Updated on 09.22.08

Reader Mailbag #29

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.
What do you do if a home improvement project fails?
Some people HATE frugality!
Some deeply personal reflections on Your Money or Your Life
And now for some great reader questions!

What is the best way to save for both a down payment on a house and emergency funds? I have about $3300 in savings (plain old savings account), a good 401(k) with $12K (I am 29), and a credit card debt of $1600 which I will be finished paying in October.
– Valerie

An emergency fund should always be in cash in a high interest savings account. You don’t want that money bouncing up and down with respect to the ebb and flow of the stock market – it needs to be steady and reliable.

As for the house savings, it depends entirely on what your timeframe is. If it’s coming up quickly, you should keep that money in cash, either in a savings account or a certificate of deposit. If it’s still a long way off (five years or more), you should probably be investing some of that in stocks in order to have a strong chance at a solid return. I’d put at least some of it into a Vanguard index fund if I was more than five years out.

Also, I’d up my 401(k) contributions. Having $12K at age 29 isn’t a bad start, but I’d make sure I was contributing at least 10%, especially if you’re still single.

What food blogs do you frequent and/or recommend? Do you still have plans for an eventual food blog of your own?
– Tim

My favorite food blog is 101 Cookbooks, but I also regularly read The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Orangette, and The Food Pornographer (I love the photographic style).

I would love to start a food blog, but quite frankly, there’s so much to keep up with with regards to The Simple Dollar that I simply don’t have the time to do one to the level of quality I would expect from myself right now. I will say that I have been writing posts for a food blog and saving them for the time that I would be able to give a food blog the proper attention.

I have given some consideration to slowing The Simple Dollar down to one post a day and using that extra time to start a food blog, but that’s not a risk I feel comfortable taking at the moment.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of hiring a financial professional?
– Rajeev

The advantage is obvious, and it’s the same advantage you get whenever you bring in a professional to help you out with a situation: it solves a problem that you’re reticent to tackle yourself. In my eyes (and I mean this seriously), hiring a financial advisor is like hiring a plumber. In both cases, you’re paying someone to take care of a job for you that you don’t really want to do for yourself, for whatever reason.

The disadvantage, though, is that you’re trusting someone else to manage your money. You’re hoping that they’re making the best choices for you, and you’re trusting that they’re not merely making choices that would earn them the best commissions and kickbacks, but the choices that will earn you money. A fee-only advisor – or, better yet, one whose pay is based on the performance of your investments – will be the most likely to provide this.

For me, though, I’m a “do it yourself” kind of guy. I’d rather not pay someone to solve a problem that I can figure out for myself. If I don’t optimize my investments, so what? I’m still saving on the advisor’s fees, and I’m learning from my mistakes.

What would be the three main goals you would like to accomplish in either one or two terms as the President of the United States?
– John

If I were taking the oath of office in January 2009, here are the three things I would do immediately.

First, I would adopt a plan that would make our nation fossil fuel independent in ten years. I would direct every spare dollar I could, from the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and all science agencies within the government, to breaking our fossil fuel dependence. This is not only an environmental issue, it’s also a foreign affairs issue – we cannot trade lives for oil any more.

Second, I would have a face to face meeting with the head of every single nation that we have deemed as an enemy over the last ten years. I would offer to let them share in the results of our hard work on the energy issue in exchange for reducing or eliminating the aspects of their governance that destabilize security. We would sit down and simply say, “Right now, every sharp mind in America is working on solving the energy problems that we all face. I will gladly give your nation the results of this research if you will cease your nuclear weapons programs and adhere to a basic human rights doctrine.” Doing this would enable us to cut our direct military spending significantly, thus paying for the expenses of the fossil fuel program.

Third, I would end the “war on terror” as it currently exists. No more warrantless wiretapping. No more torture. No more denial of a basic human right to a fair trial. Our war on terror would be reduced to simply a direct, targeted hunt for Osama bin Laden and his inner circle of advisors, period, because those individuals should stand trial for being behind 9/11 – and they should receive a fair trial in an international court. Once they are captured, our boys come home.

This is what I would do. Sadly, I don’t believe either major candidate for President will come close to this.

Can you give some advice for a 20-something that has great money management skills, but finds it hard to save due to A) no incoming income because currently in graduate school B)monthly car/insurance/cell phone bills and C) basic college expenses (books, housing, etc) What would be a good way to invest the little money I have and also be able to quickly get the money back if an emergency comes up?
– Jessica

The best way to invest an emergency fund is to keep it in cash in a high-interest savings account. If you put it into stocks or something like that, the up and down bounces of the stock market have a good chance of leaving you high and dry if you need the cash at a moment when the market is down.

Sign up for an online high yield savings account (like ING Direct – what I use – or HSBC Direct) and just put your cash in there. Since it’s linked to your checking account, you can just move cash back and forth between the accounts whenever you need to.

