Updated on 08.18.08

Reader Mailbag #24

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.
I don’t sell my content, ever
Jim Cramer’s only really worthwhile book
A solution for when you’re too tired to cook that doesn’t empty your wallet

And now for some great reader questions!

What do you think of the concept that, to be able not to work and live off your funds, you should calculate how much money you spend a month, and then multiply it by 200? So, say, if you spend 2,000 a month, you should have 400,000 invested, and that would allow you to get the interest each month, and the money wouldn’t finish? Does any of this sound reasonable?
– Lola

That’s a reasonable formula, I suppose. For me, that cuts it a bit too close to the bone – for that to work, you have to bank on low inflation, and we’re certainly not seeing low inflation right now. You also have to believe in a very solid investment return.

What you actually need is enough of a bankroll so that each year, after you take out your living expenses, your investment earns enough return so that you’re not only back to where you started, but you’re back to where you started plus inflation.

So let’s look at your example. If you spend $2,000 a month, that means you spend $24,000 a year. That means your $400,000 investment would need to return at 6% to stay where it’s at. Then there’s inflation. Even if you buy that inflation is only at 5.1% (what the government claims as of June 2008, but I believe is much higher since it doesn’t account for gas), that means your investment has to return 11.1% over the year just for you to stay even. Add on top of that that you’ll likely be taxed for at least some of the gains, and that’s far too much to realistically expect.

Instead, you should shoot for using something like 1-2% of your amount annually. This means that your actual balance, to give you a living expense of $24,000 a year right now, should be somewhere between $1.2 million and $2.4 million. You’ll almost assuredly be fine in perpetuity with that amount.

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?
– Ryan

One big reason is reader volume – there are so many readers and so many discussion threads around here for people to comment on that there are just simply a lot of comments and questions. Another piece is that I give out my email address and my IM name for people to contact me with their questions and comments.

The end result is that I get far more questions than I can use in the reader mailbag. Some of the other questions inspire posts – still others just result in interesting conversations with readers.

If you want questions from readers, give them as many routes as possible to contact you. Have an email account where they can send stuff. Be available on IM. Allow comments, and invite questions. Be on Twitter and Facebook and other services. Make it as easy as possible for readers to ask.

How do you get a spouse to recognize the amount of money they spend on a ‘hobby’ is a huge expense? I have suggested tracking how much is spent, but the response was – “No way, I’d be scared to see the real number, I know it’s huge.”
– Karen

For one month, do a very careful accounting of all of the money your family spends. Sort it into categories – food, household, etc. – and let one of the categories be all expenses related to that hobby. Don’t forget the transportation costs to participate.

Then just simply make a bar graph of this information, showing that you spend more on this hobby than you do on food for the entire family for the month (if it really is that much) or on the mortgage. That is usually a real shocker – comparing it to the amount you spend on basic living needs is usually a wake-up call.

Follow it up with a talk about goals. Discuss how much nicer of a home you could have if the expenses for the hobby were just cut in half.

That’s the route I’d take, anyway.

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

I think the material comfort level in America is very high. I think part of the cost of that material comfort level is less family involvement, as people have to devote themselves strongly to work in order to keep that material comfort level.

That being said, I think it’s hard to judge a nation in terms of the happy families in it. I know tons and tons of well-rounded happy American families, and I know there are tons of well-rounded happy families in every nation. I think it’s very hard to fairly judge family happiness from nation to nation, particularly when living standards and ways of life are quite a bit different.

Have any advice to get extra money for a student with no time, not even for a half-time job? I know it sounds maybe even ridiculous but the situation here its pretty hard since… ever and things will not get any easier when the time for me to move on comes.
– Luis

Without time commitment, you’re not going to earn much money at all. Your best bet is to look for opportunities that fold neatly around your spare time – things like filling out surveys and the like that can earn you a bit of money but not a great wage.

If you’re a student, though, your chief focus should be on maximizing your grades, period. A high GPA is your ticket to a nice job or to graduate school – worrying too much about earning a few extra bucks now won’t get you anywhere.

You mentioned you’re reading some philosophy lately. I’ve always wanted to know more about philosophy but don’t know where to start. Any suggestions?
– Pete

I’d start off with Bertrand Russell’s book History of Western Philosophy. It’s a fun read and it touches on tons of different areas of philosophy. Just read it slowly, absorb the ideas, and when you’re done, ask yourself what ideas intrigued you the most. Then follow that train of thought – Russell’s book will point you towards more philosophical works in that direction.

One thing to note: Russell is pretty blunt in his opinions of different philosophers and their ideas. If he disagrees, he says so, and he also doesn’t hesitate to severely critique ideas and philosophers he disagrees with. Take it lightly and don’t let Russell’s opinions make up your mind for you – if you find the ideas interesting, read other works by that philosopher, anyway.

