Questions About Treasurys, Beards, Market Peaks, Camping, 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. Morality of government Treasurys
2. Several loans with equal interest
3. Leaving New York
4. Camping or glamping?
5. Journal suggestions?
6. Frugal beard care
7. Worried about market highs
8. Cheap or free fitness suggestions
9. Getting paid less than others
10. “Chaining” no-spending days
11. Advice on trying vegetarianism
12. Podcasts on better financial choices

I get these really weird mild winter colds sometimes. They don’t drag me down into feeling miserable, but they just deliver one or two really annoying symptoms into my life.

I had one earlier this winter that was nothing more than a sore throat that stuck around for several days. Other than that, I felt fine.

This time, I have one that’s just an endless runny nose. Other than the fact that my nose is running like a leaky faucet, I feel fine.

I can’t wait for summer.

Onward to reader mailbag questions…

Q1: Morality of government Treasurys

I have been a 60-year-old retiree from government employment for a year now. My retirement income is rather small and is from a previous employer (I’m planing to withdraw that small pension when I am eligible at age 62); so, I’m having qualms about whether or not I should withdraw the money I have in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) sooner rather than later.

My main concern is over how my money in the least risky G Fund is invested, as follows (from www.tsp.gov website):

The G Fund assets are managed internally by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. The G Fund buys a non-marketable U.S. Treasury security that is guaranteed by the U.S. Government. This means that the G Fund will not lose money.

I invested this way because of my age and the fact that I figured that my investment was being put to best. In other words, it would not be used by companies who are pro-abortion and/or who don’t care about protecting the environment; however, the people at TSP don’t seem to be all that knowledgeable when I asked them as to where the money in this fund actually goes.

Do you know if the money in this fund is put to good moral and environmentally responsible use? If I learn that where it goes is against my principles, I can’t, in good conscience, leave it in there and thus will be compelled to take it out now.
– James

The G Fund that you describe here is invested in the federal government itself, not in businesses. In essence, the investments in the G Fund help cover our national debt.

Each year, the United States spends more money than it brings in via taxes. It has to make up for that somehow – it needs to bring in more money so it can keep paying the bills, right? The way it does that is by issuing Treasury notes of various kinds. These are essentially promises from the government that they’ll repay you a certain amount of money at a certain time.

For example, a 10-year Treasury note is an agreement with the government that they’ll pay you a certain amount of interest every six months and then pay you the value of that Treasury note in 10 years. So, for example, you might be able to buy a 10-year treasury note with a face value of $10,000 and interest payments of $100 every six months. The price of that note actually varies, and that’s what might make it a good investment. You might pay, say, $9,500 for that note, and then every six months for the next 10 years, you’ll get $100, and then at the 10-year mark, you get $10,000. The government gets $9,500 immediately to pay the bills and you get more in return over the next several years.

So, basically, the G Fund just buys a lot of those Treasury notes (and variations on that idea, but they all boil down to more or less the same thing). The G Fund basically enables our country to pay down its debt.

Now, here’s the thing: Those investments are very important. They provide a very secure place for people to put their money. Since they’re guaranteed by the US government, they’re about as safe as humanly possible. It is very important for the US financial system that the US government continues to issue such investments, and they’d likely continue to issue them even if we weren’t in debt (they’d find some other use for the money, I’m sure).

So don’t think of them purely as “financing the US debt.” The reality is that Treasury notes just help our government meet its budget, and they’d do so even if we were bringing in enough taxes to cover our budget because the financial system of the United States needs those kinds of ultra-safe investments. Our nation would find other ways to spend that money, I’m sure.

Is that an ethically sound investment? Really, you have to make the call on that one. I personally feel that, as the ethics of investment options go, Treasury notes are pretty ethical. I would not have any personal objections to owning such investments.

Q2: Several loans with equal interest

We are trying to pay off my wife’s school loans and regularly pay double our monthly amount due. We received a bonus this year and will most likely continue to receive that going forward if she stays at her current job. We would like to start putting this bonus $ toward the school loans every year to knock them out even faster. So my question is – does it make any difference, other than psychologically, how we apply this extra payment? Context: My wife has several loans with different balances but the same interest rate of 6%. Does it matter if we put all of the bonus $ toward a larger balance loan or completely knock out some of the smaller loans? Since they are the same interest rate does it make any difference at all?
– Sam

If they’re all of equal interest rate, the best route is to knock out the smaller loans.

