Questions About Retirement, Motivation, Eggs, Time Management, 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. Figuring out retirement investment options
2. “Done” when I retire
3. To do list specifics
4. When should I quit?
5. Real estate questions
6. Staying motivated to save
7. Journals after filling
8. Egg sale question
9. Interesting use for leftovers
10. Blocking off time
11. Walking shoe suggestions
12. Triggering questions

This was one of those weeks where almost everything I wrote generated several good follow-up questions or comments, so this mailbag issue is pretty heavy with questions and issues related to things you may have read in the past week.

On with the questions!

Q1: Figuring out retirement investment options

I am a 36 y/o working in the medical profession. I am newly married with no children. I am slowly working on a financial turnaround, which has been prompted by credit card debt that I allowed to get away from me.

I am embarrassed to say that I am also just now starting to contemplate my future retirement. My employer offers a 3% contribution regardless of my allotment. I wish to match that 3% on my own. I am currently staring at my 401(k) election form from my employer and have no idea what I am doing.

I have followed TSD for some time now and it has been truly educational and motivating for me. I know that you have a history with Vanguard and seem pleased with them. I have a wide variety of Vanguard options; including: the 500 Index Adm, Mid Cap Index Adm, Small Cap Index Adm, Total Intl Stock Index Adm, Total Bond Market Index Adm and Equity-Income Adm. Plus, there are also options for T. Rowe Price target retirement funds, of which the 2050 would likely be the best match – I would be 68 at that time. I have attempted some research on my own, but feel overwhelmed by all of the options. I am eager to find some direction.
– Jane

The answer really depends on how much time you want to spend on your investments – learning about investing, reading articles, and so on. If this sounds… not particularly enjoyable to you, the T. Rowe Price target retirement 2050 fund is a solid choice in which you can simply put all of your retirement savings and be just fine.

Now, if you want to beat that fund’s performance, you probably can, but it will take a fair amount of time getting up to speed on all of your retirement options. What you’d likely be aiming to do is match that target retirement fund or go slightly more aggressive (meaning a higher percentage of stocks) while you’re young. This would mean studying up on a lot of different funds to see what compares to the contents of the target retirement fund and building your own set of funds that somewhat matches what they’re doing with better individual selections.

You may or may not be interested in that extra effort. It likely will earn you a better return on your money, but how much better is really hard to say, and it will take some effort. It’s really your call.

Q2: “Done” when I retire

I am 62 years old and obviously not ready to retire yet. However, I do think about it. I’d like to work till age 70 or even 72 (my health is excellent & I enjoy my job), and after that I would like to be done. I mean, done. I have worked virtually all my life. First taking care of my alcoholic mom & abusive dad and raising my brother and sister; then working my way through college, helping my sister with her college expenses, and raising 2 kids, one of whom has autism. You know the drill. I won’t bore you with it. I feel no real “pull” to volunteer in my later years, or to get yet another job, or anything like that. I feel really guilty about it. Any ideas?
– Nina

What do you mean by “done”? What do you envision your days being like when you’re retired?

Whatever you choose to do, I strongly strongly discourage you from just sitting in a chair and growing old when you retire. Many people who retire fully fall into that trap of just sitting in their chair and growing old with a quick decline. My own great grandfather did exactly this. It’s not an enjoyable decline for anyone.

I strongly encourage you to figure out how exactly you’ll fill your days when you retire, and being sedentary all day long and not doing anything at all is a poor idea. For your own health and quality of life, you should do something. It doesn’t have to be work or volunteering – just figure out some things you actually enjoy doing that aren’t sedentary and do them. (You can do some sedentary things, too, just do them in balance.)

If you have adequate income to live on, the world is your oyster. Do whatever it is you want! Just do something, and you have time to figure out what that something is.

Q3: To do list specifics

What kind of detail do you put into your to do lists? Like do you include things like brushing your teeth? Or is it just big stuff?
– Andy

My rule of thumb is that if something is going to take more than two minutes or if it’s something I can’t conveniently do right this instant, it goes on my to do list. Otherwise, I just do it immediately and don’t worry about it.