How often when you write fiction does your outline change? I ask this because I will have an outline for my stories as well, and then the character I’ve created will wrench the plot from my grasp and go off in their own direction. At that point, I’m conflicted- do I force the story to fit my outline or let it run rampant?
– John

Whenever I’m visualizing a story, I usually conjure up three or four scenes, and then I try to flesh them out in as much detail as possible and figure out how and why they’re connected to each other. I tend to just take piles of notes about the story until I’m content with the general structure of the whole thing, then I start writing.

In other words, I don’t start actually writing the story until the whole thing is pretty well fleshed out in my mind and in my writing. I find that every time I just sit down and start writing fiction, the train goes off the tracks and I can’t finish what I started.

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?
– Lola

That’s one explanation. I really think the biggest problem with overspending in America is the incessant desire to keep up with the Joneses. American culture is inherently competitive, and people often place their self-worth on how they stack up compared to the people around them. Quite often, purchases are used to make that comparison.

From what you describe, it sounds like many Brazilians live paycheck to paycheck, which is a dangerous way to live. It seems intuitive to me that not having your billing cycle matching your paycheck is a better prod towards stopping the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle than having your checks mach your billing cycle.

Every time I make orange juice at home, it tastes terrible, much worse than even the worst store-purchased orange juice. How do you make orange juice?
– Adam

The biggest factor in the tastiness of orange juice is the quality and variety of the oranges used. There is a huge difference in the quality of orange juice you get from different orange varieties.

Most oranges that you tend to buy in the store are navel oranges, which make – frankly – mediocre juice. However, they’re very easy to grow and are reasonably sweet, so for the quality of orange for the buck, they’re the best around.

Most orange juices you buy are actually a mix of the juices of different oranges in varying proportions, usually mixing the juice of navel oranges with the juice of the harder-to-grow but much tastier Valencia oranges. Orange juice producers seek to find the perfect balance to produce a tasty juice while minimizing cost.

For me, the best juice is about 80% Valencia and 20% navel with a lot of pulp added. Just get four Valencia oranges (you can get them in some grocery stores) and one navel orange, squeeze them by hand into a bowl, scoop the flesh into that bowl, and stir it around until it’s consistent. That, my friend, is how to make a good orange juice.

If you can easily buy them, I also recommend experimenting with blood oranges, tangelos, and tangerines in your orange juice. There are some mixes that are incredibly tasty.

My brother became addicted to meth a few years ago and spent all of his money. He lost his house, his wife, his cars, his children – everything. When we were younger, he helped me out several times – he basically paid for my textbooks in college and let me live in his family’s basement for six months while I figured out what to do after college. Now he wants to move in with us. I feel incredibly guilty because I don’t want him to. I don’t trust him any more and I don’t want him living in my home with my two little children. What should I do?
– Millie

If you don’t trust a person, don’t let them live with you, period. One should never feel uncomfortable or unsafe living in their own home.

My solution would be to show that you do care in other ways. Help him with the mechanics of getting his life in order – assist with his job search and so on. Be willing to be a listening ear. Offer him financial assistance if you feel it’s appropriate.

Don’t let anyone make you feel unsafe, though. No matter what.

What are your favorite comic strips?
– Art

A nice way to close. I really only have one that I follow faithfully – xkcd, a self-described “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language,” is easily my favorite comic strip of all time. Just hit a random strip and dig in.

There are a lot of other ones out there, but they tend to lose me after a while. xkcd is simply my favorite one I’ve ever read – it very successfully matches my humor, interests, and perspective on the world.

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

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  1. Ryan McLean says:

    You are right that an emergency fund should always be cash. You need to be able to access it really easily. I love that you always have time for your readers. Personally I also try to respond to every reader I can and I love that you hold this value also.
    I sent you an email not long ago but I never got a reply :-(
    Hopefully you will reply to me soon

  2. RDS says:

    I always say that hiring a financial planner is like hire someone to change your oil. I think that I might like your plumber analogy better though – it better conveys the risk and trust involved.

    However, I am not sure that I agree with your advice that an advisor whose earnings are based on the performance of his client’s investments is a good way to go for a couple of reasons:
    1) This situation could easily lead to an advisor putting his client’s assets in relatively riskier investments than the client should have.
    2) The market goes up and down. If he puts you in a great index fund just before a bear market, is his service worth less to you then if he had helped you plan out your investments at a different time?
    3) Ten years ago when I was a financial advisor, this type of compensation was illegal in most states. Financial planners could charge a percentage of assets under management, so their fees would grow as your assets grew. However, they could not charge a fee based on your return. Maybe things have changed – the rules do seem to be different for hedge fund managers.


  3. Carolyn says:

    Trent, I might have to write you in for president– especially for your point #2.

  4. ub says:

    “I would end the “war on terror” as it currently exists. No more warrantless wiretapping. No more torture. No more denial of a basic human right to a fair trial. Our war on terror would be reduced to simply a direct, targeted hunt for Osama bin Laden and his inner circle of advisors, period, because those individuals should stand trial for being behind 9/11 – and they should receive a fair trial in an international court. Once they are captured, our boys come home.”

    trent for prez.

