Updated on 07.28.08

Reader Mailbag #21

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.
Tactics for making financial changes when your spouse isn’t on board
My personal finance background
The best “pop psychology” book I’ve read

And now for some great reader questions!

If you’re learning more about personal finance, is it helpful to read economics books?
– Lanny

It’s helpful in the sense that it provides context for personal finance. We make money and spend money, and because of that we function as a piece of the overall economy. Understanding how economies work can be very insightful as it can teach us why prices vary, how supply and demand works, and so on.

I’ve read a ton of economics over the last six months (a phase that’s winding down, actually) and I’ve found that after engrossing myself in the topic, I now understand quite a bit more about the whole nature of buying and selling beyond just picking the best quality item for the buck. There’s a large and complex game going on there.

Is it necessary reading? No. Is it insightful and interesting? For me, definitely. If you can stand it, I recommend starting with Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations – it’s dry in places, but if you really think about what he’s saying and try to apply it to what you’ve seen in your own life, it’s massively insightful. Follow that up with any sort of modern economics that looks interesting to you.

Trent, I know you’ve posted about moving among several majors in college. What degree did you actually end up getting? And in what sector did you work before you took the plunge to write full-time?
– Lisa

I finished college with a degree in biology, then went back immediately for a degree in computer science. After that, I worked in a pair of computer-heavy office jobs for several years before quitting to work on The Simple Dollar – I was largely a programmer, but often found myself doing stuff like desktop publishing, poster design, and so on.

In a lot of ways, it trained me well for doing this. The periphery skills, like the software that runs The Simple Dollar, are already in place. The area where I really need to work is on the writing itself.

How do you face the loss of a job from the main wage earner in the family. We have a four month emergency fund, but once it hit us – I am very worried. Four months is not a long time. We have auto pay on most bills and investments. Do we automatically stop the investments until a pay check starts flowing – or try to keep up with investments out of the emergency fund. Once a new job is obtained, do you rebuild the emergency fund first – or keep up with investments.
– Joanne

Yes, stop the investments for now. You can restart them later on. The key thing is to make sure you don’t sink right now, so tighten up all of your leaky spending and hit the pavement to find new work.

When you get back to work, rebuild your emergency fund before doing anything. Your emergency fund is your buffer zone – it keeps you financially alive during crises. Murphy’s Law pretty much states that the second you let your emergency fund slack off, you’ll find yourself really needing it.

Do you think America is heading in the right direction?
– Dennis

Yes, I do. Most people are really worried about America because of the poor choices our government has made over the last decade or so. The government is not America. America is all of the people out there quietly doing their job, having fun on the weekends, and trying to better themselves here and there.

That America is doing just fine. I see lots of people working their tail off. I see lots of people creating useful and interesting and exciting things. I see kids playing in the park across from my house. Just a few months ago, I saw tons of people helping each other hand in hand during the Iowa floods.

The media might like to put up scare messages to stir up ratings, but from where I sit and the people I talk to and see living their lives, things are generally all right. Of course there are things that could be improved, but there’s always something that could be better. If there wasn’t, we’d have nothing to work for. Right now, for instance, people are worried about oil prices. I see tons of wind turbines going up all over the place, and I see people all over investing in huge numbers of more of them – and solar panels, too. I see people scared about the housing crisis and banks failing, but we went through more or less the same thing in the 1980s with the savings and loans and that turned out fine.

I think America is all right, and it’s in much better shape than a lot of people like to think.

What do you think about investing in real estate?
– Marvin

I look at real estate as just another commodity to invest in. You’ll have speculators come in and bump up prices and you’ll also see things bottoming out from time to time.

I do think that real estate is something that does reward the patient and the focused, especially those who have a lot of cash in their pocket. If you’re willing to spend your time really hunting out real estate deals, you can do very well in real estate – but the time investment you need is likely enough that it would have to become your career to make it work.

I would love to read your thoughts about Amazon’s new Kindle.
– JB

My wife has a Kindle and she loves it. She reads (on average) four books a week and she is convinced that it is pretty much the most convenient way possible to enjoy books.

She’s particularly passionate about reading classics (for example, she’s reading Wuthering Heights at the moment), which is particularly convenient because tons of classics are in the public domain and available for free. All she has to do is point her Kindle’s web browser at manybooks.net and download away, all the classics she wants in Kindle format for free. The best part is that the web browser on the Kindle works anywhere that cell service works.

Her only real complaint is the relatively high price for new releases from the Kindle Store. She thinks they should always be substantially lower than the paper price since there’s basically no production cost.

Hi Trent, I am curious about how you plan to handle it if your children don’t turn out to be as finacially responsible as you are? Do you think you would help them out of financial problems by loaning them money, etc?
– Emmy

My feelings on this are somewhat related to my own background and what I’ve observed in similar situations.

With my own kids, I have no problem helping one of them out, but I don’t like the idea of lending them money and I especially don’t like the idea of helping one child more than another one. Thus, my wife and I have largely decided that if we have one adult child that needs, say, $500 for something and we decide to give it to him or her, we’ll give the same exact amount to each sibling to do with what he or she pleases.

Any other scenario I can think of seems unfair to someone.

