Updated on 07.14.08

Reader Mailbag #19

Trent Hamm

Each Monday, The Simple Dollar opens up the reader mailbags and answers ten to twenty simple questions offered up by the readers on personal finance topics and many other things. Got a question? Ask it in the comments. You might also enjoy the archive of earlier reader mailbags.

As usual, we’ll start things off with a few links to older articles that directly answer questions I’ve heard recently.
Is money the root of all evil? No.
Stay at home parenting is a difficult question
Some advice if you feel like you’re making no progress

And now for some great reader questions!

Do you ever feel embarrassed by being such a cheap loser?
– Fez

I decided to include Fez’s email because it’s a great example of messages I see every day, both in comments and in emails directly to me. I know that I’ve also had readers complain about rampant negativity from time to time.

Here’s the scoop, as I see it. Talking honestly about money and how it connects to your personal self-consciousness is not an easy thing. Many cultures tell us to keep it bottled up, and still others act as if money is shameful.

It’s not. Money is a representation of your hard work, and what you choose to do with it is up to you.

Because it’s a representation of your work, though, it’s worthwhile to spend some time thinking about it – and asking yourself why it makes you uncomfortable. I would argue that if you’re taunting someone else about money, it’s a hang-up within your own money beliefs, not the fault of the person you’re taunting.

So, do I feel embarrassed being a “cheap loser”? No, not at all. I’m proud of my own financial ideas, and if I weren’t, I wouldn’t be sharing them here. If you must resort to such insults, I can only conclude that you’re the one not proud of your own financial choices.

What’s your favorite kind of cheese?
– Kat

Now, this kind of question is more up my alley.

It depends on the use. For a grilled cheese sandwich, nothing tops gruyere, in my opinion. I like to make gruyere-and-ham grilled cheese sandwiches (known as a croque monsieur) and occasionally I’ll drop a fried egg on top (a croque madame).

For most uses, such as on salads, on burgers, and just for munching, I love blue cheese. A truly good piece of blue cheese is sublime, particularly on top of a burger coated in black pepper.

In various dishes, all kinds of cheeses are great: mozzarella, parmigiano, Swiss, feta, really sharp Cheddars. All are fantastic. I dream of going on a wine and cheese tour throughout France.

What are your best frugal tips for hot weather?
– Shari

You mean, aside from hacking your ceiling fan?

I usually recommend raising your home’s temperature a bit until you find a point that you can tolerate, then leaving it there throughout the summer. To keep yourself cool, drink ice cold beverages, including water – I often get my water so cold it’s on the verge of turning into ice.

Also, take cool showers instead of warm ones. It’s hard to get used to if you take warm showers, but try lowering the temperature until you find it tolerable. Cool showers can lower your natural body temperature, making you feel cool.

Trent what about becoming a foster parent instead of adopting?
– Rob Madrid

I feel that there are some fundamental problems with the foster care system, as explained by the Pew Charitable Trusts in their foster care reform efforts:

Unfortunately, too many foster children wait far too long for a permanent family. On average, a foster child moves from one temporary home to another three times before the child’s status is resolved. Children who stay in the system for long periods of time often have emotional and behavioral problems and perform poorly in school. Later in life, they are more likely to become homeless, unemployed, incarcerated or dependent on welfare.

I tend to agree with their report on strengthening families through guardianship – the best foster care is one within the extended family, which provides some continuity for the child.

I very much wish to help children in disadvantaged situations, but I’m more inclined to believe in the starfish parable – I’d rather make a profound difference in one child’s life than merely brush the lives of many children who are trapped in a system that isn’t really advocating for them.

This is just my personal belief, not a political statement.

What are some cheap ways to enjoy a professional sporting event? Particularly a baseball game. I like going to major league games, but the prices are ridiculous.
– Adam

Buy your tickets well in advance, and don’t worry that much about great seats. Instead, focus on spending time enjoying the carnival experience around the outside of the park before and after a game. Fill up on snacks and beverages outside the park, where the prices are cheaper, and minimize your souvenirs – most of that stuff can be had elsewhere for much cheaper.

In short, prices inside the park are a rip-off, so do what you can to minimize your spending inside. If you must have a dog and a brew, that’s fine, but rather than having three or four, hold off until after the game and have a good time outside the field.

Is emusic a good deal or not?
– Jill

This was actually a question I’ve heard over IM twice in the last week, so I thought it’d be a good one to address. I’ve been a user of emusic for years and I love it – for me, it’s well worth it. It’s an opportunity to expose myself to lots of new music and discover interesting stuff I hadn’t heard before.

You have to realize what you’re getting with emusic before you even sign up. The site is basically a source for legal mp3s of bands on smaller record labels. That means you’re not going to get Coldplay’s latest when you sign up. Instead, you’ll be going for stuff by My Morning Jacket and Sufjan Stevens.

If that sounds good to you, emusic is a treasure trove. If you rarely listen to music or stick mostly to top forty music or whatever you hear on the radio, it’s probably not going to be worthwhile, though.

I’ve downloaded literally thousands of mp3s from the site over the years, though, and feel it’s been worth every penny.