How do you feel pets factor into a frugal/simple lifestyle? In particular, dogs.
– Carol

Never own a pet unless you sincerely care for pets. Don’t let someone else talk you into having a pet if you’re going to be the one responsible for it. Pets deserve care and love from their owners and to give one anything less is unfair.

On the flip side of that, if you dream of having a pet, by all means get one. What a pet needs more than anything is attention and love, and if you have that, then everything else will fall into place. The actual truth is that most pet expenses, such as expensive foods and equipment, is often a substitute for time, love, and attention. Instead of buying expensive dog food at the store, figure out what it’s made of and make it yourself, for example – it’s more nutritious and healthy for the dog and likely cheaper for you, with the only drawback being that it’ll take more time.

If you have the time to invest in a pet, it’s well worth it.

What’s your favorite board game?
– Emily

My wife and I love board games, and conveniently enough, so does my closest friend. Many evenings are spent at our house playing board games late into the night.

That being said, our favorites over the last ten years, in no particular order, have been Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Puerto Rico, Cartagena, Princes of Florence, and Carcassonne. I’d suspect that each game has seen more than a hundred hours of play time at our kitchen table, with Settlers probably coming out on top (because it’s the one we’ve owned the longest). Ever seen a board game wear out from overuse? Our copy of Settlers of Catan is pretty much there.

In order of complexity, with the simplest going first, I’d rank them Cartagena, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Princes of Florence, and Puerto Rico. The middle two – Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan – would be the ones I’d probably use to introduce new people to the types of interesting board games we like to play.

I just stumbled upon a website called rudder.com. They help keep track of your money after you enter information about your debt, income, etc. Is this a safe site?
– Erma

My general rule of thumb when it comes to websites wanting my personal information is this: am I getting something truly compelling out of the deal? Since I can already do all of the money tracking I need to do in Excel, I don’t find such websites worth the potential risk of identity theft.

Yes, I know many of these sites have a flawless privacy record and a great policy. But you’re still sending your data through a third party, one that you’re trusting to keep safe. All it takes is one person flipping a switch and your data is being stored by someone else.

I prefer to minimize the number of places where I share sensitive information about myself. That way, there’s much less risk of identity theft.

What is the most frustrating aspect of your current day-to-day life?
– Lee

Amazingly enough, interruptions. Right now, I have my days pretty clearly scheduled – I have segments where I focus on writing, for example, and when I write, I intend to write. I try to focus in tightly on the task at hand and get the task done. Doing it this way gives me the flexibility I want in the other parts of my day.

Well, because I work at home, many people interpret that as full permission to interrupt that writing. It’s reached the point where I actually go into something of a “silent mode” when I need to write, where I actually unplug the phone, turn off email and other services, turn off my cell phone, and close the door. This gives me at least some buffer against the interruptions that come – but they still do come, more often than I’d like.

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

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  1. writer dad says:

    I have the same problem with at home interruptions. It’s not just the phone. I actually have people stop by my house in the middle of the day. They think, work from home = not working. This can be very frustrating.

  2. Shanel Yang says:

    Trent, I love the straightforward honesty you bring to each of your answers. No muss, no fuss! I’m never disappointed whenever I read one of these Reader Mailbag posts. Now, I’ll go back and discover your old ones — I love them that much! Thanks a bunch! : )

  3. I have interruptions all the time no matter what I’m doing. I think that’s just part and parcel to having four kids at home with me. lol

    I hope that one day I have enough reader input to do a mailbag. 7 weeks into my blogging, I’m not quite up to that level. :p

  4. Adam says:

    Trent, like the recommendations for the board games. We usually enjoy getting together with some friends for a game of cards or Scrabble, but it’s always interesting to find games where you can work the mind in different ways.

    I enjoy Monopoly, but few people can devote the 8 hours (and likely price gouging, foreclosures, and weeks of subtle posturing) to a game, and while I also quite enjoy games like Cranium (well worth a look) it really works best in a larger group (6+) which can be a little harder to pull together.

  5. Penny Squeaker says:


    Thank you for the recommendations on board games. My family really love board games, we usually buy them at toys-r-us or Barnes & Noble. Year after year same games but different marketing styles.

    Today’s post just opened my eyes on amazon.com’s options of a wide range board games. Most of which I have never heard off.

  6. Lissa says:

    I too enjoyed your list of board games. Many of our friends enjoy those same games plus some. Personally, I LOVE Ticket To Ride, but I’m legally blind and have a hard time keeping track of “where I am” and “where I need to go” on the board. I have the hardest time finding my cities. My solution – Xbox!

