Updated on 12.08.08

Reader Mailbag #40

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. Several people lately have asked for my picks for books on time management. Here are links to my reviews of the four best ones I’ve read to date.
Getting Things Done
Do It Tomorrow
Leave the Office Earlier
Find More Time

And now for some great reader questions!

I remember reading about a custom debt snowball you used to pay off debt. Apparently, you piled up savings until the balance was enough to pay off your next debt. Can you discuss a little more about the mechanics of this process, and why it worked better for you than the traditional debt snowball method of making large debt payments each month?
– Frugal Dad

It’s pretty simple, really.

The usual snowball tactic is to apply a large payment each month to your “worst” debt, making it go away as quickly as possible. Instead of making that huge payment each month, I’d just make the minimum payment and instead apply all of that extra to a savings account.

That account would serve as an “extra” emergency fund in case of something truly disastrous – like a job loss. This was important to me, as I had a young child at home and was worried about protecting them.

When the balance of that account became substantially higher than the worst debt, I’d pay off the entire debt in one swoop. This would enable me to snowball more into that savings account each month since I was no longer responsible for the minimum payment on that debt.

This technique helped us blow through our credit cards and our vehicle loans within about a year of our financial turnaround. I never felt nervous along the way about walking a “low emergency fund tightrope,” either.

I have been trying hard to pick up reading. As soon as I start reading, I tend to think of ways to avoid reading that book. Chances are it is because I have a ‘productivity’ book in my hands. Could you recommend a few books I can get started with, which don’t bore me. I am hoping to completely read one book and use that momentum to start reading more books.
– Ravi

I don’t know what books bore you and what ones don’t, so I can’t really recommend anything specifically.

I think the big problem here is that you’re, well, focusing on books that are boring to you. They’re not piquing your interest and keeping you involved.

Focus instead on books that cover areas that are genuinely interesting to you. What subjects really light your fire? Focus on books in those areas, instead.

If you want to focus on one area but find it boring, look for ways to bridge the gap between that area and an area you’re passionate about. Let’s say you truly love college basketball but you want to read a book on leadership. Why not try something like Wooden on Leadership, which takes some strong leadership principles and ties them to anecdotes from a legendary college basketball coach?

Question about my parents: My dad has 50% of his 401K in company stock. My mom and I have been telling him that he should diversify, but since his company stock has grown so much in the past 15 years he never wanted to. Now we are in today’s market and everything has plummeted. Is it still a good idea for him to diversify now in today’s market?
– Angela

It’s always a good idea to diversify. I would feel extremely uncomfortable having 50% of my retirement portfolio in the stock of one company no matter what company it was.

I would make a concerted effort to reduce that fraction to 20% at the most, but I’d keep the rest in the same asset class (stocks). Look for broad index funds to put that 30% into. That way, you’re not simply taking big losses from the recent fall – you’re just moving from one stock investment to another.

How can I reconcile ethics and frugality? I have a stable of horses who have worked with me for years teaching people to ride. They have literally carried the financial burden of our farm on their backs. Now these animals are getting old and can’t really be asked to work much. And as they age, much like humans, they cost more to care for than when they were younger. With the downturn in the economy, my business is down and the cost of maintaining the older animals is uncomfortable. But my ethics tell me I owe them; they worked faithfully and deserve a comfortable retirement for as long as they can live in reasonable health. But the longer I keep them, the less I have to save for the future. Can you provide some insights?
– Robin Crickman

If I were responsible for such horses, I would plan for their “retirement” when they were young, just as you would for any employee. Set aside a bit of money each month for their retirement years and don’t touch it.

Then, when they get old, turn to that retirement account for that horse and use that money to pay for their care.

In an environment like you’re describing, it seems good, ethical policy to treat the horses as you would any employee who has given the best years of their life to you and your operation.

For now, though? I think the ethical thing to do is to just ride it out.

I’m wondering how much you tip if you do go out to eat.
– Kristina

I tip around 18% on average. I tip lower than that if the service is poor – down to about 15%. If it’s especially good, I’ll tip 20+% – but more importantly, I’ll take a minute to personally tell their supervisor that they’ve done an excellent job.