What are your thoughts on the ethical argument for not eating animals? Specifically, the argument from Gary Francione that states that since animals have a vested interest in continuing to exist, we should not infringe upon that by killing them.
– John

I have one major problem with this argument: it applies to plants just as well as to people. Plants also have a vested interest in continuing to exist, so why is it ethical to eat plants and unethical to eat animals? Plants can sense external stimuli, just as animals do. Plants have defense mechanisms to sustain their life (thorns, for example). Why is it acceptable to eat plants, but not acceptable to eat animals?

From my perspective, the best case for vegetarianism is that it makes healthy dietary choices much easier. Just consume no meat at all and your diet is bound to get healthier.

How do you deal with it when you fail to achieve a financial goal?
– Ed

The first thing I do is try to look at all available data and see where I failed. When I set a goal, I usually try to keep track of progress towards that goal, and that means keeping careful financial records and so forth. So, for example, if I didn’t meet a target for the month, I look through my bank statements and my credit card bills and try to figure out where I went wrong.

Usually, I fail at goals because I either made a really dumb mistake or two or I set the bar too high. If I can find the mistake(s), I focus on them intently in order to correct the problem. If I can’t find mistakes, I assume I must have set the bar too high and use that knowledge for future goals that I might set.

You’ve mentioned that you might try something completely different with your career again in several years. What would you think about doing?
– Linda

Honestly? Teaching. I’d love to be a high school English, history, or math teacher. My only concern with that type of job is dealing with parents. I have a pretty low tolerance for people who look to blame others for their own mistakes, and I’ve seen plenty of parents who become infuriated with teachers because of things like failing a student because he or she cheated.

I just don’t think I’d deal with that situation very well. I can certainly say I wouldn’t bend on such a thing – if my cheating policy was automatic failure and the student was aware of it, that student would fail. And I’d stubbornly stick by it, probably until I got a pink slip.

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

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  1. ChristianPF says:

    thanks for mentioning the Kindle, I have been intrigued by that little gadget and have been wondering what people thought about it… I’ve heard that the display is one of it’s great features, I guess your wife agrees…

  2. Joanne says:


    Thanks for the advice. Actually my spouse is back to work already – only one month out of work. It actually used 1 1/2 months of emergency fund to cover. When we created the emergency fund there were lower costs on lots of things (food, fuel etc.), but due to having four months available, we were fine. Now, back to rebuilding. Pushing hard to get to six month fund, then set our mark on twelve month emergency fund. Remind your readers to periodically review their monthly payments for high increases and prepare their emergency funds accordingly.

  3. Frugal Dad says:

    Interesting take on helping kids equally. I had a friend who used to receive some assistance on a mortgage from his parents, but his brother did not. I always wondered if this built up some resentment between the two brothers, and apparently it did over time. The parents ultimately decided to gift the older brother the amount they were helping the younger brother with and that seems fair, although I had lingering doubts about my friend was in a house he couldn’t afford on his own, etc.

  4. Johanna says:

    Personally, I think that the most compelling reason not to eat animals is not the killing part, but the suffering that they have to endure while they’re alive.

    Plants are not sentient beings. They lack central nervous systems (which, as far as we know, are necessary for beings to be able to suffer or feel pain), and it makes no evolutionary sense for plants to be able to feel pain. Pain is a message that something is wrong and that you should get away from whatever’s causing the pain right away. The ability to feel pain is an evolutionary advantage for animals – just look at how careful people who can’t feel pain have to be to avoid seriously injuring themselves. Outside of Middle Earth, plants can’t run away from predators or forest fires, so there’s no reason they should have evolved the ability to feel pain.

  5. Amy says:

    So what is your argument against eating people?

  6. jbusch says:

    On the vegetarianism thing, one important thing to note is that, while both plants and animals both strive to live, it does not cause plants massive suffering and pain for us to slay them and eat them (ever heard a lettuce leaf scream?). Plus, it is better for the environment (it takes about 2,500 gallons of water to make a pound of beef) and it is cleaner and safe for the consumer. You’d also might want to contrast the imagery behind the scenes of your typical factory cattle farm and that of say, a corn field.

    I think the argument that “plants are living things too” is a little weak, seeing as a tree isn’t oppressed or tortured when you pluck an apple from it whilst a chicken, forced to live its entire life in a cage with other chickens defecating on it, pumped full of hormones to the point of mutation, with its beak cut off so it doesn’t peck its neighbor to death, and then hung upside down and boiled alive to remove its feathers is a bit inconvenienced by the entire endeavor.

  7. Mary Beth says:

    Regarding the issue of helping out children, I am one of four adult children. My parents, through years of work and frugality, put themselves in the position to be able to help us out when needed. They have made the choice that when they give money to one child to help them out, they gift an equal amount to each of the others. It is their money to do as they please so I would not complain if they chose to do otherwise but it certainly does make for more sibling harmony. I am the only one who has children (4) and I know that my mother has been putting money into a college fund for them. I am not sure if she puts an equal amount away for my siblings but none of them have kids. At ages 44, 42 and 38 it is not looking highly likely. Either way, I look at it as her choice since it is her money to do with as she pleases. She could decide to put an equal amount away for each of my siblings and I certainly would not complain.

  8. clint says:


    Thanks for the great answers to some really hard questions.