    If anyone already has an XBox 360 with a Live account, they can download Ticket to Ride (US) and the Europe expansion with points. Each download costs about $10. The game plays just like the board game, plus some great advantages. You can zoom in on the map, it highlights all your destination cities, and finding what you can build is even easier, not to mention you can play by yourself against the computer (AI), with others locally (just need extra controllers), or online. The one drawback is that if you want to play multiplayer with real live people (I usually play against the AI), you have to establish “house rules” (like, “thou shall not screw they neighbor unless you have to” and “don’t take trains unless they are in your route”).

    Gee, can you tell I’m a little addicted? I play at least once a day and it’s the best $20 we’ve spent in a long time! I swear I don’t work for them!

    By the way, I’ve also heard the Xbox version of Carcassone (sp?) is great as well.

  7. MES says:

    Regarding pet ownership – It isn’t all about time and love, or food and toys. You must also consider basic health care and vet bills. Vaccinations cost money, spaying and neutering cost money, a simple illness can result in hundreds or thousands of dollars in bills. Over the lifetime of our cats, we have easily spent more on vet bills than on food and toys/accessories combined. If you cannot pay, or are unwilling to pay, to maintain your pet’s health and treat an illness, you should not own a pet.

  8. Aly says:

    For Luis- I agree with Trent that focusing on your grades is top priority, but if you want to try to earn a few bucks around that without the commitment of a job, try looking for something temporary that happens to work around your busy studying times.

    Campus bookstores often hire people to help out for a week or two at the start of the semester, when your homework load should be pretty light. Catering or events companies will usually let you sign up for any shift you like. If there is a big event at your school (frosh week or a festival of some kind) they often look for people only for that day or week.

    None of this will earn you much, but sometimes that extra couple of bucks here and there makes all the difference.

    Also, Trent, if you haven’t played the board game Power Grid you may want to check it out.

  9. John says:

    To those opening to their eyes to non-parker bros games, the ones Trent mentioned are generally herded under the umbrella of “euro-games” since they originate in Europe. A great site for information about games of this type and others is boardgamegeeks.com. A place to order them is germangames.com.

    You often mention that everyone should strive for continued self-improvement, something I think as well. However, can’t this lead to people thinking they’re never good enough? At what point to you say “I’m happy with the way I am?”

  10. M says:

    John #6. I am happy with the way I am, now, but with time and change that happens in everyone’s life I would be silly to think I could never be better. A few years I was happy the way I was, but I not only grew older, I just grew and if I hadn’t continued to work on myself, I would be unhappy today. I think part of being happy is working on yourself, learning, growing, making new friends, etc. There is always a place for improvement, it’s all about how you look at it.

  11. Adam says:

    @ John

    The way I see it is that the process of self improvement isn’t contrary to being happy with things as they are.

    In fact, I think that is a huge part of self improvement, recognizing that you can be happy without reaching a specific end-state. This then allows you to work towards your goals, but not have your happiness dependent upon them.

  12. Jesisca says:

    I really enjoy reading your responses to reader’s questions. The advice you gave about making money while you are in school was applicable to me as I have been thinking about that a lot lately. Thanks!

  13. Izabelle says:

    To John: personally, what makes me happy about myself is the work in progress that I am; to be proud and satisfied with what I made of myself yet be near sure that it is the worse that my future self could be. Rather than discouraging, I find this outlook to be filled with hope.

  14. M says:

    “Well, because I work at home, many people interpret that as full permission to interrupt that writing.” I felt the same way when I worked 3rd shift, since I didn’t go to work until 11:30 pm people thought I had the whole day to do what I wanted and play around. Call at all hours, did I want to go to lunch, shopping, can you take me here or there, one of the kids is sick can you watch them while I go to work. I finally called a few people at 2am and asked if they wanted to meet for lunch at 3am. Maybe you need to interrupt someone in the middle of what they are doing to get your point across. Tough Love.

  15. TJ says:

    “Instead, you should shoot for using something like 1-2% of your amount annually. This means that your actual balance, to give you a living expense of $24,000 a year right now, should be somewhere between $1.2 million and $2.4 million. You’ll almost assuredly be fine in perpetuity with that amount.”

    What do you think about using annuities, either fixed or VA’s with the GMWB riders, in order to provide the security of lifetime guaranteed income?

    What do you think of Dave Ramsey telling his listeners that they can take 8-10% from their retirement fund every year without any worry of running out of money?

  16. Kevin says:

    @John –
    My wife always says the same thing regarding our finances. She (and I too) think we have it pretty good, but sometimes when I talk about goals for the future she says “be thankful for what you have.” It’s a good balance to me always trying to figure out new ways to increase our income.

