up with realistic solutions to this problem (and a few other similar ones) and we haven’t figured it out. So, for now, we remain a two vehicle household.

Q10: Subscription service as gift

What do you think of giving someone a subscription to a service that delivers boxes of goodies each month? Are these good gifts?
– Tammy

I think the idea behind it is good. If you put in the time to choose a service that really matches their interest, then it’s worthwhile.

However, the vast majority of the time, the contents of the crate simply don’t add up in value to make the sticker price worth it. It just doesn’t add up.

Most of the time, you’re better off finding a hobby store that the person you love is really into and buying them a gift certificate to that hobby store. Figure out what they like, figure out a really good retailer that caters to that hobby with really good prices, and give them a gift certificate to that store equal to what you would have spent on the crate subscription. The recipient will then get a lot of stuff he or she really wants from that certificate rather than the mixed bag that comes in a crate.

Q11: Roth TSP or normal TSP?

I am a federal employee and want to start contributing to my TSP but I do not understand the difference between Roth TSP and regular TSP. The guy at work that tried to explain it just left me more confused. Which one should I pick?
– Brenda

So, you’ve gathered that TSP is the Thrift Savings Plan, which is a program for government employees to put aside money for their retirement. The way both TSP plans work is that they take money directly out of your paycheck and put it into your TSP account. Once it’s in there, there are restrictions on how you can use it, but in general, if you wait until retirement, you can use it more or less however you wish.

To understand the difference between the two, you need to step back and think about your paycheck before TSP. As it is now, you get paid a certain amount, income taxes are taken out of that amount, and you receive a paycheck after those taxes are removed.

With a traditional TSP plan, you get paid a certain amount, then the TSP money is taken out, THEN taxes are taken out, then you receive a check out of what’s left.

With a Roth TSP plan, you get paid a certain amount, then taxes are taken out, THEN your money for your Roth TSP is taken out, then you receive a check out of what’s left.

Imagine, for example, that you’re paying 20% of your salary in income taxes and you’re contributing $100 per paycheck to your TSP plan. You make $1,000 per paycheck before anything is taken out.

With a traditional TSP, you get paid $1,000, you put $100 of that into TSP leaving you with $900, and then you pay 20% income tax on that $900, which is $180. You thus bring home $720 each paycheck.

With a Roth TSP, you get paid $1,000, you pay 20% income tax on that $1,000, which is $200, which leaves you with $800. You then put $100 into your Roth TSP, which means you bring home $700 each paycheck.

So why would a person ever use the Roth TSP? Well, the Roth TSP has a really big advantage when you retire: the money you take out of that account is tax free. You don’t have to pay income taxes on it in retirement. On the other hand, when you take money out of your regular TSP in retirement, you will have to pay income taxes on that money.

Which is better? It depends really on how flush you expect your retirement to be. If you’re young and plan on contributing for a lot of years, having at least some of your money in the Roth TSP is a good idea. If you’re older and won’t have a whole lot of years to contribute and don’t have other retirement savings, then you won’t save much in retirement with a Roth TSP and the other way is the right way to go.

Honestly, though, the fact that you’re saving at all blows away the relative advantages of each plan. One might cost you a little more than the other in taxes over the course of your life, but the difference won’t be enormous unless you’re saving a ton of money.

With all else being equal, I tend to lean toward the Roth option, simply because I don’t believe tax rates will remain this low forever and I’d rather pay lower rates now. I believe rates will go up, and thus they’ll be higher in retirement, and I’ll be glad to have money in a Roth so I won’t have to pay it then.

Q12: Basics of learning about money

Where should a person go to learn the basics about money? Like how to invest money and how to plan ahead for the future?
– Terry

If you’re looking for a good starting point, I’d suggest one of several personal finance books out there. My own book, The Simple Dollar, is one good entry point. It’s kind of a mix of memoir and personal finance advice.

For my own self-education on money, the most valuable books I picked up were Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, and The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, and Michael LeBoeuf.

You can get any of those books at your local library for free. Just head down there, get a library card if you don’t have one, and borrow them for a few weeks! If you find one is really useful as a reference, then consider buying it!

For online reading, a great place to start would be my own book-length series, 31 Days to Financial Independence, which is entirely free.

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 of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.