The exception to that are things that are more along the line of checklists, like my morning routine. I try really hard to make my morning routine as much of a “routine” as possible so that I’m doing the same things every day and they get me as set up as possible for a successful work day. Those types of “checklists” will have things that take less than two minutes on it.

Some other “checklists” I have include my current exercise routine, my “kids home from school” routine, and my normal evening routine. Each of those has at least one item that takes less than two minutes on it.

So, no, I don’t add things like “brush my teeth” to my to-do list unless I’m sitting at my desk working, run my tongue along my teeth, and realize that I need to brush them and just jot it down to do later or something like that (I don’t t think this has happened, but it could happen).

Q4: When should I quit?

I have been working at a small software firm for two years. While I have learned a lot here and the pay is good, the people running this firm are insane tyrants. They constantly put us on unrealistic dev schedules and go crazy when we don’t meet their stupid deadlines. They yell and scream and throw books and stuff. They tell us that every waking hour we spend not sleeping or eating during crunch time should be spent coding and that we can use this money we’re earning when we’re millionaires later.

It’s absolutely crazy and I am sick half the time because I eat like crap and don’t get enough exercise. I don’t want to work here any more. I am fine financially but I don’t want to burn bridges in the industry. I have asked about this on software sites and the advice is always JUST QUIT AND YOU WILL FIND WORK ELSEWHERE ASAP but I don’t like to jump into the complete unknown like that. Advice?
– David

Right now, go update your resume on every website that you might ever want to have your resume on. Make sure it’s completely correct with your current information and skill set and work history.

If you have any friends in the industry that you trust deeply, contact them discreetly (using non-work email or other private means) and ask if they know of any openings or if they can pass along your info discreetly to any hiring agents. Keep this private and completely separate from your work.

Do not include anyone in your current workplace as a reference. If you’re trying to get out of a workplace in which there’s a climate of fear, you’re likely not getting a good reference anyway. Just note that references are available upon request and if they’re requested, give references that don’t include the angry people at work.

If you do get a job offer (and you negotiate and accept it), tell your current boss immediately, give your two weeks’ notice, and do not even listen to a counteroffer, no matter how great they make it sound. Get out of there.

Q5: Real estate questions

Why do you never talk about investing in real estate? You talk all the time about stock investing but never real estate investing?!
– Daniel

There are a bunch of reasons, but they really boil down to three core ones.

First, it’s pricy. You either have to be willing to leverage yourself into a lot of debt to get started or else invest a lot of your own money. Debt leveraging is a risky proposition because if the real estate market ever burps, you can end up in a huge mess very quickly, so I don’t recommend that route. I generally don’t talk about super high risk investments unless readers in large numbers email me about them. I also don’t talk about investments with a large up front cost.

Second, it’s a lot of work. If you’re involved in the usual entry level method of real estate investment (meaning you’re not leveraging or investing large sums of money), you’re probably serving as a landlord for a house or two or a small apartment building. That ends up being a lot of work – you’re repairing all kinds of things, doing all kinds of maintenance, and so on. Managing even a small handful of properties ends up being at least a part time job. If you hire someone to do the property management for you, you’ve drastically cut into your income and it ends up often being not all that great of an investment (back to the risk issue again).

Third, aside from the risk elements noted above, it still remains a risky proposition for most investors. You have legal risk. You have “all of your eggs in one basket” risk. If you’re taking on a lot of debt, you’re looking at leverage risk, as mentioned above. Those are risks above and beyond most investments.

Added together, real estate investing is great for the small subset of people who don’t mind the risk and relish that type of work, but for everyone else, it’s not a good choice. It’s a type of investment that requires a lot of active involvement even if you hire a management company and involves a lot of risk.