  17. Lola says:

    Thanks for answering my question once again, Trent! I can’t say I’m very happy, since the 400,000 that I thought would be feasable to achieve is now more than 1,400,000. That means I’ll never stop having to work.
    In your answer, all your calculations are based on years, not months. This is something that made me think about culture shock, and maybe it’s worth another question. In Brazil, where I live, we rarely think in terms of annual income. We receive our salaries monthly, so we calculate our expenses on a monthly basis. But in the US you never think about income and expenses on those terms, and you calculate how much you earn by the hour, week or year, right? Never by the month. And yet, many of your expenses (phone, water, heat, electricity bills etc) are paid every month. Do you think that being paid every week makes Americans spend more, since it’s money coming in often?

  18. Odd Lot says:

    I liked the philosophy recommendation, Russell’s history of philosophy is definitely a fun place to start. I actually read that much later, my first dive into philosophical reading was a little brain candy fiction but still a very fun and entertaining read, Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”. I’m no objectivist, but this book is a wonderful intro to a popular modern philosophy and a nice break from non-fiction if you’re looking for something less dry.
    Odd Lot

  19. SP says:

    “If you’re a student, though, your chief focus should be on maximizing your grades, period. A high GPA is your ticket to a nice job or to graduate school ”
    I respectfully disagree. Your highest priority is making yourself employable. A high GPA is not the only key, it is a peice of the puzzle. A part time job really beefs up a resume, even if not related (but best if it is). You also can make quite a bit of money waitressing/bartending if you are willing to sacrafice your weekend evenings. Waitresses usually are done by 11 pm, so it isn’t that bad. Campus jobs sometimes allow you to do homework when things are slow.

    however, for grad school, the GPA matters much more than a part time job.

  20. partgypsy says:

    SP, not to be nitpicky, but to make yourself employable, it is often better to focus on one’s schoolwork and avail oneself of the academic and career related opportunities in college than to work a dead end job. I’m not saying not to get a part time job in school if one has to to make ends meet, but there are many ways your time is better spent than working at as waitperson somewhere, unless your career objective after you get our of college is being a waitperson.

    My personal experience in grad school, coursework (and attendant GPA) is only a small part of graduate school work and an increasing small focus as one goes up in graduate school.
    GPA is important for both college and grad school, but it is missing the big picture to excessively focus only on GPA in either situation.

  21. Jules says:

    About the pets: NO!

    I almost rather you’d not answered the question than give the answer you did.

    Yes, pets need attention and love, but even more than that they need an EDUCATED owner who’s done his research about how to take care of them. There are too many cats, dogs, ferrets, fish, birds, snakes, turtles, [rest of menagerie] out there that suffer needlessly despite that their owners “love” them, because their owners couldn’t be bothered to realize, “Gee, maybe fish do get bored swimming around in circles” or “Maybe I shouldn’t let my baby and my bunny play together until I teach my baby how to play with the bunny.”

    And about the pet food: making your own pet food is not complicated or expensive (we make our own cat food), but it’s NOT just reverse-engineering the crap you find in most bags of kibble. You really have to understand the nutritional requirements of the animal in question, and for owners of “exotics” (guinea pigs, ANY kind of bird, fish, lizards), making your own pet food is simply impossible. Cats, for example, have unique metabolic needs–they ARE NOT small dogs and to feed them as such would be a big mistake.

    As far as whether having a pet is compatible with frugality, my own take on it is that it can be. Pets, as you say, don’t need expensive toys (for our fuzzbutts, wine corks, beans, and old newspapers are a recipe for heaven). But you ABSOLUTELY need a vet fund. “If you can’t afford the vet, you can’t afford the pet,” is a saying that gets tossed around in pet coms, and as harsh as it is, it’s TRUE. So many horror stories float around about people with [animal] that presents one day with [symptom of something obviously and life-threateningly wrong], and then they say, “Don’t tell me to go to the vet, I can’t afford it.” Or worse, “It’s a $5 rat, I’m not taking it to a vet.”

    And I ESPECIALLY resent the suggestion that cheap pet food will do (as much as I love your blog, that really rankles me the wrong way). Granted, expensive foods may not be any better. But QUALITY foods are expensive. And if you truly love your pet, you will invest–and it is an investment–in quality.

  22. I would add to the pet answer that you should be prepared to have some extra leeway in your budget if you get a pet, just as you would with any dependent. We chose a small breed with an overall pretty good health record, from what I learned in initial research (a miniature schnauzer, rescued from an individual who had purchased from a reputable breeder(. He is a great dog and a wonderful addition to the family.