The reason is simple: if you get rid of smaller loans, you reduce the minimum monthly payment you have to spend each month. In other words, if things became difficult in your life, you would be facing a smaller slate of monthly bills.

That doesn’t mean you should start budgeting in that way. The best thing for you to do is to not reduce the amount you’re paying in total towards your student loans, and instead convert that extra amount (the amount you would have paid toward student loans that are now paid off) into an extra payment on one of your remaining loans – ideally, the one that now has the smallest balance.

Keep knocking them out like this and you’ll be debt free in no time.

Q3: Leaving New York

I work a location-independent job and recently found out that if I were to move, my salary wouldn’t change. I live in a very expensive suburb on Long Island and I feel like I am wasting a ton of money by staying here. New York’s taxes are famously absurd, plus the cost of virtually everything is inflated because that too is taxed. Moving to a state with no income tax would immediately save me over $10k/year, and although those states tend to collect taxes in other ways, all of those taxes are lower than what I’m paying now.

My wife and I are of the mindset that the grass is greener virtually everywhere other than here. But is it? We are concerned that moving would actually cost us money. We moved into our house four years ago, and closing and moving costs were close to $30k, moving again, especially a long distance, would be another ~$10k in closing and moving costs. The house has definitely appreciated since we moved in, but the best I could hope for is breaking even if I sold today.

We also just had our first baby and plan to have a couple more fairly quickly. School districts are going to be a very important factor going forward and I wouldn’t want to move somewhere to save money, only to have to spend that money on private school.

In my head, I feel like I’m looking for this utopia where cost of living is low, taxes are low, schools are great, there’s plenty to do, and we all live happily ever after. It also has to be close enough to a city that I can find work if I ever need to change jobs, and have a major airport nearby because I travel for work.

The bottom line is that we think we should leave NY, but we’re not sure if it’s truly worth it.
– Noah

I am one of the loudest advocates you’ll ever meet for the virtues of the upper Midwest. My opinion is that when you say “this utopia where cost of living is low, taxes are low, schools are great, there’s plenty to do, and we all live happily ever after,” you’re basically describing Minnesota and, to a lesser extent, the states surrounding Minnesota. With 100% complete seriousness, if I were able to choose myself where I could live, I’d choose to live just outside of the metro area on the north side of Minneapolis-St. Paul. It pretty much checks every box you’ve listed there, in my opinion. Honestly, my second choice would be “just outside the metro area on the north side of Des Moines” – and that’s where I happen to live right now.

So, do I think you should move? Yes. If there’s no particular family or social constraint holding you back, pack up the vehicle and get out of the area.

The real question, though, is should you move? I think you need to simply clarify what it is you’re looking for and then start doing some research regarding that. You can start by looking at a comparative list, like this one from US News and World Report. You’ll see both Des Moines and Minneapolis ranked quite high on that list (for good reason, in my opinion), but there are a lot of other options, too.

If you’re unhappy with the total equation of where you are right now, move. If you’re not sure where to move to, figure out what it is that you really want the most – or the handful of factors you want the most – and start doing research.

And then move to Des Moines or Minneapolis. You know you want to.

Q4: Camping or glamping?

I’m a 31-year-old who has been dating a 28-year-old for two years now and have been considering marriage. I go camping two or three times during the summer in national parks, usually with a base camp that I return to each day after exploring but with some overnight backpacking. I make my own meals over the campfire, etc. but I do rely on some items from my car, so it’s not as “roughing it” as it could be but it’s far from glamping.

This summer is the first time that our schedules line up well enough so that my girlfriend can camp with me. She seems on board with it, but I’m beginning to see that she’s kind of a spender. She wants to “upgrade” all of the camping gear and buy a lot of extra stuff and she’s hinted at the idea of staying in a cabin or some resort instead of tent camping.

All of this deletes the reason this trip is fun and it’s also massively increasing the cost of it. I want just a simple camping trip in my tent where I spend almost all the time just exploring and hiking and building a fire and cooking food over it. I don’t want to stay in a cabin or hotel; that stuff is fine, but it’s not what camping is for me.