    (To be honest, I don’t always agree with your issues, but I’m all behind you here.)

  5. Matt R. says:

    Reader Mailbags are my favorite entries on this blog. Bitesized vignettes that cover a wide range of topics, in which you give solid advice, and we get some insight into what kind of guy you are.

    One thing I’ve noticed recently, though, is that the tone in your articles has started to lean a little towards stern and defensive. I had always admired your relaxed and objective writing style. I’m thinking this might have to do with the increased popularity (and therefore increased harassment you probably receive) of the blog and the pressure you are under to continue pumping out quality content now that you make a living doing this. Or I could be totally imagining this. Just thought I’d put it out there. But overall, this is still the favorite blog on my feed reader!

  6. Barb D says:

    Energy Independence.
    International Dialogue.
    Bring ’em Home.

    All this and financial responsibility —

    Trent for President!

  7. Kari says:

    Why not have the best of both worlds & make one post a week about food? There’s a world to things to cover that are both frugal & food.

  8. SP says:

    “Do you think that being paid every week makes Americans spend more, since it’s money coming in often?”
    I think it would be good to mention that americans are paid in a variety of ways: monthly, bi-weekly, bi-monthly, and weekly. There isn’t really a standard.

    Many (most, even, at least most that actually have a budget) people do break down their income to monthly. An annual salary is the figure that gets thrown around, but I would say most of us look at our take home pay.

  9. Aggie says:

    Yay for WEBCOMICS!

    I’m so glad you mentioned them because they’re free to read and lots of fun… highly addictive.

    They’re also free to make. I started doing my webcomic on Comic Genesis, but there is also Drunk Duck etc. All you need is a graphics program (Gimp is free) and access to a scanner if you work on paper. Lots of people skip the scanner part and make their comic straight in something like GIMP.

    webcomic author and now faithful reader of The Simple Dollar :D

  10. Frugal Dad says:

    “A fair trial in an international court.” I don’t know, I think a trial in downtown Manhattan would be in order for those responsible for 9/11. Why leave it to the international court to decide the fate of those who committed acts of terrorism on our soil?

    Here’s a question for you (assuming the current $700 billion bailout plan is approved). Do you think we are moving away from a free-market society, and more towards a system of nationalized industries. Do you think this is a good thing, or a contradiction of what our founding fathers intended?

    Thanks for keeping up the mailbag posts–gives me something to look forward to on Mondays!

  11. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “I’m thinking this might have to do with the increased popularity (and therefore increased harassment you probably receive) of the blog and the pressure you are under to continue pumping out quality content now that you make a living doing this”

    The change in tone – if it’s there – is definitely due to the harassment. I don’t think any of my readers would believe some of the stuff I’m told on a daily basis. It goes beyond anything you can imagine.

    The one thing that keeps me going sometimes is a stubborn belief that overall The Simple Dollar is a net benefit for people and that I can explain away the negativity through various means. That doesn’t always work, though, and sometimes I’m left really wondering why I do this.

  12. Cory says:

    Trent, one FireFox add-on that is a must for xkcd is “Long Titles”

    Sometimes the “tooltip” he adds to a strip is the funniest part of the strip. Some can be realllly long and FF tends to cut them off without this add-on.

  13. Ryan says:


    Really enjoy your blog, and the Monday mailbag… gives me something to look forward to! I don’t think your tone has changed.

    I must say though, a food blog would be great!

  14. NicoleS says:

    How long can debt stay on your credit report? For example, I had a car repossessed a little over five years ago. Since then, the debt has been sold back and forth between two companies. Does each new sale result in a new account, or will it come off after seven years? And what can I do if it doesn’t?
    I guess the same goes for any other debt – how long can it stay active on my report? I realize removal from my credit report doesn’t relieve me of my responsibilities.

  15. Sunshine says:

    I’m a QC mgr for an OJ factory and will def agree to what Trent says about OJ. Obviously, we do stuff on a larger scale, but we regularly blend 4-5 different types of oranges. Also, if your juice is not sweet enough, Tangerines at the height of season will really help sweeten it.

    Interjected humor: my name is really Sunshine, I live in FL, and I work for an OJ factory. I love telling people that.

    Also, little tidbit, these oranges rarely look as pretty as the ones you buy in the store. I was astonished when I first started working here. But, let me tell you, ours is the best stuff around, so whatever the GM is doing, it works. I may be biased, but EVERYBODY who has our juice loves it.

  16. Nick says:


    I hope you aren’t getting discouraged. This is a great blog and sometimes people think their opinions are more valid than others. I think everyone agrees that this is a fantastic blog and that you do a superb job. Sometimes the negative people speak out more than those who believe you are doing a great job. Weird how that works sometimes. Keep up the fantastic work.