My husband and I are expecting our first child this December. Would it be absolutely insane to attempt to use cloth diapers if you don’t have a washer/dryer in your apartment?

We have a washer and dryer in our apartment building’s basement, which is $1.25 per load. It’s not so bad to wash clothes/towels/sheets for two adults, but I expect we’ll have a ton of extra laundry once the baby comes.

Would you recommend we use disposables until we have an in-house W/D unit? Or maybe go 25% cloth, 75% disposable?
– Kacie

If you’re looking at a strict financial accounting, it’s still worth it, but it’ll take a lot longer to break even and you’ll be taking a lot more trips down to the basement to do laundry. Given those two factors, it’s probably not a good solution in your situation.

Cloth diapering works much better when you have steady, regular access to washing machines and dryers at arm’s reach, plus the cost per load isn’t controlled by putting quarters in the box. I’d wait until you can do that to dive into cloth diapering, which basically means don’t do it unless you’re going to have a second child.

This does ignore the landfill issue. One of the big reasons my wife and I got on board was the realization of how many diapers we were tossing into landfills with our usage. If that bothers you, you’ll have to make your own judgment.

You’ve mentioned that you make your own wine a few times on this site. I’ve recently acquired some wine making equipment. Care to share some insight or tips to someone who’s just starting out?
– Matt

I will cover this in detail later on, but a few basic tips.

First, start off with simple recipes. No matter what you’re homebrewing, make sure you know the basic procedures first before getting bogged down in something tricky. Stick with a single grape wine and just make a basic batch.

Second, clean everything well. Clean it again if you’re not sure. The biggest disasters almost always occur because something isn’t clean.

Third, don’t overly sweeten it. You’re better off making a drier wine than one that’s too sweet, because you can accompany a dry wine with something sweet and it’s still tolerable to most palates.

Follow those three and a basic wine making guide and you’ll be off to a good start.

Do you consider yourself rich? How much money would you have to have to consider yourself rich?
– Leslie

I do not consider myself rich. I would consider myself rich if I had enough money in savings and investments so that the income from those investments would cover my living expenses with complete steadiness and with some room to breathe. I’m a long way from that.

My math tells me that this amount is somewhere around $1.7 million, but I’d like to have it higher to curb against inflation.

Since you’ve given up several expensive hobbies over the last few years (Magic and golfing, to name two), do you ever miss them and want to play again?
– Phil

Of course, in both cases. I had a lot of fun doing both. However, I’ve resisted the temptation to play either one on a consistent basis. I’ve spent a couple lazy afternoons playing Magic with other people’s cards, and I’ve gone golfing twice since my son was born (with one trip being covered by someone else).

I’ve mostly moved on to other hobbies and interests – and my wallet thanks me.

Got any questions? Ask them in the comments and I’ll use them in future mailbags.

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  1. Jessica says:

    Here’s another possible answer to Kacie’s question. A lot of good washers are donated to Goodwill. You can buy a full sized washer there for about $70. If you have drying racks or a retractable clothesline that you can set up in your apartment somewhere, you won’t need to worry about getting a dryer.

  2. guinness416 says:

    Glad to see you like emusic, because I agree it’s an absolute treasure trove and well worth every penny.

  3. Tim Dierkes says:

    A thought on the baseball game question. I agree that one should not shoot for great tickets, such as dugout box seats that go for hundreds apiece.

    That said, one can acquire very good seats at face value and the extra money is worth the difference in the experience. For Cubs tickets…you buy them in February the day they go on sale, and target the “value dates” in April and May. I have gotten incredible club box seats at $50 a pop (not cheap, but relatively cheap and totally worth it).

  4. Denise Z. says:

    Re: Fez’s comment Do you ever feel embarrassed by being such a cheap loser? Personally, I’d like to thank you for helping me save my hard earned cash.

    Everytime I read “jabs” at people who are really trying to help and to educate others, I remember that “for every one person who criticizes you, there are at least two others saying ‘Thank you for showing me how'”.

  5. Nick says:

    Keep in mind online radio like AOL (about the only thing AOL actually does right) and also Pandora. They don’t allow you to pick songs from a list, but they are great for finding new things you have never heard before. If you are a music buff, Pandora is a MUST (and it is totally free to boot).

  6. Therese says:

    Fez is an idiot. I really look forward to my “Simple Dollar” fix everyday – this is the first site that I go to in the morning and I live all the way down in the Caribbean. I can’t follow many of your tips on coupon use etc. since they don’t apply here, but our savings have increased and we have a 6 month cushion, thanks in part to your blog.

  7. Andy says:

    My favorite kind of cheese is a sharp, aged cheddar on a crisp fall apple.

    Please note: this is not the same as a gooey, artificially colored orange cheddar on a mushey apple, not the same at all.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Re: Cloth diapers without a washing machine.

    Friends of mine, living in an apartment, have two young boys and used cloth diapers for both. They ran into the same problem of needing to pay for laundry.

    Their solution was simple – they bought a small washing machine (smaller than a dishwasher) for their apartment. It’s on wheels and sits in the corner. When they do laundry, they push it near the sink and stick the drainage hose in the sink. No hook-ups required.