    Clint Lawton


    Your the best there is…Keep it up.

  9. Nick says:

    Unfortunatly, just because you are a vegetarian, doesn’t mean you automatically have to eat healthy. I know of a few people who don’t eat meat at all. They eat mostly heavily starched foods such as pasta and Mac N Cheese. They consume mostly breads and dairy products.

  10. JE says:

    Just one tiny bit of input regarding Kindle from someone who works in publishing (not for Amazon) – the production costs are by far the least expensive of all the costs involved in publishing a book. Unless you can figure out how to have books write, edit and design themselves (and layout and formatting are design, so even the electronic version is designed), new releases probably aren’t going to get any less expensive anytime soon, even with lower production costs.

  11. Kate says:

    Re teaching: Depending on your state’s requirements for classroom teacher certification, it might take as long to get a high school teaching certificate as it would to get a master’s in your target subject area.
    In fact, if you were working on a master’s, you might be able to teach as a teaching assistant (with a small stipend)before you got your degree, to see how well you liked it.
    You could teach introductory-level college courses in your chosen subject and most colleges strictly observe policies on cheating. Also, you would have zero contact with parents.
    If you decided you would prefer to be an instructor rather than pursue a faculty (Ph.D-level) position, you likely would not have any research/publishing responsibilities.
    You could teach in the evenings and have days free for your regular job, or however your schedule works best for you. I know someone who does this in the engineering field.
    P.S. I LOVE the reader mailbags!

  12. Dan Bruns says:

    A note on the vegetarian issue. Eating meat is not necessarily unhealthy. I’ve know a few people who eat no meat at all. They pile in the twinkies, ding dongs, 64 ounce sodas, and candy bars. None of which contain meat. If in fact they did eat more meat, they probably wouldn’t eat as much of the other things since many meats cause more of a sense of fullness and provides vitamins and minerals that they don’t get from the junk foods they do eat causing them to crave food less.

    I think many vegetarians are so high on their pedestals that they fail to realize that just because they can call themselves a vegetarian, they are immune to eating unhealthy diets. Many hardcore vegetarians actually do not get healthy amounts of protein, fat, and other essential nutrients that can easily be acquired by eating meat. This can cause loss of lean body mass. The body actually feeds off itself. When you do not eat enough protein, your body will just take it from the next best place (YOUR MUSCLES). So in fact, many vegetarians are prone to autointracannibalism because they refuse to eat meat.

  13. Johanna says:

    It’s true that instructors at the university level rarely have to deal with parents, but by that age plenty of students have learned how to be whiny, entitled grade-grubbers in their own right.

    I was a teaching assistant for a year when I was in grad school (this was in physics at a top-tier university), and my fellow TAs and I had to put up with several instances of professors undermining our efforts to grade consistently and fairly. In one case, the TAs had smoking-gun evidence of a student blatantly cheating, and the department refused to do anything about it. The whole experience made my life very unpleasant, and the small stipend barely made up for it.

    Experiences probably vary from place to place, but being a graduate TA isn’t always the ideal teaching environment.

  14. Ryan says:

    In response to comment # 12 – Ill take my chances with veganism as opposed to all the flesh-based dietary health problems out there. I’d also like to know how you quantify the “many” vegetarians you speak of (is it just the “few” you personally know?). We are everywhere, and I know “many” who wouldn’t touch a twinkie or ding-dong with a ten-foot pole. Yes there are some vegetarians/vegans who eat unhealthy diets out of convenience. But the increase in obesity and heart-related problems isn’t being led by vegetarians.

  15. writer dad says:

    I love your idea about treating both siblings equally in regards to money. My wife and I often wonder what will happen if our children disregard the lessons we teach them, and specifically, what we would do if it was only one and not the other. Your suggestion makes perfect sense. It motivates the frivolous sibling to be more judicious so that they can have extra spending money like their brother (or sister).

  16. Margaret says:

    Thanks for the teacher comment! I was a teacher for a couple years, and you would not believe what some parents think you are responsible for. I have neighbours who are always in a battle with the school. No matter what happens, it is the teacher’s fault. Their grade one student is having problems in school? Totally because of the bad teacher and nothing to do with the fact that the child is still up at 10 pm and tries to do homework five minutes before getting on the bus. Teenage daughter hates her teacher? Teacher must be awful, not that the child is a brat whose mother does her essays and has been taught to have no respect for the teacher. Grrr. They have had legitimate problems with the school in the past, but for pete’s sake, own up to your own contribution to the problem.

  17. CJ says:

    Regarding the Kindle: the new releases and best sellers are substantially lower-priced than you would find in any bookstore. Most are $9.99 which, compared to the $24.99 cost of most new releases in hardcover, is very reasonable.

  18. Heidi says:

    Vegetarianism is certainly not a one-way ticket to healthy eating. It’s certainly very possible to eat healthier w/o the saturated fat of meat, but there are plenty of processed carbs and cheese to fill the void.

    When I was vegetarian, I had hoped to loose weight and I did the exact opposite. The blanket statement that you’re “bound to get healthier” is just false.

    I eat meat now, but I stick mainly to humanely and sustainably farmed products. There is a middle ground.