    However, he also costs us an average of $100 per month, and he is not yet 3 years old. He must be groomed (just a few times a year), we’ve bought several leashes looking for the one that will make walking most pleasant, and he has chronic allergies that mean he must take two medications so that he is comfortable enough to not scratch his ears until they bleed and chew away his chest fur, and then he must have occasional blood tests to confirm he’s in good health w/ the meds.

    I had no idea dogs could HAVE those conditions, especially so young. To me he is absolutely worth it … but pet owners must be prepared to pay for the unforeseen … again, as with any dependent (or hobby, toy, etc.).

  23. George says:

    @Lola – unfortunately, that’s the usual reaction for people, that they get a reawakening of what financial independence really means. There are some other factors which can help, that Trent didn’t include: 3-4.5% range is usually targeted as a safe perpetual withdrawl rate, but shorter/longer life expectancies greatly influence the number and tax situations can change (for example, if one receives SSI, most people aren’t likely taxed on that portion of their income).

    Americans calculate their income several ways: hourly, weekly, bi-weekly (that’s how often I get a paycheck), monthly (most billing cycles), bimonthly (some bills, such as my water bill), quarterly (dividend income is usually quarterly), and annually. When determining how much your investment pile is worth, it’s easier to say that you need 20x-30x your annual requirements rather than 240x-360x your monthly requirements.

  24. Jules says:

    @ Cheap like me:

    Have you considered changing him to an all-natural diet? As in, one where you buy chicken from the grocery store and feed it to him?

    Unfortunately I don’t know of any studies offhand to prove this, but there are tons of anecdotes about allergies magically resolving themselves once the pet is off kibble. Supposedly it has to do with an allergic reaction to the grain that’s used. Again, I don’t know of any studies confirming this, so do your own research before you dive in (I researched raw diets for two months before I finally got the nerve to feed it to my cats).

  25. Michael says:

    You mean, Bertrand Russell is a good place to start ruining someone’s education in philosophy.

  26. Lisa says:

    I was hoping to see some comments about the happy families in other countries. I have friends who have moved their families around the world and we are considering doing the same thing. Having received job offers in Copenhagen and in Berlin, this decision is right on the table. Trent, did any of the child raising books you’ve read make any comparisons between the US consumerism and other countries? I am reading Bringing Up Geeks and what Hicks describes sounds like the families we know in Germany. We wonder if the strong Euro should be playing into our decision. The happiest people I have ever seen were in the Philippines…. dirt poor but with loving families and simple joys. Just rambling. Any thoughts out there?

  27. Hello Newman says:

    I wanted to speak to one of the responses you gave to someone regarding how much money you need to retire. Scenario 1, her scenario, calls for retiring with an unknown probability of running out of funds. Scenario 2, according to your letter and her response to your letter, means that she can NEVER RETIRE but that she decreases her chances of running out of funds to a remote contingency. For arguments sake, there is approximately a 1.4 million dollar difference between the two positions. Likely that person will NEVER be able to make enough to get to 1.8 million dollars (if they saved 25,000 a year and were able to constantly make 4% more than the rate of inflation they still wouldn’t make it unless they are quite young)… My question is this… at what point do you roll the dice and say I am going to chance it? Would you be willing to work an extra 20 years of your life to move the likelihood of not going broke from say 50% to 5%? Remember…. you are talking about giving up TWENTY YEARS of the prime of your life JUST TO INCREASE YOUR LIKELIHOOD that the very final years of your life will be comfortable… I know there are no pat answers to these questions, but in many many cases people will NEVER get to the numbers that get bandied about as absolutely safe… The truth is the number of people who are likely to accumulate networth in their working life of $2million dollars is absolutely minuscule… I don’t have a set answer to this question, but I don’t think telling everyone to work until they have 2 million in the bank is the answer… Thanks for your great blog, always interesting. jcw
    (sorry if a lot of detail missing, this is a vast subject and I have limited time right now)

  28. Steve says:

    6% and 1-2% withdrawals per year seem like two ends of the spectrum. Splitting the difference is the 4% safe withdrawal rate often bandied about by various people. And yet one wonders if that will be enough to keep up with inflation going forward. One of the big bugaboos is health care – going up WAY faster than inflation. If it weren’t for that, it seems that if you wanted safety you could just pay an insurance company a premium for safety, i.e. buy an annuity with inflation increases. Or you could hedge your bets by buying an annuity for enough to buy the bare necessities, and let the rest ride on the market.

    It does seem to me that a stock investment ought to keep one up with inflation. If the dollar cost of a loaf of bread goes over time, the dollar value of a share of bread company should go up at the same pace, right?

    As to board games: I would like to recommend Bohnanza, Yspahan, and Tichu (a lot like many basic trick-taking card games, and yet one of the most popular games in my gaming group.)