    They then hang dry most items, especially the diapers, on a rack hidden behind some furniture. I don’t know the details, but it might be worth looking into. They said it definitely saved them money.

  9. BethBeth says:

    Another grilled cheese suggestion is Pepper Jack cheese and sourdough bread. Yummo

  10. Gretchen says:

    As far as enjoying a professional sporting event on the cheap: if you live relatively near a major sports team, try buying tickets about 15 minutes after the game starts. The scalpers and others will be anxious to get rid of tickets at sometimes half their cost. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to drive hours on the off chance that you can get a cheap ticket, but if it’s close by, it’s a good bet.

  11. KC says:

    Adam – I’m a huge baseball fan, too. What I do is attend minor league games. AAA is great, especially if your favorite big league team’s AAA is near you. As you know the players are often exchanged throughout the season and often cheering for the AAA team is about the same as cheering for the big league team. In Memphis this year we’ve had 14 players share a St Louis and a Memphis uniform this year. That’s about as close as you can get to rooting for the CArdinals w/o going to St Louis.

    But I enjoy lower level minor league games too. There is some raw talent there. You need to read some sites like baseballamerica.com or minorleagueball.com to appreciate some of the bigger names in the lower levels of the minors. Pick up a copy of the BAseball America Prospect Handbook 2008 and see if any of those guys are playing near you.

    Another favorite thing to do is get the team set of your local minor league team when they come out and get the players to sign their cards. Its a good way to talk to these guys. Some of them have some really good stories and are very approachable at this level. Also take a good look at some of the guys holding radar guns in the stands behind home plate – many of these scouts are former big leaguers. I’ve talked to Mike Jorgensen, Bryan Harvey, and several other big leaguers before – just at minor league games.

  12. Mark says:

    On the professional sports events, I tend to do the following to save some money:

    1. For our arena team we always tailgate before the game. Its a chance to get some good food in a great atmosphere and usually only runs us $20-$30 or so, depending on what we bring to contribute. If you don’t go with a bunch of friends find a tailgate or two to join up with to help, usually all you have to do is offer to bring something.

    2. Our AAA baseball team around here does a promotion on Monday nights with $1 hot dogs and sodas. I don’t know if the major league teams do similar things, but look at the teams website and find out what night they do any sort of promotions that could save you money.

    3. Consider season tickets. If you only go occasionally this isn’t a good option but if you go alot look into season ticket prices as the per game cost is usually less than game day tickets and definitly cheaper than ticket reseller prices. Season ticket packages also usually come with perks like discounted/free parking and merchandise discounts. If the season ticket price is too steep, look into multi-game package deal that may come with some of the perks but usually is a bit cheaper than face value of the tickets.

  13. PaulT says:

    Nice to see other eMusic fans around here! My only issue is that it’s become a vice for me – I spend more every month there than I ever did with CDs. Not the best recommendation for a site dealing with frugality but definitely worth the outlay, and if you’re not completely convinced by Trent’s description, they do have a free trial available.

    As for cheese, I can’t stand soft or blue cheese but I love Edam, Cheddar, Double Gloucester and Gruyere. All have their uses and all are great in something toasted!

  14. I love these reader mailbag segments.

    I wanted to invite you and your readers to join my Snowflake Challenge. You can even win a free book!! Link is in my name.

  15. Richard says:

    I’m glad you responded to Fez’s comments. Maybe it was off the cuff on his part, but anyone with that attitude is probably not the master of his own domain and likely ashamed of his own approach to money.

  16. Rick says:

    I disagree with you on just one point. Yes, you are rich. So am I. You might not be upper-class American rich, but you are rich.

    I just got back from a trip to the rural areas in Kenya. Those people had nothing. People are dying because they don’t have any water. It would be a significant stretch to say that most of them lived on a dollar a day. For most, it was much less. Compared to these people, which actually represent a significant percentage of the world’s population, and yes, you are rich.

    Think of all the luxuries you have. Not one, but two cars. Cell phones. Internet access. Running water. Electricity. More than one change of clothes.

    Yes, you are rich.

  17. PF says:


    I have an 8 month old baby and the newborn weeks are still fresh in my memory. Yes, it is completely insane! You will have PLENTY of laundry to do even without the diapers. Give yourself a break and assume that you will use disposables at least the first 6 weeks. During that time, you can decide.

    I felt completely overwhelmed with a newborn. I can’t even explain it. It was tough enough just to shower and feed myself. To have to go to the basement and do loads of laundry every day would have been too much.

    Have you considered a diaper service? I have no idea how much they cost, so maybe not a great option.

    I joined amazon prime and I get my diapers that way. It is cheaper than the stores and they just show up two days later. amazon prime has been a godsend for me as a new mom.


  18. Tom says:

    Buying tickets to a major sporting event in advance is the surest way to pay the HIGHEST price most of the time. When tickets first go on sale, the sellers do not know what the demand will be, so prices are initially set high. As the event approaches, the real demand is determined, and prices usually drop. Your best chance of scoring a cheap ticket is to buy at the last possible moment, or even after the event has started (when the tickets are rapidly becoming worthless). Be flexible and be prepared to try again another day. Of course, having a cheap ticket won’t prevent you from getting screwed on concessions.