  19. Andy says:

    I am in the parent helping out a sibling situation right now. After my brother graduated from college, he took an extra year at a different university taking classes (not for any degree, working on language skills) and applying to PhD programs in classical archaeology. He wasn’t slacking, so my parents helped him out financially a little (didn’t cover everything, a few hundred a month I think).

    Now, I am getting ready to start my fifth year of school (working on a masters) and my parents want to help me out. The thing is – I don’t need it. I have savings (partly from working over the years and partly from gifts since I was a kid, my parents essentially paid for my education, hence the savings is still around) that I can live off of until I finish the masters next June and start working. I’ve told them I don’t need it and I don’t want it, but they say they will feel better if they give it to me and make it fair.

    I find it a little childish if a sibling would be jealous that the other sibling, needing financial help, receives it from their parents, with the first one not getting anything (and this is assuming the first one doesn’t need it). I just don’t think adult children who don’t need financial help (or even those who do need it) should feel entitled to it. (And obviously my parents have been very supportive financially for me, so I realize I am coming from a very privileged background.)

  20. Amanda B. says:

    You know, I might consider giving up meat if it didn’t require being associated with the vegetarians who constantly imply that they are so much more enlightened that the rest of the world. Perhaps if convincing people that yours is a better, kinder, healthier lifestyle is really your goal (not just proving how great you are) you could adopt a more gentile tone. Maybe suggesting that if you can not imagine going meat free, you should at least try to find humanly raised meats. That would address the majority of the concerns raised against eating meat thus far. I guess it goes back to the adage “you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar”. Assuming you eat honey.

  21. Hey Trent – regarding teaching… both my parents were teachers. They both loved teaching and their students. They both LOATHED parents. By the way my dad pointed me to your site… he’s a retired teacher and I’m sure would be glad to talk with you about teaching. Um… whenever the day comes that you decide to head in that direction ;)


  22. You just named one of the reasons I’m not a teacher anymore! But I have to admit that while I had a few parents who were problems, that factor wasn’t as bad as you might expect.

  23. April says:

    Re: Economics reading … A great book for learning about economic philosophy is “The Worldly Philosophers” by Robert Heilbroner. It summarizes the major ideas of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Meynard Keynes and other economic philosophers, as well as giving you historical context for how their ideas reflected their times. It’s written in an engaging style for a general audience. I read it in high school many years ago, and I still remember most of what I read to this day.

  24. the weakonomist says:

    Beyond hilarious. Trent I think you’ve got a good subject for that food blog if you get it running. People fighting over whether plants have feelings or not…

    I’ll throw my 2 cents in the water fountain. I love juicy, greasy meat. While I agree its probably a good idea to avoid hormones and maybe research into more humane deaths, the way we kill a bull is a lot better than the way a pack of wolves take out a bison.

  25. Johanna says:

    Amanda B, what have any of the vegetarians in this thread said that you find objectionable? Certainly, there are some vegetarians in the world who are as you describe, but I think everyone here has been pretty good so far.

    The reason why I, personally, do not recommend humanely raised meat as an option for most people is that for most people, it’s really hard. There are a lot of nice-sounding “humane” labels, but most of them have surprisingly little meaning to them. If you’re in the position to raise animals yourself or get meat from people you know personally and trust, and eat only meat from those sources, then more power to you. But most people aren’t in that position, which is why I tend not to mention it.

  26. Amanda B. says:


    Fair play, going back to find specifics I realized I might be being hypersensitive. Really only comment 14 seems to be harsh. I don’t think that it is unreasonable to site the people you “personally know” as an example, vice this guy my sister’s dog walker’s second cousin went to high school with. I also think that the phrase “flesh-based” diet, although accurate, is purposely inflammatory. Some what like saying spanking your children is “corporal punishment”, technically it is. But spanking and caning are not even in the same ball park.

    As for your comment. Yes it is hard to find legitimately humanly farmed meat, but it is possible. Local farm that can be visited is one way. And the more people who turn their back on industrial farming, the more alternatives will become available. The lucky side effect is, if people will only settle for humanely raised meat, they will probably eat less of it. Good for people and the environment.

  27. I love the reader mailbag. I am always surprised at how many questions you manage to get (and answer) many are often relevant to my situation. I run an entrepreneur blog and I was wondering how you get people to ask so many questions?

  28. Shevy says:

    While your plan for how you would deal with a child with financial problems and their siblings sounds very fair, (and probably would work well for the run-of-the-mill problems like running up a credit card or being upside down on a car that suddenly needs to be replaced) I can think of circumstances that would make it difficult to carry out or that would tend to increase discontent rather than ease it.

    For example, what if (G-d forbid) an adult child should develop a severe medical condition later in life that prevented renumerative work and needed ongoing financial assistance? Or if an adult child had a baby that resulted in huge medical expenses (say premature twins in the NICU for 3 months) and the expenses weren’t covered by insurance?

    You might be able to pay say, $1,000 per month to one child but not be able to cover the same ongoing amount to one or more siblings (remembering that you want a minimum of one more child and potentially a few more). Or you might be able to come up with $100,000 to pay the hospital but not to give the same amount to the other kids.

    And, even if you did, what would they do with that kind of money? Pay off their house, go back to school, travel? While the parents with the preemie babies would still be struggling.