  17. David says:

    @ Frugal Dad: I like to think that the “Founding Fathers” had little preference about how their country evolved in response to the changes in the world around them. Their preocupation was in instituting a system of decision-making which was as liberal as possible, and which attempted to afford maximum freedom to as many people as possible. Would they care if the auto industry were nationalized? I doubt it…not if it were performed by the duly elected Executuve branch (subject to review by the Judicial branch) after having determined that it was the will of the people as voted upon by our Reps and Senators.

  18. Lola says:

    Thanks for answering my question, Trent. Brazilians are definitely not big savers. In that aspect, we are very similar to Americans. The difference is that our salaries are much lower (but hey, at least we don’t need heating!).
    I also appreciate what you wrote about ending the war on terror. In fact, about ending the war, period. Any war.
    As for the harassment you receive, you’re right, I don’t think any of us can imagine what it is, since we don’t have such a popular blog. Could I suggest that you publish a few sentences of that harassment so we can have a better idea? (and I definitely hope I’m not part of the harassment crowd!).

  19. Carmen says:

    Lola – I just adore the picture of the girl (you or your daughter I’d guess) on the homepage of your blog. Shame I can’t read it though! :)

  20. ChrisB says:

    What Nick said, Trent; I don’t always agree with the inclusion of political items (or your take on them), but my disagreement there is *vastly* outweighed by the service I think this blog provides. I’m sorry to hear that you receive such negativity.

  21. Valerie says:

    Lola, some people will say the meanest and lowest things to anyone in public life. The more readers Trent gets, the more borderline nuts will try to engage him in ridiculous dramas.

    I guess he can consider it practice for life in politics!

  22. Lola says:

    Oh, thanks, Carmen! That’s me in that picture, some thirty years ago. My husband and I don’t have children.
    Valerie, I guess I’ve been very lucky with my blog (which only receives an average of 350 visits a day). So far, since January, when I started it, I’ve had only a couple of trolls. One of them I call my pet troll, because he’s always ready to offend my readers and I. Nobody takes him seriously though.
    I can understand how constant harassment may discourage us. I’m a movie critic, and have been writing for a Brazilian newspaper for more than ten years. Whenever I get a great amount of negative feedback, I feel a bit discouraged, and sense that my writing gets defensive. I believe the best way to deal with this is to open it up to loyal supporters. That’s why I’m suggesting Trent does the same.

  23. Khaki says:

    I second Kari’s thought, “Why not have the best of both worlds & make one post a week about food? There’s a world to things to cover that are both frugal & food.”

    Even an “expensive” meal cooked at home is usually far less than one purchased in a restaurant. So how ’bout it Trent…Are you up for a frugal Friday post that we readers can cook up over the weekend? (Actually, I don’t care when you post the food topics, I just would love to see you do it!)

  24. KC says:

    Trent – People are hateful and negative because they are unhappy with their lives. After working in with the general public in a helping, caring environment for many years, I’ve come to that conclusion. They are generally totally unhappy with the way their life is going and they lash out at someone – you and others. They are also quite angry at anyone who has a happy outlook on life. You strike me as a genuinely happy, satisfied person – and that makes a lot of people who are miserable angry at you.

    Don’t take it personally. I don’t take the anger I receive at my job personally either. I think of all the people I’m helping that I don’t hear from. Those are the people I’m here to help. Those are the people you are here for, too.

  25. tadeusz says:

    As for that president question: I actually expected you, Trent, to be all Reagan, like:
    -Repay national debt
    -The Federal Government needs to spend less
    -Federal budget needs to be balanced each year.
    -Less taxes as people know what do to with their money without government officials taking charge

    I mean, in your private life, single-household scale you’re quite concerned about financial situation.

  26. Cory – the tooltip cut off bug is fixed in Firefox 3.0, no need for an add-on! :)

  27. K says:

    I would also like to add my encouragement. This is only of my favorite blogs and I have forwarded articles to friends who got a lot from them. I am not sure what harrassment you are experiencing, but perhaps it picked up when you started voicing your opinions on politics and controvertial topics like same sex marriages? You absolutely have a right to do that on your own blog, and I appreciate your openness, but that has a tendency to alienate a lot of people.

  28. Jen says:

    @ K and others who commented on the harrassment- Yup, they say never talk religion or politics or you will bring on all the fanatics.

    I, like a previous poster, disagree with your political views, Trent,(mostly I just think they sound like good ideas but have so many underlying components that it can’t be done so easily) but I still love your blog, and the mailbag posts.

  29. Steve says:

    Does nuclear energy fit into your plan to be “fossil fuel independent”? If not, you are not a serious person on this issue. A clue, if you are in a coastal city, in particular where the US Navy has a nearby base such as San Diego or Seattle, you are within a short distance of an operating, critical nuclear reactor (probably multiple). THE HORROR! The US Navy has operated safely HUNDREDS of nuclear reactors throughout the US and the world (in New York City, near LA, Hong Kong, Singapore, you name it the Navy has been there if it is close to water). And is currently doing so right now. It is unimaginable the extra fossil fuels that would have been burned if the libs had shut down the Navy’s nuclear program as it did with the civilian program and no new nuclear plants in that last 30 years. One thing the French have done right (that is a difficult thing to say) is that 80% of their electricity is nuclear generated. We should follow their lead and build 100 1GW plants in the next 10 years in this country.