    This tip also works for shows and concerts. Don’t buy early – wait until the last possible moment.

  19. Paul says:

    I live in an apartment also, and I second the suggestion to use a drying rack. I have two and haven’t dried a load of laundry in at least 2 months. You can purchase a nice, long-lasting metal one at Target for $20.

  20. Dana says:

    I really like your column. I would like to see you address strategies for those of us that are not college educated. My husband is a truck driver and I am a school secretary. We make a decent wage but it’s never enough especially with the economy. Our kids are ready for college but how are we going to pay for that? Retirement? It’s very scary. I feel like we are in the gap. Not too poor, but none too rich.

  21. liv says:

    Who is Fez? That was a pretty mean question. I’m sure he/she is also a “cheap loser” and wants the rest of us to feel bad about it.

    Do your part to save money and ignore the awful people! :)

  22. Kacie says:

    Thanks for answering my question about the diapers! We do use drying racks for our normal laundry and will probably use them for baby laundry as well.

    I looked into getting a portable washing machine, but supposedly that’s against my apartment’s lease. Moving to another place isn’t an option.

    I’m going to start stocking up on disposables now by working them into drugstore deals, and maybe we’ll try doing a bit of cloth once the baby gets older. We definitely hope to have several more children.

  23. Kacie says:

    A possible idea for seeing a professional game for cheap: See if you can volunteer to work as an usher.

    Some places need people to do this, and as payment you get to see the game for free. You probably won’t get to sit, but it works for some folks.

  24. gwen says:

    I completely agree about the diapers. Go disposable until you have a W/D unit in your own home. We worked the numbers when we had our first, of course it was after we invested in the cloth and found that we HATED washing them in our apartment’s laundry room, and found that it wasn’t worth it moneywise. In face, we were losing money.

    The washer and dryer in our public facilities weren’t as good as personal ones. People used fabric softener, which some people say means you need to wash the diapers twice. We used to have to wash them 3x because the machines were so bad. And, even with drying our diapers on the line we were still loosing money. Target disposables are the best deal we found, although some people like to play that drugstore game, I didn’t have the time (was too busy figuring out how to eat and shower) and didn’t go that route.

  25. Laura says:

    I resigned from my job on Friday and today was my last day at the office. They would rather just pay me my two weeks instead of having me come in.

    How would you use the 2 extra weeks’ time? My current plan is to regroup and possibly look at some part-time volunteering while I’m hunting for a job.

  26. Travis says:

    For sometimes-cheap tickets to sporting events, check seats.com, stubhub.com, or ebay.com. I’ve scored great tickets at a fraction of face value, especially at times when demand wasn’t high and supply was plentiful. Check it out!!

  27. ashlee says:

    I’ve also heard that emusic is a great site….but I use spiralfrog.com for most of my downloads! Its totally free! And legal! They use their ads to pay for the music! They might not have as much as some music sites but its totally worth it!

  28. Dody says:

    Do you ever feel like your not doing enough, but then when you think about the tiny frugal step you just took does it feel inadequate? I guess my question is, does it feel like no matter how much you save it will never be enough or you will never actually reach those far off goals?

  29. K says:

    Laura – Two weeks is not that long. Unless you are already involved volunteering for a specific cause or plan to continue, I wouldn’t spend time during those 2 weeks volunteering. Your end date at your job won’t be until after the 2 weeks is up, so it’s not like you’ll need to fill your resume. Now if you think you will be out of work for several months, then something like volunteering is a good idea.

    Instead, I would do the things that you have always wanted to do but couldn’t while you were working. Spend a day at the beach. Take your kids to the zoo. It’s ok to even watch soap operas on the couch if you want. It’s those little things that only happen during the day I miss doing. Go on a vacation (but don’t spend too much if you don’t have another job lined up). Doing “nothing” is a good way to figure out what you really want to be doing. I would make sure to spend at least 2-3 hours a day polishing your resume, researching companies, and working on your job search. Don’t feel guilty about enjoying the rest of your time because (hopefully) it won’t last long.

  30. Chiara says:

    I have to laugh at a comment like the “Fez” one. If you are a loser for writing a personal finance blog, what does that make someone who *trolls* personal finance blogs? (I guess 14 and in need of afterschool activities, for starters.)

  31. paula d. says:

    Trent, – In response to Fez – if you’re such a cheap loser, how come you can quit your day job, and do what you love full time! Fez is the loser, needing to troll on other people’s blog.

    I have received so many good tips from you, I’ve been able to start to turn my finances around and be a “cheap loser” too. Thanks.

  32. Christie says:

    Fez doesn’t even deserve the attention you gave him. Thanks for running such a great website. I read it every day at work.

  33. Lisa says:

    All of these diaper posts make me wonder. Have you thought about the money you would save by potty training earlier? My son was down to 1 diaper a day (overnight) by 18 months or so. I am starting even earlier with my daughter. My grandmother says her kids were potty trained by 6 – 9 months, but that was a different time – before disposables. I know most day care places in my area won’t start potty training until they are 2. If you are doing the stay at home thing, it is something to consider. Less waste whether it is cloth or disposable.

  34. Shevy says:

    I think these mailbags are really great. There’s almost always a couple of things that turn out to be interesting to me.