    Or you could give each of 3 kids $33,000 each but the parents with the hospital bills still wouldn’t be out of the woods.

    So, sometimes dividing things equally isn’t the wisest, or even the fairest, course. You have to be open to the circumstances and make the best decision you can when you’re faced with it (as I’m sure you would).

  29. justin says:

    I would love to eat a big piece of meat right now.

  30. jbusch says:

    Amanda B., sorry maybe my comment re: vegetarianism was a bit sarcastic. I agree that there is a huge problem with “holier than thou” so-called activists and am equally as annoyed and dismayed with them as you are. I think touting ones own personal lifestyle choices as better or more enlightened or more worthy than someone else’s is essentially conspicuous consumption (or conspicuous non-consumption?) and is ultimately counterproductive to everything. I apologize if I came off like that.

    But on another note, the way I view things is that the ethics concern regarding eating meat has more to do with the industry than the notion of whether its right or not to kill a sentient being for food. I think a lot of the people chiming in have agreed that the decision to consume meat and other animal products is more akin to deciding whether to shop at Wal-Mart or not.

    Trent had a good post about that whole issue a while back,


    and he raised two good points that might apply to the whole thing about eating meat:

    If you truly have a problem with their business practices, a boycott of Wal-Mart won’t solve the problem. Wal-Mart operates completely within the laws of the United States and the parameters of the marketplace. If you think their wages are too low, you should join the movement to raise the minimum wage. If you think they’re not offered appropriate health care, you should join the movement for universal health care. Wal-Mart’s role is to provide inexpensive products to consumers and they do this very efficiently, but within what’s allowed in the United States.


    I am actually indifferent on the issue as a whole; there are some ethical questions about Wal-Mart, but these issues permeate the whole economy, and if you want to do something about them, you need to look outside of Wal-Mart, as boycotting them won’t reduce their influence.

    In short, I think many agree that the industry has issues. The method by and degree to which we all protest (whether by choosing ethically produced products, which we are all prone to do, whether it is flesh, fabric or coffee or opting out all together) is where we differ.

  31. jbusch says:

    as an addendum to my above comment, the last paragraph in the comment was my own, while the one preceding it was meant to be a quote. Don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth!

  32. Chiara says:

    On the topic of economics books, I highly recommend The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford. The best part for personal finance purposes was the chapter on pricing and profit maximizing. Point being, sellers make the most profit by selling to the most people at the highest price each person is willing to pay, like auctions. But since transparency would be impossible or just too insulting for most products (“You are willing to pay higher prices, therefore your price is $5.95 for this orange juice”), strategies like coupons come into play, making a higher price for you, but a lower price for me if I take an additional step. It changed how I conceptualize purchases, like now I see paying full price as paying extra profit to the seller for the convenience of not having to find a coupon or some other method of getting a lower price.

    The chapter “Why Are Poor Countries Poor?” also stands out, but the whole book was really good.

  33. michael says:

    Amy said: “So what is your argument against eating people?”

    Personally, the only reason I haven’t tried it is that I don’t want to go to prison. That, and it’s not as convenient — there aren’t people steaks in the grocery store, for example.

    But in the end, it couldn’t possibly be tasty enough to risk prison.

  34. Ginkgo100 says:

    Just consume no meat at all and your diet is bound to get healthier.

    Oohhh no, not necessarily true! I suppose if you just eliminate meat and replace it with plant protein, it will overall be healthier due to reduced saturated fat, but eating vegetarian is NOT always the same as eating healthfully. I had a vegetarian co-worker who ate nothing but bread, cheese, yogurt, and sweets. She said even fruit was not sweet enough for her tastes. How she avoided malnutrition and obesity is beyond me, but I think it involved simple youth (she was in her early 20s). My diet then and now is much better, despite including meat, mainly because it includes a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.

  35. Ryan says:

    @ Amanda B – “But spanking and caning are not even in the same ball park.” Personally, I think that depends on who is doing the spanking.

    And as for calling meat “flesh”… well, I calls them like I sees them. I find it interesting that calling meat “flesh” gets me put in the “harsh” camp.

  36. SomeoneOutThere says:

    Personally, I don’t care if someone wants to eat as a herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore (as traditional Eskimos nearly do). Viritually all traditional cultures eat an omnivore diet, as Dr. Weston Price discovered in his survey of traditional peoples and their diet.

    While I don’t care what people choose to eat, I do care about my freedom to eat what I think I want or need. There’s a lot of myths out there about food. I’m concerned primarily about one thing when it comes to diet. What is healthy for the human organism? More to the point, what is healthy for *this* human organism?

    When people start bringing other agendas into the question of what we should eat, things get far off track.

    We must remember that human beings are animals that are part of the life and food chain of this planet. We are not somehow above it all. If the human organism evolved on an omnivore diet (which it did as any serious, scientific survey of remains left behind will tell you), no amount of wishing will change that.

    If you were living 200 years ago in villages, you would not have the luxury of pontificating about the “moral virtues” of abstaining from meat. You would die or become gravely ill and the matter would be settled for you very quickly.

    It really ticks me off to see parents forcing vegetarian diets on their children (they are still developing!) or on their pets. They seem to have a complete lack of understanding of the dietary needs of animals and people.