    Ultimately, fossil fuels are solar power. The source of the energy trapped in the carbon molecules contained within coal, oil, and gas was obtained by plant material converting CO2 in the air and oceans into cellulose and other sugars that made up the plants that settled to the bottom of the oceans, was then covered by many layers of silt and sand which turned to rock, then exposed to high pressures/temperatures deep beneath the surface, that became the coal, oil, and gas that drives our economy and makes our lives so much better. Coal/Oil/Gas = Solar Power. All that Carbon trapped in the earth’s surface as Coal, Oil and Gas was at one point IN the earth’s atmosphere.

  30. Kevin says:

    I was going to post something on the harassment topic you mentioned, but KC above @ 12:45 got my thoughts exactly. You’re a somewhat public figure and therefore are an easy target for anyone having a bad day or bad life. Please don’t let that discourage you from keeping TSD going.

  31. antiSWer says:

    When I read the first question, I was hoping for an answer more along the lines of what percentage to save towards each, rather than where to save them.

    Should you save more towards the house, or more towards the emergency…and in what proportion?

  32. beloml says:

    I love the idea of a weekly food posting–preferably on Thursdays, so we can plan and shop for ingredients on Fridays and cook over the weekend.

  33. Christine says:

    The level of civility in our society has dropped dramatically, I’ve noticed. Thanks for all the time and effort you put into this site every day, Trent. There are only a few things I disagree with you on, but why focus on that? It’s amazing some of the firestorms that flare up in the comment section!

  34. Jen says:

    This one of the only websites (blog or MSM)on which I can stomach reading the comments…thanks to Trent and to the commenters who post impassioned but non-abusive responses!

  35. K says:

    As far as the 1st question and in response to antiSWer, I would make sure you had a decent emergency fund first before house savings. I think the $3300 would suffice to start. Then start saving toward both. I would try to make sure you had an emergency fund of at least $10,000 at about the same time that you have your down payment saved up and are ready to purchase jsut because of all the things that pop up with a house purchase.

    So if you want a $200,000 house, you will need about $45,000 saved up including closing costs and a 20% down payment (which I strongly recommend). This means you should put 20% of your savings toward Efund and 80% toward the house. If you decide to go with only a 10% down payment it would be closer to 30%/70%.

  36. hollie says:

    I hope I may disagree with you without being considered abusive :-)

    Regarding what you would do as president- I’m with you on your first objective. But I think the other 2 are incredibly naive. Do you really think Ahmedinijad or Hamas would accept those terms? They’d laugh in your face and go back to doing their terrorist thing. They’ve proven time and time again that they don’t care about the greater good. They couldn’t care less about the welfare of their citizens, much less that of the world. There is simply no sitting and engaging with terrorists. Period. They don’t have the same thought processes, not to mention decency, that the rest of us have.

    And it would be great if the war on terror would be over. But how would you feel if wiretapping or torture of terrorists actually led to information about a future terror attack that could then be prevented? What if it could lead to information regarding the whereabouts of Bin Laden and his henchmen? Aren’t wiretapping and torture worthwhile if they save lives?

  37. Lou says:

    Note about orange juice –
    Be sure not to over-squeeze. There is something bitter in the rind that will overshadow and ruin the sweetness of the orange if you press hard enough to expel it.

  38. Lou says:

    Trent, I really enjoy your blog, except on Mondays.
    Personally, I’d like to read about half as many Q&A on Monday, so that I can have time to look at comments. The multitopic narrative of Q&A, followed by the book review, followed by comments is just too much in one mailing. So I usually only scan the book review, in spite of the clear sense that you spent considerable time writing a thoughtful analysis. IMHO – Your passion for excellence may betray you here.

    If the book review, for some reason, HAS to come on Monday, I’d like to get it in a separate e-mail at a different time of day.

    I regularly find myself saving a post b/c i didn’t have time (or attention span) to read it all & then i have 4 or 5 cluttering up my mailbox & delete without going back in to read the rest. If I read the whole thing, including checking out past posts, I spend more time than I want to & sometimes get intellectual indigestion.

    Maybe it’s just me – I’m a retired prof & always hated over-long term papers. I’d write a comment if i were grading you: “A+ for Great content, well-written and consistently thoughtful, but B- for organization- lacks a clear focus! Overall Grade B+. You may re-edit and resubmit for re-grading.”

  39. Karen Taylor says:

    I also enjoy your TSD Trent and hope you keep it going no matter what those mean bozos say to you.

    I am also in agreement with #26 – have a food blog on Thursday so we can shop and cook over the weekend.

    Keep up the good work!!