    This week it’s wine and the baseball game.

    Yesterday my hubby took our 5 year old Dear Child to her first baseball game at Nat Bailey Stadium to watch the Vancouver Canadians (the Northwest League affiliate of the Oakland Athletics).

    The tickets cost $11 (but were an even better deal for us, i.e. free, because he got them through work). They didn’t stay for the whole thing but it went to 14 innings (!) with the C’s eventually losing 10-8 to the Spokane Indians. (That’s a bit much for a 5 yo on a very hot day.)

    They got 2 free bottles of water, free sunscreen and a free tshirt! They bought root beer and peanuts. There were activities for kids, like mini golf, and my DC’s interested in going back for an evening game when it will be cooler and there will be fireworks afterwards.

    Even for $11 that’s one heck of a deal for a fun afternoon. The fact that it only set Hubby back “peanuts” is even better! (LOL)

    As for the wine, I’ll be interested in your upcoming post as I’m finally getting into making some fruit wine as a first step towards my eventual goal, a small kosher winery. (Fruit wines have fewer religious restrictions, so they’re easier for me to begin with.) Do you ever make fruit wines? Have you ever made sparking wine? What do you consider your favorite wine to make and why?

  35. Jay says:

    Another +1 on the minor league idea. At the local park tickets are $8-$11, and the seats are close enough to actually have a view.

    If you like a specific sport in mind, I’d suggest looking into either college sports (if you go to a game that isn’t Men’s Basketball or Football tickets are generally CHEAP, and some college teams are quite good) or googling to see if there are any pro-am competitions nearby. For example, an outing to a college soccer game would be great if you have a kid you plays soccer. These may not be “professional” enough for some, but often have a good atmosphere.

  36. kathryn says:

    One more comment on the diapers…the decision isn’t always a matter of money; sometimes what works for the baby has to be taken into account. My first had a reaction to the disposables and we had to do cloth (used a service to get through those first crazy weeks.) Then, low and behold, my second couldn’t tolerate the cloth no matter how many times we washed, rinsed, or what kind of soap…so back to Huggies/Pampers/Whatever… whatever actually fit her well during each size. And I had lots of really great dust cloths.

    Best of luck!

  37. Paul says:

    Don’t let those like Fez bug you. If you’re a “cheap loser,” then I want to be one to!

  38. Amanda says:

    Hey Fez—I imagine you’re Trump or something, spending your spare time cruising PF blogs? yeaaaa right!
    Anyhow, I do wish you’d address the “what are you doing to prepare for your dream home?” question I posed a while back. I think it makes for an interesting topic & dream homes are still something everyone loves. Perhaps a bit more beyond the finance, but in reference to it…so it would still be relevant to your blog. Just a thought.

  39. Kim says:

    Cheap Losers Unite! If that’s what Trent is then I want to be a CL too!

    Favorite grilled cheese: like the previous poster, pepperjack on sourdough but I would add …… a smear of pineapple cream cheese and pepper jelly. It’s sublime!!!!

  40. Deb says:

    From one Cheap Loser to another:

    Carry on, Trent.

    Love the blog. Can’t wait for the foodie one.

  41. Lola says:

    I don’t understand why, for Americans, “loser” is the biggest insult someone can call you. I’m not sure the rest of the world separates people into “winners” and “losers” as much as you do.
    But I do know about readers who get too upset whenever someone writes anything that doesn’t agree with mainstream mentality. It’s like you’re defying the whole system! Promoting frugality certainly goes against much of the American way of life. The other day I criticized a beauty product commercial that cynically claimed that the world would be an awful, Brave New World place if women were not “vain” – that is, if they didn’t buy beauty products. Because, you see, beauty products and fashion individualize us, according to that commercial. It’s not that they make us become senseless automatons who want to all look alike and buy, buy, buy… So I criticized that commercial, and heard in response the typical “You must be an ugly woman in order to write that”. I think it’s the same mentality, basically. If we criticize the system, for many people the problem won’t be the system – but us.

  42. @Rick – I wanted to let you know that I agree with your comment 100% (since nobody else seems to want to discuss your comment).

    There are 1.3 billion people in China, half of whom are farmers, several hundred million of the rest are very low paid migrant workers.

    There are 1.1 billion people in India, mostly poor, largely rural.

    There are 1.2 billion people in Africa, largely rural, almost all of whom are poor.

    There are 1 billion people living in urban slums around the world, in cities like Manila, Caracas, Jakarta, Mexico City, etc. (some overlap between this number and the above).

    I remember freshman year of high school, my teacher said if we came from a family who owned a car and had more than one pair of shoes we were in the top 5% or so of planetary wealth, I thought it was bullshit until I actually left the country and saw poverty up close & personal… now I almost take offense at any American bemoaning their financial situation.

  43. gpglinka says:

    I retired from General Motors two years ago at age 55. If the company goes bankrupt are pensions fully fund or does the government PBGC take over? What about my age then, not being of social security age?