    Accept physical reality for what it is and adapt your life around it. If you go against physical reality (gravity or dietary needs), you’ll lose every time.

    You are a human omnivore. Eat your meat.

  37. Ryan says:

    @ SOmeoneOutThere #36 “…They seem to have a complete lack of understanding of the dietary needs of animals and people”

    I beg to differ – eating meat (for most, in the US) is a matter of taste, not “need”. While we surely evolved as onmivores, we also evolved as hunters and gatherers. We ditched that as soon as animal-aggriculture was developed. Now, as animal aggriculture is showing its ugly side, veganism offers a way to maintain our health and and support the environment.

    As for children, we need only look to some Hindus and 7th Day Adventists as examples of healthy vegetarian diets causing no developmental problems among children. Also, just because one pair of vegan parents starve thier kids to death doesnt mean we all will. Some omnivore parents are feeding their kids straight into Diabetes. But that doesnt mean they all are.

    In the USA, in 2008, noone “needs” meat to survive. Its all about want. Please note that I have not told anyone in my messages to go vegan or give up meat. Thats your call. But dont pretend that you need flesh to survive.

  38. Angela says:

    What are your thoughts on the Gerber Life Grow-Up Plan? Since having a baby two months ago we have received three applications in the mail from Gerber. We are already planning on starting a 529 as soon as the enrollment period begins. Thanks!

  39. L says:

    @ Michael- anecdotally it’s a lot like pork, but since pork comes handily pre-packaged, as you say, it’s not worth trying!
    @ Ryan- I personally have no problem with you calling it flesh- it’s still delicious, tender, juicy flesh. In fact it is often better to refer to it as flesh (which generally refers to all soft tissue) if you are eating other animal parts than just muscle, because lets face it- some of the organs can be just as delicious as a good steak cut.

  40. SAB says:

    I do not understand the idea of giving all children exactly equal monetary gifts. I come from a large family, and I am pretty sure that my parents helped out a couple of my siblings much more than they have helped me out, financially. I am totally fine with that. I am thankful that I have the common sense, luck and intelligence to manage my finances without as much help from my parents.

    I have had so many non-monetary blessings in my life that I would never resent a sibling getting money when they need it from my parents. Talk about petty!

  41. Jim Lippard says:

    Amanda B writes: “You know, I might consider giving up meat if it didn’t require being associated with the vegetarians who constantly imply that they are so much more enlightened that the rest of the world.”

    It doesn’t. You should consider a vegetarian diet solely on the merits of the arguments for it, and not on the basis of what other people think about vegetarians.

  42. John says:

    When I initially left the message for Trent in the mailbag, I hadn’t read Gary Francione’s book, Introduction to Animal

    Rights yet (working on it now) and the question I posed came from hearing his logical argument second hand and my own

    mis-interpretation. It’s not whether something has an interest in continuing to exist, but rather whether something has an

    interest in not feeling pain/suffering.

    Humans have a moral interest in not suffering and in not being treated for the exclusive use of other humans (ie. slaves).

    Other animals such as cows, pigs, chickens, etc.. are sentient in that they can also feel pain/pleasure and can suffer. One

    can make the logical leap that if something can feel pain/suffer then it has an interest in avoiding such situations where

    pain/suffering may occur.

    In this, humans share a common interest with animals. So since we share the interest, we are morally obligated to treat

    those interests in the same way and not treat animals as our property (ie. slaves).

    That is the core of Francione’s take on things and there is no morally justifiable reason for humans with easy access to

    plant based products that provide all the nutrition we need to use animal products.

    For a Vegan take on Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma chapter, go here. For a summary of answers to many of the issues people ask in the comments here, including the plant issue,

    and comment #36 go here.

  43. Denise says:

    I know you will hear this from others.
    The difference between plants and animals is sentience-the awareness of self and suffering in short. You cannot believe that a carrot pulled from the ground suffers the same as a pig pulled up by its hind leg to be slaughtered, can you?
    Carrots do not suffer, they do not have a brain.
    They live, but they are not conscious. That is hard to argue I think.BTW I love your website.

  44. SomeoneOutThere says:

    To Ryan (post #37)

    I appreciate your disgust with industrial farming methods, but it doesn’t change the fact that a true herbivore diet for humans is dangerous to their health.

    Many supplements that vegetarians consume to compensate for mineral and vitamin shortfalls are often sourced from animal products, as animal sources are the only sources for certain nutrients. It is true that these days, people do not “need” to consume animal products directly in order to meet their nutritional needs. However, there are many nutrients that can only come from animal products, which are offered to the human herbivore community in the form of supplements sourced from animals.

    The Hindu and Seventh Day Adventist examples are usually taken too far. Hindus who appear to eat truly herbivore diets are eating food that are not as thoroughly cleaned as they are in the West. Insects, larvae, and other residues are consumed with the food. It is where they make up their shortfalls – albeit unknowingly. The sweeping health claims associated with the Adventists usually omit other health risks that rise with their dietary choices.

    I don’t need to discuss this further, as you clearly have your own firm position, Ryan. But to anyone else reading, do your research first. Read the following link and read up on material from and associated with Weston Price and other doctors.