  40. Matt R. says:


    You’re right, I probably can’t imagine the kind of harassing comments you’re receiving on a daily basis. In one of your past posts you mentioned that you even receive regular death threats!? That’s insane. Maybe you’ve reached the point, readership wise, where you could hire a personal assitant, either outsourced or local, that could help you by checking your Simple Dollar messages and only forwarding the productive, un-harassing ones to you. That will make sure you’re able to concentrate more on quality posts which are why we’re all here in the first place! Having someone assist you with mundance tasks like checking email may also free up enough time for you to start working on that cooking blog we’re all anxiously awating!

  41. advice says:


    If you would only stop posting on topics outside of finances (politics, religion), people wouldn’t get so upset at you. For example, You think that terrorists need a fair trail because they are humans. So, someone that would blow up you and your family in a heart-beat, needs to be treated better? I really don’t get it? Please keep to finance. I love to read your post on making homemade laundry detergent, enexpensive meals, ect.

  42. waldo says:

    Ooh ooh i have a question.
    When they say “Americans are saving x% of their disposable income” where x=depressing, does this include contributions to a 401k (or similar)? Does this include employer matches to a 401k(orsimilar)? Since most definitions of ‘disposable income’ are roughly equivalent to ‘what you take home in your paycheck,’ how do you factor pre-tax savings into this? How can one calculate their own savings rate to see how they compare to the rest of America?

    And ignore the haters, Trent.

  43. Cory says:

    Trent, when the negative commenters get you down, remember this strip: http://xkcd.com/438/ (Title/Tooltip for the strip is important.)

  44. public health worker says:

    Millie – Is your brother involved in treatment for his addiction? If so, there’s a good chance that a halfway house specifically for meth users is in or near your community.

  45. BonzoGal says:

    I’ve been reading for a few months now, and the negative comments I’ve seen haven’t been about Trent’s political opinions, they’ve been snipey meanness from people who hide behind the anonymity of the web. Comments like “Lighten up and spend more, you joyless tightwad!” to “You aren’t so frugal, you’re practically rich compared to me, so you can’t give me any advice!” It stuns me what petty things people will say to strangers via the web.

    Most of the comments here are interesting and educational (and funny), but I’m sure the rude comments can get really discouraging. KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK TRENT, your writing and advice are MUCH appreciated by so many!

  46. Jade says:

    There are mean people all over the world who have mean things to say about everyone. I used to figure skate and I’d practice on public session quite often to save $$$ over freestyle sessions. When you’re learning new jumps and spins, you tend to fall, a lot. I used to jokingly call my flying camel spin a falling camel spin.

    Every so often I’d be working my butt off on a new jump or spin on a Saturday night, and I’d be resurfacing the ice with my butt. And then I’d spot some crowd of kids on the ice laughing at me every time I fell. Mind you, these kids were all clinging to the wall for dear life, while I was skating circles around them!

    So all I can say about negative people sending e-mails and comments is to ignore them the best you can. I know, cliched and all, but think of them like kids clinging to the wall for dear life while you’re jumping and spinning in the center of the ice. Just fall, ignore them, brush the ice off your butt, and head over to the music box and turn up the music so the kids can’t hear themselves think. The kids may not shut up, but you can’t hear them over the music.

    For every group of kids I had laughing at me when I fell, I had 10 other people watching me pop jumps and think that I was doing some really cool move and they’d come ask me when I was going to the Olympics. So I always focused on what they had to say, because that helped me keep things in perspective. I know darn well I’d never go to the Olympics, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not really good at skating compared to the average Joe.

    I know I had lots of days though where I’d think of all those snobby kids on the ice and I’d ask myself why I was spending all of my free time in a cold and stinky ice rink. But I’d remember all of the nice comments I’d gotten about my skating, and I’d remember that I really loved what I was doing, and it was worth it despite all the cold mornings and snobby kids.

    So keep up the good work, and don’t let anyone bring you down just so they can make themselves feel better about their pathetic lives.

  47. Jillian says:

    @ tadeusz:

    “As for that president question: I actually expected you, Trent, to be all Reagan, like:
    -Repay national debt
    -Less taxes as people know what do to with their money without government officials taking charge”

    You’re kidding, right? Do you even have the faintest idea just how long it’s going to take to repay the US national debt even at the current tax rate? The word “never” comes to mind…

    Here’s a question for you, Trent… how do you feel about being personally expected to bail out failing Wall St companies who knowingly made really stupid financial decisions? What’s your take on articles like this one? http://housingpanic.blogspot.com/2008/09/end-of-america-as-you-knew-it-is-at.html

  48. Melissa says:

    Hi Trent,

    I completely and whole-heartedly agree with the first 3 things you would do as President. Too bad you’re not running…

    I continue to enjoy your articles. Good luck with all your projects, and I look forward to reading your cooking blog in the future too!

  49. Char says:

    PLEASE don’t get discouraged by negativity – it is part of your “fame” but we need your daily dose of good info. You do a great job but people just love to say mean things when they are hiding behind the web. My husband did a comedy piece on motorcycle hand waves, it was supposed to be funny, his blog is hilarious but you can not believe the horrible comments he gets 6 months later on how “wrong” he is followed by hateful, nasty name calling. Mind you he wasn’t making fun of bikers, he is one, he was just pretending to be an “expert” and poking fun of himself because he rides a Suzuki which isn’t a “real” bike. Anyway people rip him to shreds over how he doesn’t know anything, hello people that was the point. Anyway don’t let it get you down, we love your blog and although I am 20 years your senior I learn something just about every day – so thank you!