  44. Margaret says:

    I never really thought much about the rich/poor thing beyond vaguely thinking I was glad it wasn’t me on the poor side. Then I had kids. Now I just get overwhelmed with gratitude that I live in Canada. It makes me feel physically ill to try to imagine what it must be like to be a mother in a place where your child goes hungry or is brutalized by war. So compared to people in Canada, I wouldn’t say we were rich, but as I tell my kids, compared to most of the world we are incredibly rich and incredibly lucky to be here.

  45. Margaret says:

    Kacie, I agree with PF — I found it VERY overwhelming to have a newborn (much more so with the first, but even with my third I had some issues that involved calling our public health nurse in a panic). It would be 2 or three in the afternoon before I had a shower or something to eat. It was crazy. Just about the first thing our public health nurse says whenever she talks to a new mom is “did you eat anything yet today?”. Just feeding the baby, changing the diapers, getting baby dressed, holding the baby (which is just as essential as feeding and bum changing) is more than a full time job. I strongly recommend any shortcuts you can take, at least for the first month. And your own body will need some time to recover from birth, details of which I won’t go into for this general audience. You will probably have read a lot of stuff in the books, but I really feel now — do whatever works for you. E.g. it says if you are nursing not to supplement, but for me, on day 2 or 3 before my milk came in but the baby decided he wanted to wake up every hour to nurse, I cracked open the formula and supplemented an ounce or two at each feeding just so I could get some sleep. Guess what — I have healthy thriving boys. With my third, I was in a room with another mom who had had breast reduction surgery who was trying to nurse. She was having problems (heck, I had problems and I had already had two kids and no health issues), so she asked the nurse about using formula. The nurse made a big deal about how breast is best and formula would NEVER be good enough. I wanted to go over there and slap her. When I left the mom had been taking to another room because she had broken down in tears and that same nurse was telling the family that they wanted to see if a rest would help her or if she had post partum depression. Good grief.

  46. Mmmm… cheese… I just can’t take most diet gurus seriously, because life without cheese? I’m not sure it’s worth living. I would give up so many other things in life before the simple, satisfying pleasure of cheese and wine.

    And for Adam, checking out development leagues can be really fun. The crowds are usually laid back, everything’s affordable, and you get to brag that you saw so and so play before they were a big deal.

  47. Sam H. says:

    Just to chime in on the diaper thing, it sounds like a recipe for disaster to cloth diaper a baby if you’ve got to constantly run up and down to the laundry room to wash them. That’ll get old in about a day. Please listen to those in the know: there will be days you won’t have time to brush your teeth, let alone deal with the laundry. I know it sounds unbelievable- I mean, how much time and effort can one tiny baby take, right?

    Well, believe it- it’s a 24/7 job with a few breaks while the kid is sleeping. And while he’s sleeping, you’ll want to do nothing more than lie down as well and close your eyes. Going up and down to do those diapers will be the last thing you’ll want to do.

    No offense, but it’s just a crazy idea. I know you mean well, and sure, keeping all those disposables out of landfills is a noble thought, but your health and sanity are more important.

  48. J says:

    Here is a tricky one.

    Two and a half years ago I bought a house. I got two 5 year interest only loans, one for 80% of the value of the house and another for 15% (I put 5% down that I had saved). The house was $400,000. The first loan was for $320,000 with a 6.25% interest and the other was for $60,000 at 7.75%.

    I have two and a half more years left with these loans and then I´ll have to find another couple of them when they expire (if I am getting it right, I´ll be forced to refinance, won´t I?). Since these five years I´m just paying interest, the principal left will the same, which means that my debt will be the same after these 5 years as it was when I started.

    Here is the real problem, the house market has gone down here, and now my house is barely worth $300,000.

    Finally the questions:

    – After these first five years, do I have to refinance?

    – If so, is it based on the actual value of the house?

    – If so, what happens when the amount of the debt is way higher ($100,000) than the value of the house?

    I have no idea how all this works, and I am beginning to freak out. I would appreciate it if soemone who has been in this situation told me what to expect.

    Thanks a lot (love the site BTW)

  49. M says:

    I have a friend who makes the same financial mistakes over and over, this time he bought a house, how he ever got the loan is beyond me as he had just started a new job after being unemployed for quite some time. Conversation this week included, I’m not sure I’ll be able to pay my utilities in full because it got so hot, I waited as long as I could to turn on the air but the bill will be a killer. He also bought the house knowing it needed repair but does not have the skills or money to do them, winter will be coming and he hasn’t even considered how much it will cost to fill the LP tank, but is doing other unneccery stuff, on credit. I’ve dropped off groceries when it’s been b1g1 and I’ve had coupons but don’t need 2 items, only to find out later he’s given half of it away because it’s not the type of food he eats. I hear about having 2 incomes to live on and I just don’t understand, but there was a time when I put my other half through college on my one income and sometimes the only food we could afford was a bag of potatos after house payment, utilities, gas, (I worked midnights, no public trans and wouldn’t ride a bike at midnight to save my soul) And after the accident we’ve not been so financially well off either, I work a ton of overtime and am determined to pay the house off in 8 years, but he said I’m working myself to death and the only one who will live to enjoy it is hubby. My friend refuses to stay home to save money, “you want me to just sit here and do nothing”, I mentioned working on the house and he said he has lots of time before it gets cold. Your first question is why do I put up with this guy, first he is a wonderful person, give you the shirt off his back, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut ties with him, which I would hate. I’ve sent your site to him several times and thinks our way of thinking is to extreme. I’m at loss on how to help him if he won’t help himself. So heres one for the mail bag, what do you do if you lead a horse to water and he won’t drink. He will end up losing this house but has his head in the sand.