    Good health!

  45. gr8whyte says:

    Re. comment #6’s “ever heard a lettuce leaf scream?”, I’ve never been able to figure out if lettuce never really screamed or I simply lacked the proper sensors to detect them.

  46. loupgaroublond says:

    Regarding vegetarianism and other non meat based diets, here’s an argument that is overlooked sometimes. When we eat meat and other animal products, we have to live in symbiosis with these animals, or we will lose our source of food. By eating a small amount of meat a week, maybe once or twice, you induce a market to operate that actually feeds and raises animals in such a way that the growth of the species is sustained. Moreover, eating ‘green’ animals, ones that weren’t fed on stock feed, but instead on grass, and were let out in open ranges, you can get one of the healthiest foods out there.

    There is a moral argument not to eat meat at all, and i’m not making any arguments against it, but this is a thought to keep in mind for people who do eat meat.

  47. Jesse says:

    Thanks for your comment re: America. I feel like the news media, in its attempt to sell more headlines, is doing us a disservice.

  48. J. says:

    I find it hilarious how many Americans are now running scared from saturated fat. One day we’ll all look back and laugh.

  49. Dan Bruns says:

    1) Vitamin C will cure a cold
    2) Simply reducing fat in your diet will cause you to drop excess weight.
    3) Carbohydrates cause weight gain
    4) Ketosis based diets (Atkins) causes quick fat loss
    5) Exercise makes you hungrier.
    6) Processed foods are not as nutritious as fresh foods.
    7) A vegetarian diet is healthier than a diet including meat.
    8) Organic foods in general are safer and more nutritious than non-organically grown foods.
    9) The red liquid that leaks from a steak is called blood
    10) Don’t swim for at least half an hour after eating

    These food-related myths from the last 100+ years

  50. ACaminante says:

    I may have missed it but, this being a personal finance blog, I can’t believe no one has mentioned how much eating a vegetarian or meat-restricted diet saves on your grocery bill. My wife is vegetarian– I’m not, and I usually cook my tasty tasty murder in bulk on the weekend. At cost-per-meal, meat is expensive, and if you’re deeply in debt it is a luxury that you can do without. Amy Dacyczn talks about this in The Complete Tightwad Gazette.

    Vegetarianism is only better for you IF you learn how to cook first (I’d go as far to say that you would have to enjoy cooking and learning recipes so you get the variety of food that you need).

    People are vegetarian for lots of very different reasons – economical, ethical, environmental, and health-ical (!). As far as the ethics go, I would have liked Trent to dig a little deeper, because the ethics of this issue are related to personal finance. Comparing the pain and psychological degradation caused by factory farming to whatever stimuli a plant “feels” when harvested is like comparing stepping on grass to kicking a puppy. The grass grows back, but the puppy never forgets!

  51. bunny says:

    i used to be a total meat eater. i loved nothing more than a steak and baked potato dinner. all my friends were vegetarian and i swore that wouldn’t be me. then my mom became a pescatarian (the only meat she eats is seafood) and there were all these vegetarian magazines around the house. when i realized the amount of hormones, steroids, and antibiotics i was absorbing from the meat i ate, i stopped. in the time since these practices had first began girls started getting their periods 6 years earlier, on average. that’s messed up!
    but becoming vegetarian didn’t make my diet any healthier. i have had a sweet tooth all my life, so i was still eating plenty of sweets, if not more. as i’ve gotten older, i’ve gotten better about my diet, but i don’t know that i get enough protein. i was trying to eat eggs fairly often, but after watching this video: http://www.mercyforanimals.org/caeggs/ i haven’t been able to do so. i need to seek out a local farm to get my eggs from.
    being a vegetarian isn’t easy. it means smelling fried chicken and knowing i’ll never taste it again (believe me, even if i wanted to, i couldn’t put it in my mouth at this point). it means driving for miles and miles before a vegetarian friendly option is available on a road trip.
    i’ve been vegetarian for almost 10 years. i can’t even imagine how much money i’ve saved in that time. i also wonder what environmental impact i’ve had.
    also, no one has mentioned the humanitarian impact of the meat industry. if countries were producing corn for their own citizens, rather than for the animals that our country eats, the world’s hunger problem really wouldn’t be a problem any longer.

  52. SomeoneOutThere says:

    To Bunney (#51)

    1. There is already more than enough food produced to feed every single human being on the planet. The problem is not the quantity of food. The problem is corruption, theft, taxation, regulations that prevent access at a cheap price.

    2. A large percentage of the world’s dry land is not suitable for crop cultivation. It is too arid or the soils are unsuitable. These lands are best used for ranching – i.e. meat raising. Switching these lands from ranching to crop growing would produce an environmental nightmare far worse than anything we are facing today.

  53. Ryan says:

    @ SomeoneOutThere (#44) – If claiming that Hindus in India unknowingly eat “Insects, larvae, and other residues” that “make up their shortfalls”, is the best argument you have, you are clearly grasping at straws here to defend your argument.

  54. Another Marie says:

    Spending equal money on your kids is fair only when they have equal needs. Since they got married, my mom and her sister have had completely opposite luck. It’s not that her sister does stupid things (except in picking lousy husbands), it’s just been one bad break after another – car accidents, floods, employer going bankrupt, etc. If my grandfather had anything to leave except bills, my mom would have given her share to her sister, who needed it.