  50. no name by request says:

    This is for Millie, whose brother the meth addict wants to live with her.

    Don’t do it. Many people with substance abuse problems have repeated relapses and they will do things they (and you) will swear they would never do while they’re using. He probably loves his nieces or nephews very much but he could do things that would endanger them because the drugs are stronger than anything else. Not to mention that if he begins using again he WILL steal from you.

    I’ve had 2 family members with substance problems. One is dead, murdered by the person who got her addicted. The other has relapsed a couple of times and caused all kinds of grief to family, plus now has a criminal record for several instances of theft and shoplifting.

    All you can do is support all the good things they do, like going to detox, attending a 12 step program, etc. But you can’t make them do these things. They have to want to. And even when they want to they often stumble. Love your brother by all means, but don’t trust him early in the process and don’t enable him.

  51. Faye says:

    How would you be able to save in a 401k plan and emergency fund at the same time if you’re a student who has to pay tuition and educational materials? Would you still adhere to the 10% for 401k plan as you suggested?

  52. ted says:

    Regarding being president. I’m constantly surprised by how many people assume that other countries want to be anything like the US. No country that’s our enemy wants us to end our dependence on oil. No country that’s our enemy will hold to any agreement for aid of any type. They don’t want our cars, or oil, or our ipods… they want our money.

    The US continues to be the largest exporter of humanitarian aid, in the form of food and money, even to our enemies, and we curry no favor from anyone else in the world for that. If we were to add to that giving away technology in return for ‘no more war’, we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot… enabling our enemies to focus more directly on being our enemies, either immediately or in a few years when that “aid” we gave them is forgotten from the political scene.

    I agree we should end our dependence on foreign commodities… oil being a big part of that. But the same goes for cheap (exploited?) labor in the rest of the world so we can have a new plastic doohickey from Wally-World for $0.99.

    As for the topic of war, I’m no arm chair general. And everyone who is should really straighten themselves up. Celebrities have no business passing judgement on war. We have no business thinking with our consumer mindsets we have any place nor right to judge the ground level tactics of how our military prosecutes war. I *hope* the military does a good job of exercising military force, where ever we send them.

    If we want them directed some where else, let that be by casting our vote at the next ten elections rather than badmouthing the current policies that we, ourselves, voted into office over the last decade.

    We really should be thinking decades and not terms, mindsets and long term policies rather than the last emotionally charged sound bite.

    (When’s the last time you heard a positive story about the good that’s going on in Iraq? When all you hear is bad, it’s no wonder so many want us out. I know I’m not getting the whole story from our news media… how about the you?)

    Enough rambling. Hopefully this spurs serious thought and not vitriolic debate.

  53. Rand says:

    Ahmadinejad, Khamenei, Chavez, Kim, Putin (and Hussein and the Taliban when they were in power) have different goals than you and I have. These guys express clearly what are their priorities. You imagine your side of the negotiations, but what do you imagine to be their response? They don’t “deem” us enemies due to our not appeasing them sufficiently.

  54. Margaret says:

    Re: Crystal Meth addict — I totally agree — if you are concerned, do not let him in your house. Isn’t one of the side effects of crystal meth uncontrollable rage? And you have little children? No way.

  55. I applaud your Internationalist ideals in terms of reducing your national fuel dependency. I am from Scotland, and from time to time we hear that our naturally bad weather could help us in the long term due to opportunities arising from wind and rain power + the amount of freshwater we have.

  56. Reem says:

    Trent I really wish that you answer my question. I live in Egypt and I just can’t get it why in the US there is always ads saying “retire early” ? why would a person want to retire as long as he still have the ability to work and produce?

    Many articles are about early retirement,I even read in a personal finance blog tips on how to retire at the age of 35,for me this is weird.I really want to understand the American point of view regarding this issue.

  57. getagrip says:

    With respect to the Meth addict comment. First off I agree with Trent, never be guilted into something, because that’s how addicts work. If you don’t feel right doing it, and don’t feel safe for yourself or your children, don’t do it. Find other ways to help him fight the addiction.

    More importantly if your brother is still using (implied by the posting), you aren’t just letting him into your home. You are letting in illegal drugs (do you honestly think an addict keeps their promises), you are letting in other addicts (who wants to party alone), and you are *not* letting in the brother you once had, you are letting in an addict who’s driving need in life is getting their high, with all other considerations taking a back seat to that need. If he isn’t off meth you are shifting the focus of your family from you and your children to your brother and his addiction. He will become the central drama your entire family revolves around. Even the kids will start to relate to his *needs* and he will enlist their aid to support his addiction (when my friend comes to the door, let him in and send him to the basement, and don’t tell your mother he was here since she’ll get upset and we don’t want your mommy upset, okay).