Q6: Staying motivated to save

I’m saving up for a new house, and I need a high-flux Internet connection that is non-satellite for my work-from-home full-time job. This typically means I need cable Internet with about 200 Mbps down and 20 up. I want to live on a large property in a custom-built home in a rural area near a college town, because I may want to resume teaching part-time at the college level. How do I keep motivated to save? I’m debt free, high-net worth, and saving and investing over 50% of my take-home pay. I have approximately 35% of the total amount saved so far for the new home. My neighbors, to add to this conundrum, are a problem, but I’m ignoring them and carrying on with my plan, although it is a constant source of annoyance…trying to remain focused on the goal. It will take about 4 more years to reach that goal. I’ve considered buying an interim house elsewhere, with a loan and large downpayment, to get away from the neighbors. House prices are high so it would be a good time to sell my current place. I guess I need a pep talk! I already do mindfulness practices such as Zen meditation, yoga, and journaling.
– Alice

For me, it’s honestly not motivation to save that brings financial success, believe it or not. Once the initial excitement of turning my financial ship around wore off – the “honeymoon” was over, in other words – I attribute almost all of my continued financial success to one thing: automation.

Sarah and I automate almost all of our savings. Money comes directly out of our accounts for things such as emergencies, retirement, college education for our children, and big upcoming expenses like car replacements. We do not even think about it most of the time, to tell the truth. It just happens.

Instead, most of our focus is on making our day-to-day ends meet on the relatively smaller pool of money that stays behind in our checking account after all of those transfers. We put ourselves in a position where we have to be at least a little careful with our money. We’re frugal so that we can afford some nice things without ever touching that automated savings.

My suggestion: when you’re really consciously focused on financial planning and saving for the future, set up something and fully automate it. Then, once that’s done, you’re left with the task of making ends meet with the remainder of your pay. Each period, your check will be a bit smaller, or each month, money will just vanish out of your checking. How will you make ends meet? It becomes a practical problem rather than a motivational problem.

Q7: Journals after filling

What do you do with your journals after you fill them up? Do you save them or throw them away?
– Anna

I do both, actually. Every few days, I take pictures of my last several pages of journal entries, giving me a digital copy of all of my journal entries. I do this right into Evernote, which makes the pages searchable. I generally create a single note within Evernote for each day of journal entries, which sometimes consists of several images if I have several pages of journal scribbling.

I usually burn journals once they’re filled and I’ve scanned all the pages. I’ll literally toss them into a campfire. I’ll save them during the winter and burn them all during the summer. I really have no interest in anyone else reading the things I’ve written and that takes care of the problem.

I do have a few journals I’m saving, but they’re journals being written for my children that contain things like family history and some life advice I want to make sure to share with them in adulthood if I’m not around to do so.

Q8: Egg sale question

About a month ago a local store had a huge sale on eggs. They must have had some kind of overstock or something. We bought about 12 dozen eggs and filled our fridge with them figuring we would use them for all kinds of things. We got through about 6 dozen and the rest are left and nearing expiration date. Don’t want to throw them out!
– Annie

My suggestion is to make breakfast burritos. A lot of breakfast burritos.

My actual method for doing so has changed recently. What I do now is beat two eggs together, put just a bit of oil or butter in a small skillet, then put the beaten eggs in the skillet over medium heat. I cook this until I can flip it, cook it for just a moment more, and then take it off and put it on a plate. I will make these “egg discs” using as many eggs as I have – if you have 6 dozen, you can make 36 discs.

Then, get a big soft flour tortilla, lay it out flat, grab an egg disc and pat it dry, then lay that egg disc in the middle of the tortilla. Spread dry toppings on top of the egg – shredded cheese, salsa with minimal liquid, other vegetables, cooked sausage, whatever floats your boat. Do not add condiments unless you want a gooey mess when you reheat – if you want hot pepper, put in dried pepper flakes. Spread the ingredients evenly and thinly over the egg, then wrap the egg up in a tube with the ingredients inside. Wrap this tube in the tortilla, then put the finished burrito in a freezer safe container, like a quart Ziploc bag. Freeze them, then pull them out as needed.

I made a batch of burritos like this and it worked like a champ. I cooked all of the egg discs first, then I assembled all of the burritos.

Q9: Interesting use for leftovers

We really can’t seem to do leftovers more than twice. I found what I think a great resolution to this. I have a friend who lives alone, eats all convenient crap, etc. I bag up these leftovers and they are the perfect one person meal and he doesn’t see this as the third day of the leftovers. He feels loved, taken care of, and we feel like we’re helping someone who doesn’t cook and works far too many hours. Yep, probably enabling him to not learn to cook but I was single until my early 30s and I KNOW that cooking for one is just the loneliest feeling. (I have tried freezing these things but find we end up tossing them and then I feel bad that I coulda fed a hungry person ‘at the time of’.)
– Dana

Right in the midst of this comment is a great suggestion for leftover use. Just simply take your leftovers, package them as a standalone meal, freeze that standalone meal, and then pass it along to someone who can really use it.