  29. Before switching your pet to a homemade diet, it would be a good idea to consult with your vet. Pre-packaged foods have vitamins, minerals, and the like added to them and you may need to supplement your pet’s diet if you go with homemade food.

    We have a dog and she does cost us money, but for us, that extra cost is worth it. I’m in vet tech school, so I can get her yearly vaccines done at a fairly low cost at the school’s clinic. Other than her sensitive stomach, she’s a pretty healthy dog, so save for one really expensive weekend, her vet bills have been pretty minimal. Our biggest (recurring) expense with her is food. She’s allergic to rice (yes, rice, that great ingredient that’s used in “sensitive stomach” dog foods), which is a key ingredient in nearly every decent dog food. The food she gets is a little more than I’d like to pay for dog food, but it’s either that or she gets crummy food. And when you do the math, it costs us about $25/month to feed her, which really isn’t bad, considering the amount of enjoyment we get out of her.

    Regarding games: Apples to Apples is another great game. It’s great for laughs.

  30. realtychic says:

    Caution: Ticket to ride is ADDICTIVE!! I am not as familiar with the other games you mention, but one of the families in our group has Ticket to Ride, and we have all fallen in love with it. I’m actually considering getting my own, because we now have more people who want to play than we have spots. It’s a great frugal way to have fun. We get together, each bring something to pitch in for supper, play until we can’t play any more and go home after a wonderful evening together. We also tend to talk to each other more than if we were, say, at the movies or something. I am a big fan.

  31. Jennifer says:

    If you like board games you should try Apples to Apples. My family played this last Christmas and it was a blast! Our ages ranged from 4 years old to 65 and everyone was able to participate.

  32. threenorns says:

    about pets: even though i used to help run a pet rescue, i’ve only had two dogs. i actually don’t like dogs, but i fell in love with them, both palliative care cases from the toronto humane society.

    lady, the latest, was adopted – for free, even! – with the full knowledge she would live, at the most, two months. she had been abused and medically neglected so badly, it took three months of one-on-one care from the vet, who took her to his own home. she was still shaved from where the six-by-eight inch pain patch had been applied.

    honestly? she was a train wreck. couldn’t even walk without a towel used as a sling to support her hind legs: her back had been broken from a blow from something long and thin, like a broomstick.

    i took her home with me and, after extensive research, decided to put her on the BARF diet – Bones And Raw Food.

    not only was it the cheapest pet food EVAR, but she lived just over six months – and after one month on the diet, i retired the walking towel to the linen closet. she was not only walking, she would play and gambol – she loved the snow and would run across the yard ploughing up the snow with her nose. being a pale champagne-coloured cross between a rough collie and a samoyed, she was *beautiful* against the pure white backdrop.

    one month supply from the butcher – chicken wing tips, chicken backs, lamb ribs, beef marrowbones, whatever he had going – cost me less than thirty bucks and probably woulda been cheaper except i often nipped into it to make soup stock. the veggies were free from the local grocery store – they often donate culled produce as animal feed although they were a bit bemused when they heard it was for a dog!

    and an egg (pureed with teh shell for calcium) a day isn’t going to break any banks.

    okay, now i have a question:

    my hubbie, bless his heart, is obsessed with money. always saying we don’t have enough to make the bills, etc, etc. i’ve done the math and quite frankly, if i were to get a job, i’d be working just to pay off day care.

    yes, he smokes, drinks, buys hundreds of dollars in photography equipment he honestly doesn’t even use, just likes to show off, goes out to the bar once or twice a week. that’s an issue with which i am in the process of dealing.

    what i’d like to know is how to i get him to appreciate my efforts? his tactic is “get more money, get more money” – mine is “keep what we have, keep what we have”.

    i use coupons like stink.

    our long-distance is free because a friend of mine has given me her calling card – she gets unlimited at flat rate.

    i bake bread – a loaf costs 80c instead of 2.29

    i make my own detergent

    i line-dry the clothes instead of paying 2,50 for an hour drying time.

    the baby runs around naked much of the day – a box of 92 diapers lasts me over a month instead of the usual two weeks; long enough to make it to the next $20/box sale.

    i have purchased not one drop of formula, not a single bottle.

    i use the computer for directory assistance and to check grocery flyers to find teh best sales each week. he drives to one grocery store, i walk to the other, and we cover both.

    but even though i’m stretching money so far it screams, it’s not good enough for him!

    any ideas on getting info through his thick head?

  33. chris says:

    Re: rudder.com

    One of the websites for tracking money is buxfer.com. You can login with your OpenID, Yahoo!, GMAIL or other IDs and you can keep track of your income and expenses. They don’t ask for bank details or anything like that so there is no change of identity theft.