How do I address this without causing a big fight? And should I be concerned about the costs and what that might mean for our married life?
– Tony

It seems to me that your girlfriend has a very different idea of what camping should be like than you do. That doesn’t mean that either one of you is “right” or “wrong,” but that you have different visions of what a “camping vacation” actually is. Clearly, your girlfriend has an image of something that involves more creature comforts than what your vision is. That’s okay – neither one of your visions is wrong.

My suggestion would be to simply ask her to let you lead on this first trip. Tell her that you want to show her what it is that you love about these kinds of camping trips, and then plan it in a way that you think will wow her regarding the best of what you like about it.

Keep her in mind when you plan, though. She’s clearly a bit reticent about some of the rougher edges of camping. Don’t plan any super-difficult hikes. Consider what will make your campsite as comfortable as possible. Maybe choose a park intentionally that will be very comfortable and have some amazing views on low-intensity hikes. Push yourself to make some delicious meals around the campfire. Pack along a bottle of wine and drink it around the fire (if that’s her thing). Take along extra precautions for keeping bugs at bay. Basically, plan a trip like you normally would, but add some flourishes that will make this whole thing sparkle for her.

If it’s not her thing, that’s okay. You don’t have to like all of the same things. You might want to consider letting camping be a personal thing for you in the future and allow her to have some personal adventures, too, but that you have other adventures that you share.

Q5: Journal suggestions?

You’ve mentioned a few times in the last year that you journal daily. What specific journal do you use? What do you write about?
– Eric

My preferred journal is just a blank one. I’m not really picky about what kind that I use, but I like it to have reasonably thick paper so that ink doesn’t bleed through to the other side and I can use any kind of pen on it. Quite often, I use gifted journals for this. I also have a pile of gifted (and a few purchased) notebooks from Baron Fig that I use for this, too. To summarize, just use a blank journal.

I haven’t really found that “pre-organized” journals really click with me. I’ve received several as gifts and the only one that has worked well for me is the Best Self journal, but it’s mighty expensive and I can’t really convince myself to buy more. I could see myself getting hooked on them if I had more of them, as they only last for 13 weeks. Most other pre-organized journals just don’t click with me.

Most of the time, I just write about whatever things are weighing heavily on my mind at the moment. I write about what that concern is in as much detail as I can, and then I burrow into it. I ask myself why I’m feeling this way about it, and then I spend a bit of time thinking about that, and then I just write down my “why” thoughts. I’ll often repeat that a few times. Almost always, I wind up reaching some deeper understanding of the situation and that usually points me to something I can do to improve that situation. I don’t always take myself up on the solution, but I do so often enough that I find real value in the process. Sometimes I’ll do journaling “exercises” that I find, but I usually just go back to writing about a problem or concern and hitting it with a series of “whys” until I find some kind of satisfactory conclusion.

I think that journaling has massively improved my life over the last several years as I’ve really figured out how to do it. Journaling is a lot more than just listing the events of the day. It’s really a tool for reflecting on one’s life.

Q6: Frugal beard care

I started growing a beard after the holidays and didn’t really think about caring for it. I figured I could just trim it with scissors or something. It’s starting to look unruly but decent beard trimmers seem real expensive and then there are tons of other things people suggest buying. How do I do this frugally?
– Marcus

Unless you plan on trimming your beard daily and expect near-perfection with every single beard hair being absolutely the same length, you’re going to be fine with a very low-end beard trimmer. You’ll be just fine with whatever beard trimmer is on sale at nearby stores. If you’re looking for a model to target, I can specifically say that this beard trimmer does a really good job. You’ll still need to use a razor to trim around the edges, though.

So, what about things like beard oil and soaps and stuff? Simply put, you don’t need any of it unless you start to have skin irritation or other issues that actually bother you. Don’t waste your money on it unless you actually need it. That’s not to say it’s not useful for some people, but it’s very much on a case-by-case basis. (Note that things like this do make nice gifts, though.)

Basically, just get an inexpensive beard trimmer unless you plan to be an every day beard-must-be-perfect trimmer, in which case there might be a reason for a higher-end trimmer. When I had a beard, I trimmed it weekly with a cheap trimmer and it was all good.