  50. M says:

    On the subject of sports, check out high school sports, it’s cheap, it funds the school, it’s close and it’s a great time. We also have a community college that has things going on all the time.

  51. Dave says:

    Trent – Do you ever go camping? I think it’s one of the greatest frugal ways to have fun, especially with a family. I am camping this weekend and am really looking forward to fishing and making food over a fire or in a dutch oven. If you do camp, do you have any favorite camping recipes?

  52. Rachal says:

    About diaper services: I don’t know where you live, or if there’s a diaper service available, but it seems like it would help make your life a lot simpler. They bring you the diapers, they pick up the soiled ones, and it seems at most of them you can either pay by the week or you can pre-pay for up to a year with a discount. It might be cheaper even, when you consider you don’t have to buy the diapers or pay to wash them (you do have to buy your “diaper accessories” though). I think it would definately be worth looking into, as I think it could make life a lot easier than disposables. Although, since having an infant is a marathon, if using disposables for a few months will help you, do it. But I would definately try to make the switch later on, in which case looking into a diaper service again might be worth it.

    And congratulations :O)

  53. Matthieu says:

    Well, not sure if you are interested in answering this or if you have the knowledge, but I am a huge fan of your website and I try and follow most of your advices.

    However, I am Canadian and we don’t have those 401k and all those other plans. Do you happen to know a website where they discuss the options for us in Canada? Or do you have the knowledge to “translate” so I can have a clue what are my options in here?

    As I said, I try to follow your advices, but it’s not always easy to find an product that’s the equivalent of what you suggest on your website.

    I’m sure I’m far from the only Canadian who read your website so I hope you can help!


  54. Lenore says:

    Browsing through these comments, I can’t help chuckling at how emotional and taboo the discussion of money remains. Trent, you may be “cheap” by the definition of someone whose priorities are out of whack, but you are by no means a “loser.” You have WON the allegiance of thousands of subscribers by challenging and offering remedies for our overly-materialistic and waste-based culture. As recession and environmental hardships threaten everyone’s financial security, your perspective will be all the more crucial and your book’s success assured.

    The folks who say you are already “rich” in comparison to the poor masses on this planet are correct, but I see that you were answering the question in the framework of what it takes to feel financially secure here in the U.S. It’s true that most Americans enjoy a standard of living that Third Worlders can barely imagine, but maintaining the minimum American lifestyle takes a considerable income. Give a family in Kenya or Ecuador the equivalent of $5,000 and they’ll be set for a long time, but a single person here could hardly survive on that amount for a year. Having $2 million in the bank to last a whole lifetime in America sounds pretty realistic, especially when prices for staples like gas and milk can climb as rapidly as they have of late.

  55. Angela says:

    Trent, I know you have at least two kids. Did you do any research on using a diaper service? I wonder if this “luxury” could fit into a frugal lifestyle?

    The rich thing – I agree it is important to be aware of the affluence we experience as Americans. Daily gratitude actions (whatever that is for you) helps to keep that awareness real. Regarding some of the comments, I do not think it is useful to try to make people be grateful by using a verbal 2×4; that actually seems to close ears, rather than open them up.

    The sports thing – This is blasphemous, I know. Sports organizations can charge outrageous prices, because we continue to be willing to pay them. In a different world, we would “just say no” and organize a neighborhood league instead.

  56. Emily says:

    I’ve recently gotten married to a man who I have learned hasn’t been honest about his finances. I find myself starting out married life with $15000 in credit card debt alone, not to mention his car and student loans. But we have a plan to get rid of it, that isn’t my question…
    How can I get him to be more open with me about money. He is always telling me he’ll take care of it. That’s all well and good, but I need to be included in his plans. Do you have any tips?

  57. K says:

    Consider the fact that you are probably ahead of many college educated people. Some of them work for less than you but had to pay for their degrees and sometimes even MS degrees (teachers, social workers). You even said you make a decent wage, so the problem isn’t what you make, it’s what you spend. Cut back on the little things that are draining your budget (magazine subscriptions, unlimited text messaging, starbucks) that you don’t think about.

  58. gr8whyte says:

    @ J : I know nothing about IO loans but the mtgprofessor says they convert into fully amortizing loans after the IO period ends meaning you should not have to refi unless you cannot make the higher monthly payment or want to for some other reason, e.g., high APR. All refis are new loans whose terms are based on then-market conditions meaning the amount that can be refi-ed is based on the value at the time of refi (your IO loan was, wasn’t it?). If debt=k$380, value=$300, and you can refi say 80%, you’ll need to come up with 380-0.8*300=k$140 cash, more if the value falls further, plus points, fees, etc.