    Last I heard, my parents were planning on dividing their money equally between the three of us, but it wouldn’t bother me at all to find they left more to a sibling with a much lower income or that they had helped one of my siblings out of a crisis. I have been told that if we fight over money and property she will come back and haunt us.

    Growing up, two of us had braces and one didn’t. They didn’t give the third the cash equivalent. Nor, as far as I know, did they give my brother the average of what they spent on mine and my sister’s weddings.

  55. Mrs. Frugal Folkes says:

    Do you think America is heading in the right direction?
    – Dennis

    I can’t go along with your vision of “America” doing just fine for one reason: THE JOB MARKET. When college-educated and other hard-working Americans, who want to work, can not find jobs even half-way comparable in pay to those they lost, that’s a serious problem.

    My husband is thankfully employed, but has been downsized 3 times in mergers. He’s been looking for a new job for 4 years, now. My teacher-friend with a Yale education doesn’t think he’ll ever be well-employed again. He’s just patching together work here and there with freelance “gigs.” Other friends who have lost jobs have found themselves unemployed for up to a year. You can say they should forget about engineering and programming and whatever they were educated to do, and just accept a job at McDonald’s…but here’s the problem, particularly for single wage earners: 1)It won’t pay the mortgage or the rent. 2)In our area, many of those jobs are already occupied by various economic refugees from other countries. And #2 has been an on-going problem for my neighbor across the street. She doesn’t have a college education, and is repeatedly hired, asked to teach administrative skills to foreign-born workers, then laid-off when the lower-paid employee has learned what to do. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have a have a problem with immigration. I have a problem with the Bush economic policies that made it so hard for all of us to find well-paying jobs in this land that I love! My best friend, a computer programmer, immigrated here from India 19 years ago, and found the U.S. a land of opportunity and a great place to raise her children. Recently, the company she works for was purchased in a merger. Now, if she loses her job here, she’s seriously thinking of going back to India because the job market looks more promising there, and her income will stretch to include maids and other luxuries, to boot. I never thought I’d see the day when anyone would leave America for a job in a third-world country.

    Trent, I’m glad the kids are playing happily across the street from you. They are playing here, too. But if you go inside and meet the parents in my New Jersey neighborhood, I think you’ll find quite a few who are worried about losing their jobs, and wondering how they’ll ever find another that will cover the mortgage or rent.

    Mrs. Folkes

  56. Sonya says:

    Hi Trent!

    I love your blog and have been faithfuling reading for a couple months now. My question is regarding with holding and taxes. I am 21 and always have trouble figuring out how much to withhold and what to claim on the W4’s. Any advice or sites you could reccomend??

    Thanks for your time!


  57. Mrs. Frugal Folkes says:

    Ackkkk….Trent raised so many interesting points, and all anyone can talk about is vegetarianism? When will being vegetarian NOT be so controversial in the U.S.? When will people simply decide to think about what they are eating, do the research, make their own decisions, and just live and let live???? I don’t give meat-eaters a hard time. They shouldn’t give me a hard time either. There’s an argument for eating just about everything, and ultimately, this is a personal decision. Eat what you want, and then lets move on, already.

    Mrs. Folkes
    (a 25 year vegetarian, who’s tired of talking about what’s on everyone’s plate.)

  58. Sonya says:

    Did not proof read that one!

    *faithfully and *recommend


  59. WhirlMind says:

    Hi Trent…

    On the question of America moving in the right direction… You haven’t covered how you think America fares on Family Fabric and Marital Happiness…

    Count that as a next question from me….

    Do you think America fares well on the parameter of Happy Families ?

    Love your Q & A and wait for it…

    Best Wishes

  60. Mrs. Frugal Folkes says:

    Great question, WhirlMind. Kids playing happily outside are hardly and indicator of the chaos that may be going on with their parents, inside. I’ve been married for 19 years, but I find it very hard to meet other happily married couples. And to add to my previous comment, yesterday yet another neighbor confided to me that she was on the brink of foreclosure because she had not found a new job comparable to her old one. She was working part-time for decent wages, but was always scrounging for additional hours and weekend work. She was so severely depressed, she almost sunk her own boat. Then she thought about selling the house…until she found out how much rent was. Now, she simply has to fight to keep it. sigh.

    Mrs. Frugal Folkes

  61. st says:

    Plants also have a vested interest in continuing to exist, so why is it ethical to eat plants and unethical to eat animals? Plants can sense external stimuli, just as animals do. Plants have defense mechanisms to sustain their life (thorns, for example). Why is it acceptable to eat plants, but not acceptable to eat animals?

    –It’s an interesting way to look at it. I sometimes find myself thinking of things this way: Maybe it’s okay to eat a creature whose passing would not be missed by its relatives or friends. Would a relative or friend pig or cow feel pain at the loss of the pig or cow that you killed to eat? I think it’s possible to argue the answer is yes. Would a relative or friend fish (“peer” fish? are fish capable of befriending each other?) feel pain at the loss of the fish you killed to eat? I think it’s possible to argue that mama fish doesn’t suffer the loss of daughter fish.

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