  34. SP says:

    I still think that most college students can pull off a job, and they’ll still have time to get good grades and have a life. Maybe I was just friends with overachievers, but I doubt it.

    A waitperson is not a career goal, but even that is a stepping stone. My first job in my field (an internship) was secured in part because I had already demonstrated I could deal with stress/customers and manage my time well.

    Obviously, if your grades suffer you shouldn’t work, but telling students “school is your only job” just seems so high school to me. :)

  35. Trent,

    My favorite part of Mondays is your Reader Mailbag. I don’t know why I like it so much. Probably because I am nosey and you divulge personal information. It is pretty cool…

    Anyway, I was wondering if you have heard of ChaCha answering service for your cell phone and if you think it is AWESOME?????

  36. SP says:

    Oh, and I meant if, as an undergrad, you plan to go to graduate school, then GPA is far more important if you hope to get into a good school. Schools won’t care a bit about non-research part time jobs.

    Once in grad school, I realize coursework is not the focus, however, you are still expected to get high marks. Most profs only give A’s and B’s to grad classes. (This may vary in your field.)

  37. docrjay says:


    I’ve been a fan of your book reviews, and read a lot of your recommendations. Like you, I have recently been interested in philosophy, and it revolutionized my thinking particularly in religion politics and economics.

    Please review some philosophy books too. I eagerly want to know this side of you.

    As always, great site, keep up the good work.

  38. tadeusz says:

    About this saving calculation: You don’t have to break even+inflation. I think that one could consider not even breaking even and expect to run out of money at (say) 100 years old. The life expectancy is lower than 100 years, which should provide some breathing space for medical expenses common for old people.

    (Which boards do you play TtR on? I prefer Europe, America is too balanced for me. Switzerland can be fun too, even for 2 players. I haven’t played Scandinavian board yet)

  39. Jennfier says:

    It’s amazing all the closet Settlers of Catan fans there are. It’s such a fabulous game, even if you’re not into the usual, 20 hour nightmares like Risk…
    Trent… have you played with any of the expansion sets?

  40. getagrip says:

    I agree with Trent that the 200 times your monthly expenses may be cutting it to close to the bone *for a projection* of what you should need. It doesn’t sound like health insurance and taxes on earned income is coming out of that number, and they can be big bites in the future.

    That said, I thought tadeusz had a reasonable answer, and I echo it. Pick a date you are not likely to live past, and figure you’re going to run out of money then. There are planners (MSN has a retirement planner) which can use to play with the numbers. You’ll base it on how much you currently make and what percentage you want in retirement to spend (typically 80% of current income).

    For example, lets say you make 36K a year, you want to replace 80% ($28,800). At 2% of earned interest you’d need 1.44 million in savings. (all of this is in today’s dollars and the projection accounts for inflation). However, if you were to retire with less than half that (say 602K), and earn 3% over inflation on those savings, and you withdraw principle as well, you would last 32 years into retirement, so if you retired at 65, you’d be out of money at 97. If you’re 35, save 15% (say 10% of yours, 5% of an employers match) and have 25K put away already, this is doable. This is without getting anything back from social security or any other income you may be able to save beyond this amount.

    Is it better to have more money when you retire because you don’t know what the future holds? Well, yeah, it’s pretty much always better to have more to retire with than less. My point is that you don’t have to have these multimillion dollar savings projection for retirement to have a potentially comfortable and livable retirement. I certainly feel that you should be able to save 15-20% of your annual income over 30 years or so and be able to retire reasonably. That shouldn’t kill anyones current lifestyle to do that.

  41. SK says:


    I posted this in the other thread, but I think this is the right one fore reader mailbag questions.. I am repeating here

    I dont know if I belong at this site much, but most posts interest me.. I am a bachelor, 26 right now, planning to get married early next year. I have always been a major proponent of the simple statement “Your expenditure should never be more than the Income” month after month after month. I spend decently lavishly, eat lunches out, dont cook at home, buy food from outside for dinner too, but I still manage to save one out of the two paychecks I receive in a month. That is, half of it. In my current spending of half monthly pay, I match my company’s 401(k) full match and I have a long way for retirement. I recently paid off my 22k car (Camry so has a lot of life on it still) out of savings after considerable thought if I should hold it in CDs versus paying off the loan but my 4% on savings with tax was far less than my 5.5% car loan. I saved up around 85k by now. All of it is in either short term CDs or in Savings accounts. The problem now is, lately I have been thinking a lot, as to why should I save now any more. At times, I think, I should spend my entire pay check from the next month at least until my marriage. Some times, I dont understand why I should save any more. So my question is, after a certain level of savings when you are debt free, what is the incentive for saving? Why should you save any more?