Q7: Worried about market highs

The stock market appears to be at or near a long-term high. Should people “buy low and sell high” and start selling now? Trying to figure out what to do with retirement.
– David

You should almost never make a stock investment move in response to what the market’s current value is. I’d say “never,” but I’m sure someone will come up with an odd case for it, but timing the market like this definitely isn’t one.

If you happened to have a perfect crystal ball and knew the exact moment when it was at a peak and then would also know the exact moment when it reached the bottom, then, yeah, it might make sense to move out of stocks at that very peak and move back in at that very bottom.

The reality is that you don’t know when either situation is going to occur. No one does. Today might be the peak, or it might not hit until June, or it might not hit until 2020. If you move out of stocks into something safe and we have three more years of a bull market, you’re losing a lot of money. The same thing is true at the bottom. If you keep your money somewhere safe because you think the market is still going to go lower, you’re not only probably missing out on the real bottom, you’re also missing out on the dividends that you’d get by being in stocks during that period.

Here’s the truth: If you’re in the stock market for the long haul, meaning that you’re not close to retirement and you’re planning on that money for the backbone of your retirement savings, you should leave it in the stock market and keep buying shares and collecting dividends as it inevitably corrects itself. You’ll earn a lot of dividends on the way down, buy shares as they decline in price, and you’ll be fully in the market when it hits the bottom and you can keep buying and reinvesting dividends the whole way up.

Now, if retirement is getting close, you should probably be considering a move of at least some of your money into something safer, but that switch should not be driven by the current state of the stock market. It should be driven by your evaluation of how much you want to lower your volatility.

Q8: Cheap or free fitness suggestions

So here’s my situation. I want to get in better shape and I have been thinking about joining a gym. My favorite exercise by far is to walk and do light hiking kind of like you do. I don’t like doing “body weight exercise” at home and I talk myself right out of doing stuff like push-ups or squats. I don’t mind jogging but jogging isn’t making me stronger. I think a coach might help motivate me. Do you have other suggestions before I drop the money?
– Jim

My honest suggestion is to try rucking.

Here’s what you do. Get an old backpack that you have lying around the house and fill it up with heavy things. Old textbooks are great. Water bottles are great. A brick wrapped in an old towel is great. Try to get 10 or 15 pounds in it at first; you can up the weight later.

Then just go walking with that backpack on. Go on a long distance walk. What you’ll find is that going at the same pace as usual is hard and will get you out of breath. You’ll also find that your legs and many other muscles are sore when you get home and sore the next day from the extra work.

Over time, gradually up the weight. Don’t go beyond 35 pounds or 10% of your body weight, though, whichever is less.

I’ve found this to be just about my favorite exercise. It seems to combine strength training (my legs feel way stronger as do many of my back muscles) with cardio training (I sweat like crazy and I get out of breath), but it boils down to doing the thing I already love to do, which is walking and hiking.

Plus, it’s super cheap.

Give it a shot and see if it clicks for you.

Q9: Getting paid less than others

I work in an office with several other people doing almost exactly the same jobs. We do a lot of claim processing. I was the first in my group to be hired and it was during a period of a lot of turnover in the HR department so almost all of us were actually hired by different people.

I had a benefits question the other day and went into the HR office and a person was looking at my employee records. She told me quietly that I wasn’t getting paid very well and that they had been openly hiring people for my job at a salary that’s about 10% more than what I’m making with no experience required. I’ve been at the company for four years now.

I am trying to keep calm about this and find the right way to handle it, but I am really angry right now. I could understand new employees making a little more than I did when I was new, but there’s no reason that I’m making less than them with four years of experience and good reviews.
– Pete

First of all, you do not want to bring this up at work when it’s got such a strong emotional impact on you. If you’re going to get emotional or angry when talking about this or thinking about this, you should not bring this up. (However, I will say that if you’re struggling getting this under control, you should look seriously at your ability to keep your emotions in check, as that is a very powerful skill to have.)

Your first step should be to figure out who is in charge of wages at your organization. Who sets the pay? If you don’t know, go to the HR office and ask a few questions. That’s the person you should be talking to.