    Help him to fight the addiction provided he’s really trying, but don’t let either yourself or your children become enablers.

  58. bob says:

    Another reader who disagrees with your political views, but enjoys reading your blog. If I were president, I’d run the country like I run my house. No new debt, pay off old debts, don’t buy anything new unless I can pay for it, and invest for the future. Also, no handouts.


    I think American’s would rather do things they enjoy for themselves rather than do things to make thier boss rich.

  59. Anne says:

    I’m sorry to hear about the “hate mail” you receive. This is my favorite Blog and has changed my life.

    I love what you had to say about being President. Your sensibilities and ability to cut right through to the heart of the issues is wonderful. I see a political future for you and hope that someday you’ll see fit to run for office. Iowans will all be the luckier for it. Keep up the good work and know that you are making an impact on people’s lives and thus, on our culture.

  60. Proud Army wife says:

    I’ve been a big fan of this blog and your carefully researched advice, so I regret that this will be the first time I leave feedback; I was unpleasantly surprised by the political comments, especially “trading lives for oil”. That is not the situation – heroic soldiers are giving their lives for FREEDOM.

    Some joined not thinking they’d ever deploy – but this is a volunteer military in the midst of a war being fought to protect our country. My husband joined following the tragedy of 9/11, was in basic training the next month, deployed for the invasion of Iraq, and came home in the past year from a second deployment. He’s seen firsthand what’s happening there, so I’d caution every American to be careful of what they take to be the truth. Negatively-biased media coverage is not an accurate picture of our successes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The civilian casualties of 9/11 weren’t the outcome of an accident, mistake, or bad intel. It was terrorism, which we’re now fighting (successfully!) to overcome.

  61. Hmm says:

    What would you do as president? Say the same foolish talking points one has been saying.

    Well, in your behalf you have more experience than he does.

  62. Matt S. says:

    “I would have a face to face meeting with the head of every single nation that we have deemed as an enemy over the last ten years.”

    This one is a killer punch. I agree, and although I never would have thought of the incredible power that this could have.

    I find it a bit ironic that neoconservatives drool over Ronald Reagan’s presidency (specifically with regard to his statesmanship), while Bush’s idea of diplomacy consists of “Do X Y and Z, or else.”

    Reagan met with Soviet leaders, which were some of the greatest and most widely feared ideological enemies America had faced, and he is credited with ending the Cold War. Why is the Bush crowd so loath to admit this?

  63. BirdDog says:

    Keep up the good work, Trent!!! You provide a good service here.

  64. Jessica says:

    I actually scanned the comments looking for those about xkcd and not arguing.

    On that, I actually met Randall Munroe from xkcd at a barbecue before a Linux convention this past April. We talked about Roombas, it was amazing.


  65. typome says:

    I second the comment about hiring an assistant to screen your comments and emails for hate mail. That is just awful to have to read through! I guess it comes with having publicity. I think you’re doing a good job and would rather be sad should you discontinue your website, so keep up the good work! Don’t worry or get defensive about bad comments and focus on people’s positive or constructive criticism, and you’ll definitely be fine.

  66. Sunshine says:

    Thanks a bunch for the link to 101cookbooks. Love the website and I’m drooling over the pictures AND the vegetarian content. We have several food intolerances at our house of ONLY 2 people and the site seems geared towards that.

    I’ve already found several recipes that I want to try.

  67. Megan says:


    I didn’t read through all the other comments, so someone might have already asked this, but I have a question I’d like to see in an upcoming mailbag:

    What do you think of the so-called “bailout bill”? I know you have at least some aspirations to local politics, so I’m curious to hear what your thoughts are on the latest national political turmoil.

  68. SteveJ says:


    One of the central American beliefs is that if you’re lucky enough and dedicated enough, you can do anything. That includes dreams like becoming President, sailing a yacht around the world, becoming a famous writer, inventing a cure for cancer, or just sitting around having profound thoughts all day. So the idea a lot of Americans have is that their day job is holding them back. They don’t want to be a file clerk, middle manager, construction worker, etc, forever. Now if they can retire early, they can do what they really want.

    Also many Americans feel burned out by their hectic lives and schedules. We cram an awful lot into our daily lives, and a lot of times we don’t see any tangibile benefits from our efforts. So people feel like if they can get out of the rat-race, they’ll be better off.

    Now personally, I agree with you. I grew up working sunup to sundown and I can’t imagine just stopping after some arbitrary year. I just had an unexpected “vacation” from Hurricane Ike and I nearly went crazy, after my neighborhood had been picked up. I made it most of a day before I ended up scrambling to find enough gas so I could drive to all my relatives houses and help them clean up and do repairs – just so I didn’t have to sit at home and listen to the radio all day, wondering when water and power might come back.

  69. Steve says:

    For you guys looking for a good food blog – here is an aggregator for numerous food/cooking/recipe related blogs: http://www.allaboutcooking.net

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