  42. Carol says:

    Hello and thank you for answering my question. My eyes popped out of my head when I saw it on your blog! Wow. And thanks to the other posters for adding their remarks. Sorry you didn’t answer sooner, though, because we just purchased two puppies from our neighbor who bred his female golden retriever. I have mixed emotions about the new puppies, they are both adorable and a lot of trouble, and I do know vet costs are pretty much the same as a regular doctor. All my arguments for not getting the pups (vet costs, time and responsibility commitments, etc.) are not really understood by my husband and grown up children because I have always been the primary care-taker for our dogs. Also, we have now considered having our yard fenced in and the cost is sky-high, so that is out of the question. So I guess I would add some advice of my own, make sure you have a fenced in yard and a vet-fund before making the new puppy commitment. Then you can probably have a more enjoyable pet relationship.
    P.S. My favorite board game is Scrabble.

  43. Amit C says:

    It is probably time to put a TOC or Link to questions at the top.


  44. Vanessa says:

    In regards to pets:

    I have three dogs, and they are very expensive, despite working at an emergency vet clinic where I get a hefty discount. They are certainly worth it, but I would not advise getting any pet without much care and consideration. Also, there are many things you can do to reduce expenses:

    Food: yes, you can make your own, but it can be difficult and time-consuming. Dogs with food allergies (often manifested as skin problems) are usually allergic to a protein source, either a grain or meat. So to “cure” the problem, it would need to be switched to “novel” protein sources (those that it has never been exposed to). Most hypo-allergenic dog foods use exotic meats such as duck, venison, salmon or rabbit and no grains at all (they are bulked up with potatoes or sweet potatoes). This can be more expensive to duplicate at home than to purchase from the vet (and they are quite pricey there).

    Toys: My dogs love to play with old socks and stuffed animals purchased for 10cents each at Goodwill. Cats can go with just a wadded up piece of paper or the ring from the milk (my childhood cat’s favoirite). The most important thing is to make sure that the toy is not eaten-foreign body surgery is one of the more pricey vet bills, and if not caught early, it can lead to death.

    Vet: Get your vaccines (and from a vet, not the feed store). Many people think that they are saving money by skipping, but treating a puppy for parvovirus can run into the thousands, and there is no cure, so they could still die. Take a new pet to the vet immediately in order to catch problems quickly and prevent future ones. Adopt from a shelter or rescue group (these pets often come spayed or neutered and vaccinated, and it is cheaper than a breeder). If you must get from a breeder, make sure that you are able to see the parents (or at least mom) and where they are kept-filthy conditions and sick looking mom do not bode well for the health of a puppy or kitten. And never, never, buy from the back of a truck in a parking lot!

    Also, you will want to thoroughly research the breed or breed mix and what they are susceptible to, in order to be prepared. For instance, if you get a dachshund-be sure to have a few thousand dollars in the bank because chances are good that you will need back surgery at some point. And cats, if they live long enough, will likely go into kidney failure.

    Spay/neuter. Altered pets are less likely to roam, and a litter can be expensive to care for. And put your pet on heartworm prevention-it may be pricey, but it is cheaper than treatment.

    Restraint: Cats should be kept indoors or walked on a leash (it can be done), and dogs indoors in inclement (and too hot or cold) weather, in a secure fence or on a leash at any other time. The saddest and most expensive vet visits are often hit-by-cars, and there is the possibility of fighting with other animals running loose, or getting picked up by the pound (which can be costly).

    Finally, pet proof your home. Research poisonous substances and keep them out of your home or in a high, closed cabinet. All medications and drugs are bad for pets, and you would be surprised how much of a bitter pill they will eat. Also, keep rat bait, insecticides, fertilizers, slug killers and herbicides out of your home…they are bad news. Other things you eat that are bad for your pet: gum containing xylitol, chocolate, macadamia nuts, raisins/grapes, onions, garlic and I am sure that I am missing some. And don’t forget to research your landscaping choices: cocoa hull mulch, sago palm and others can be quite harmful, and many nuts can cause foreign bodies.

    Sorry for the long post, just want people to make responsible decisions regarding their pets.

  45. Michael says:

    For the philosophy comment, a great book that is very entertaining and also extremely informational is the book Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. I have read a lot of philosophy and that is the best introduction I have found.

    ps I love the website

  46. Elfalem says:

    Hello, I’m a recent subscriber to your blog. I will finish high school in a couple of years and currently, I have no idea about personal finance and investing which is something I want to do. I don’t even get why there are separate savings and checking accounts. Can you point me to place which discusses these basic money management topics? thanks!

  47. Bobbi says:

    I heard something the other day that said most lottery winners lose their moeny within the first 18 months of winning a state lottery. I am just curious, what would you do with the lottery if you played and won the jackpot?

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