Schedule a meeting and present your case. Simply state that you’ve had conversations with your coworkers and looked at job postings and you’ve learned that, after four years of experience and positive job reviews, you’re getting paid less than someone freshly in the door and you’re getting paid less than many of your coworkers. Your goal should be to have pay that’s reasonably commensurate with your relative experience and history compared to an entry level employee, so what a new employee might be earning with standard raises over four years.

If they won’t reasonably meet you on this demand, then I would begin looking for different work. Freshen up your resume and start looking for employment elsewhere. If the starting wage is an industry standard, you’ll make more money by leaving anyway.

Q10: “Chaining” no-spending days

Wanted to share with you a strategy for cutting spending that’s really worked well for me this year. I have been “chaining” days where I don’t spend any money together.

Basically, what I’ve been doing is trying not to spend a dime for as many days in a row as I can avoid it. I’ll pay all of my bills and stock up on groceries and that stuff all on one day and I’ll buy a 30-day metro pass and so on and then I will see how many days I can go while spending nothing and living on what I have.

I’ve found that I don’t waste nearly as much money as I used to because on the days where I can spend, I am spending a lot on needed things like bills and food and a metro pass and usually one or two carefully planned fun things and so I don’t feel much need to splurge, and then I don’t splurge at all on the “no spending” days.

Thought I’d share a strategy that’s working for me! Record: 16 days!
– Tammy

This actually seems like a really smart and really fun way to approach overspending.

Sarah and I sometimes do money free weekends and even money free weeks and this just seems to take that and add the “chaining” concept to it by making it into a game to see how long you can make the streak.

Good idea! Perhaps other readers can use it effectively, too!

Q11: Advice on trying vegetarianism

I’m thinking of trying to become a vegetarian for health reasons and money reasons. A vegetarian diet seems pretty healthy and I like a lot of vegetables but I just normally eat meat for my diet. Any tips?
– Amy

A vegetarian diet can be super cheap, but as with any diet, it can be as expensive as you make it. I find it easy to be a cheap vegetarian because I already loved rice and beans. I will seriously eat rice and beans two or three times a day, so switching to being a vegetarian wasn’t really very hard for me. (I was encouraged but not required by my doctor and a dietitian to try it for unrelated health reasons, so I gave it a shot.)

My advice to you isn’t to go strict vegetarian unless there’s a specific additional reason to do so. If your primary motivation is frugality and health, I recommend sticking instead to a well rounded diet made up of inexpensive foods, but stick to staples and fresh foods rather than prepackaged and processed stuff. Buy uncooked rice and uncooked beans and eggs and fresh produce and, yes, even fresh meats, particularly poultry (chicken really is a bargain). Peanut butter is good, too, especially when the only ingredients are peanuts and salt.

Learn how to prepare lots of meals from that basic stuff. Trust me, there are a lot of things you can do with those cheap staples without just endlessly repeating things, especially if you have a lot of herbs and spices and learn how to use them. For that, I recommend this wonderful guide from The Kitchn.

Q12: Podcasts on better financial choices

I listen to podcasts while commuting every day and I find that they influence my thinking a lot. Do you have any recommendations for podcasts that really encourage smart financial thinking / spend less than you earn / financial independence thinking?
– Brad

Here are three that immediately come to mind.

Radical Personal Finance hosted by Joshua Sheats is probably the best purely financially focused podcast out there, in my opinion. Joshua speaks well, treats his topics with care and thoughtfulness, keeps it entertaining, and has a lot of great guests, plus I’m very much in agreement with most of his financial perspectives. If I ever did a podcast again (I made a mediocre attempt many years ago), I’d hope it could be half this good.

The Dave Ramsey Show distributes its full show as a podcast. Dave is an absolute master of the audio format and presents his ideas well. I don’t fully agree with Dave on a lot of things – for one, I think he’s overly optimistic about investments – but he’s extremely strong at feeling like a “coach” encouraging strong day-to-day financial choices.

The Voluntary Life hosted by Jake Desyllas is probably my favorite all-around podcast. It does not have anywhere near a strict personal finance focus – it’s more of an all-around self-improvement show. However, Jake addresses a lot of important life topics that run parallel to financial improvement and discusses them so thoughtfully that I consider this to be an essential listen for anyone addressing their money or their life with a thoughtful attitude.

These three shows – and their archives – should give you a ton to listen to going forward.

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.

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