In this case, Dana is passing along meals to a friend who works extremely hard and has little time for meal prep, which is definitely an awesome choice. Other good options: elderly relatives, shut-ins in your community, people recovering from medical challenges, depressed or grieving friends, and so on.

If you find yourself with leftovers regularly, consider adopting this as a practice. Make standalone meals, pop them in the freezer, use them yourself if needed, and give them away easily to friends and family and community members who could really use them.

Q10: Blocking off time

Could you explain a little more about what you mean by “blocking off time” in your calendar?
– Aaron


Most of the time, my calendar looks utterly full to the brim, around the clock. The truth is that many of those things are actually just blocks of time that I’m setting aside for specific purposes.

For example, I have a block of time from 10 PM to 5 AM for sleep each day. Most days, I have a block from 8 AM to noon for focused writing. I usually have a block from 5:30 AM to 8 AM for my morning routine. I have blocks in the afternoon and evening for family time and exercise and reading and light work tasks and so on. I also have a “flex time” block that I use to make up for blocks that were interfered with in some way.

I stick to these blocks as much as humanly possible, but sometimes other events interfere. When I add stuff to my calendar, it usually takes priority over those blocks, so on that day, I’ll compress some of the blocks or move others around or even delete some blocks.

The purpose of all of this is to keep myself moving. By planning my day like this in advance, I don’t fall into the trap of sitting around trying to decide what to do next. It’s extremely clear at any given moment what I should be doing.

Q11: Inexpensive walking shoes

Do you have a recommendation for good inexpensive walking shoes? Going on a trip that involves a lot of walking and don’t want to spend $200 on walking shoes.
– Chris

In terms of “bang for the buck” for walking, New Balance shoes tend to be the right choice. That’s pretty much their wheelhouse – high quality midrange walking and general use shoes – and they do it really well.

Cheap shoes tend to have little internal foot support and fall apart quickly. Your feet would regret such a purchase. Higher end shoes will work great, but they won’t offer a significant advantage over New Balance for an ordinary vacation with a lot of walking.

If you want a specific model, I’d suggest this men’s model and this women’s model, based on my own research, experience, and anecdotes from friends.

Q12: Triggering questions

I didn’t understand what you meant by how you use “triggers” in your article about getting things done.
– Bryan

This is a trick I learned from the book Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith, which I read earlier this year and which has really helped me start making some changes in my life. I’ve tweaked it just a little to work for me.

Basically, what I do each morning is think about several behavior changes I want to make in my own life to improve myself. For each one, I write a sentence like this:

I will try my best to eat a healthy diet today.
I will try my best to get a healthy amount of exercise today.

I have a list of eight of these statements. Each morning, I write each one of them down in my journal and think about that statement as I’m writing it. How will I eat a healthy diet today? I kind of visualize the day ahead of me a little bit.

Then, at the end of the day, I sit down and ask myself a very similar group of questions.

Did I do my best to eat a healthy diet today?
Did I do my best to get a healthy amount of exercise today?

Then, I give myself a score – a simple number between 1 and 10. 1 means I was absolutely atrocious in this regard; a 10 is as good as I could possibly hope to be in that regard.

On a 1 day for exercise, I did nothing at all. On a 10 day, I went to a vigorous taekwondo class, played soccer with my kids, walked 15,000 steps, and did my bodyweight exercise routine on a normal day. Sometimes, days are more challenging than others, so what I’m really focusing on is whether I put in the effort to really do my best at that individual thing.

I absolutely hate writing down a low number for the day on something I’m seriously trying to improve in my life. Seriously. I get really frustrated with myself when I have to write down a 1 or a 2 or a 3 on a day where there was no good reason for it.

This practice seems to really click with me for some reason, and it works with all kinds of habits. I highly recommend it. I will likely write a full article or two about it in the future.

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.