  59. Kris says:

    Another way to save money on eMusic is to subscribe to rather than purchase music. This will not help you if you are an Ipod user (Apple does not want to cut into it’s cash cow) but if you listen on your PC or use certain players it can be a real money-saver. I subscribe to Rhapsody – $15/month – and it contains most of the music I listen to. SO I can listen to 100s or 1000s of tracks for my $15 instead of purchasing and downloading 15 or so tracks.

  60. Jessica says:

    Trent, I would like to hear how being optimistic has has influenced your frugality. You seem very optimistic even in the face of criticism.

  61. Snuska says:


    How do you keep from boredom setting in while trying to get your financial life in order? We find plently of free or cheap activities in the summertime but winter in Michigan is tough. We are trying to get our large amount of debt paid off and start to fund some retirement and college for our son but frankly I find frugality boring at times. Ideas?

  62. Scott says:

    Trent, I’d like to know why you quit doing your monthly net worth review? It was nice to track mine along with someone…gave me a bit of competition. :)

  63. Bill says:


    Check the contract to make sure there is not a balloon payment at the end of the five year period.


  64. Rouge says:

    For professional sports, if you have good stamina, get along well with people, aren’t afraid to gently and firmly confront drunks, can handle cash unsupervised, and are willing to commit to an entire season of home games, you could get a job as a vendor selling beer and hot dogs and sodas in the stands. Though you won’t see all the action, you’ll still get all the “atmosphere” plus make some money.

    If selling isn’t your thing, your favorite sports club might have a community volunteer section, where people help out the (paying) fans during games. Again, you’ll be working, but you won’t be charged admission.

  65. tiffanie says:

    mmmm….cheese. i love cheese. i don’t know if i’ve ever really tried good blue cheese, though. i love feta on my spaghetti or other pasta dishes, or on a salad. mmmm. a wine and cheese tour through france would be lovely! i dream of traveling the world (when i’m debt free of course!) and would love to do a wine tour.

    moving on.

    in response to the sporting event thing…i like how you pointed out that the best seats don’t always necessarily make the experience. we went to a red wings game (go wings! woo!) back in January and we were literally in the last row of seats…but they were free tickets we got from a friend of the family. we brought two friends with us and all we paid for were drinks during the game! it was still enjoyable :)

  66. Shevy says:


    There are lots of Canadian PF bloggers. Aside from my own relatively new blog there are plenty that have been around for a while. I read Give Me Back My Five Bucks (she has a Blogroll of Canadian PF Bloggers) and Quest for Four Pillars all the time. Financial Jungle and Loonies and Sense have good articles in their archives although they’ve both been kind of missing in action recently. Check a few out and they’ll lead you to others.

  67. Kate says:

    Question: I understand you can take out $10,000 out of a retirement fund to buy a first home.
    But if you have more than one IRA (from various jobs), can you take $10,000 out of each to make a bigger down payment and get the home paid off sooner?

  68. Rob Madrid says:

    J know you understand why people walk away from their houses while keeping their CC payments current

    Matthieu check out the http://www.thedividendguyblog.com and /www.canadiancapitalist.com

    Emily unfortunately what you need is marriage counseling to help teach your husband how to open up.

  69. Jessica says:

    Matthieu, a 401k is a retirement plan, so whatever the Canadian equivalent is try checking that out.

  70. Andrew Stevens says:

    Question: I understand you can take out $10,000 out of a retirement fund to buy a first home.
    But if you have more than one IRA (from various jobs), can you take $10,000 out of each to make a bigger down payment and get the home paid off sooner?

    Kate, I’m afraid not. Every person has only one IRA to take $10,000 from. You may have rolled over various 401(k)’s or similar accounts from previous jobs into your IRA (and even kept them separate without commingling the funds), but IRA regulations refer to the whole thing. However, if you’re married and both you and your spouse have separate IRAs, you can use $10,000 each.

  71. Jeanine says:

    I used to live near Proplayer Stadium, and we racked up lots of cash in Marlins tickets. They were great games but some of the best baseball is free! We can go out to our neighborhood Park during the season and watch the little leaguers and multiple games and see more action than the big league. Also some of my favorite are the varsity high school games and to find out a player on that team got a full ticket to college is even better.

  72. Kate says:

    Thanks, Andrew!

  73. Dallas says:

    I’ve got a couple of related questions for you:

    My husband and I currently live in the U.S. but are preparing to transfer to Europe with his company for a couple of years.

    Do you have any advice on renting vs. selling our house? The market is not good right now, but I’m not sure if we’ll come back to this same location when we return.

    Also, do you have any tips on what we should take with us or just purchase there? Clothes, furniture, appliances, vehicles, housewares, etc?


  74. Nate says:

    Mail bag Question:

    1)How is you 101 goals in 1001 coming? Are you still actively tracking them?

    2)Any ideas where someone might go to improve their public speaking skill

  75. What is your monthly income from this web site each month since January?

  76. Kristie says:

    Hi Trent,
    Knowing that you have two young children, ( I do as well) what are some solutions that you have come up with to decrease the cost of their constant need for new clothes as they grow so fast? I know there are garage sales, resale shops etc., but I was wondering if you knew of additional resources online that you have found luck with. You have mentioned having more children. Do you save their clothes for the next child to come along? Have you found good resources be able to resell their clothes after they have outgrown them?

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