While I do understand that a good portion of a waiter’s income comes from tips, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be given less for poor service or more for great service. I believe both to be true.

What kind of clothes do you wear on a typical work day, since you work at home? What does a “work-at-home” wardrobe look like?
– Sammy

I usually wear very comfortable business casual clothes – usually a button-up shirt with a tee underneath, plus khakis. I don’t worry about ironing unless I’m meeting with someone, however.

Some days, if I plan on doing something outside part of the day, I’ll wear blue jeans while working.

For me, at least part of getting into the right mindset for work is putting on “work clothes.” Getting dressed for work flips something of a mental switch for me, getting me ready for the day of work ahead.

Please summarize, what are your investment plans for 2009. Thanks.
– AK

My primary goal is to eliminate my final student loan, which is locked in at around 7%.

Once that is done, I plan on focusing on my investing portfolio, which is intended to mature in ten to twelve years. This portfolio will consist of about 75% stock and 25% cash, bonds, and real estate, switching slowly to more cash and bonds as time goes on.

The stock portion will mostly be in index funds, with about 25% of the total stock investment in individual stocks. My wife has a great deal of faith in my ability to pick individual stocks and is encouraging me to try it out, since the investments are mostly intended to eventually build our dream home.

We’re about to have our first baby – a girl. But we’re stuck on the name issue. Got any ideas?
– Susan

I like looking at lists of baby names that were popular 100 years ago, going down the list to roughly slot 500 or so, and looking around in there. There are a lot of beautiful, unusual names in that time frame – somehow unique and classic at the same time.

Another way to dig around is to browse through Nancy’s Baby Names, a really great blog on trends in baby names.

My suggestion? Don’t use anything that’s trendy in 2006 or 2007 or 2008 or else your daughter will have the same name as tons of other people her age. Instead, look for something distinctive, yet classic.

Personally, my favorite girl’s name is Emily, but we can’t quite use that one ourselves because it’s taken by a close family member.

What’s your “rule of thumb” for how big one’s emergency fund should be?
– Adam

Two months’ worth of family living expenses for every dependent listed on your income taxes. That’s the rough rule of thumb I use.

Thus, with our family, we’d have to have eight months worth of living expenses in the bank to cover things. We’re not quite there at the moment, but fairly close.

What’s on your Christmas wish list this year?
– Andy

I typically don’t make up a Christmas “wish list.” The closest thing to it is how I use the Amazon wish list feature. I tend to add things to my Amazon wish list whenever I think about them, then if family members or friends wish to give me a gift but have no idea what to get, they go look up my wish list on Amazon and get some ideas. I clean out the list a few times a year. I find it’s a great way to record things I see that intrigue me (but that I forget about over time) and it makes it easy for people to find great gifts – or at least starting ideas for gifts – for me.

If you’re asking the broader question of what I would like to receive for Christmas as a gift, I usually enjoy consumables quite a bit. I like receiving bottles of good wine, for example, or cheeses. I like receiving books or music or movies that people spent some time thinking about or that they personally found very powerful. I like homemade items, particularly consumable homemade items. I also like gifts to charities in my name.

I guess I like gifts that involve sharing with people you care about, not just a gift bought at the last minute. It really, really is the thought that counts.

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

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  1. Diana says:

    I am also a horseowner and realize my horses are middle age and I must look ahead and plan for more medical expenses as they age because they will stay with me until they die. Around my area there are many handicapped/theraputic riding facilites that use the horses for children with mental and physical disabilities. You might want to check into one of these places. The horses must be sound, but they don’t use them for vigorous physical work. It is more for the connection that the children get with the horses. Good Luck.

  2. Ravi,

    I used to have the same exact problem of reading books that I would start and then get distracted and the book would end up on my bookshelf with all of my other unread books.

    What has helped immensely is Audible.com where you can download unabridged versions of many popular political, self-help, business, and personal finance books. I download books to my ipod and listen to books when I’m on the train to work, working out, cleaning the house, etc. This helps me be more productive by using down time to “get read to”.

    I’ve also purchased a cheap $7.99 adapter which allows me to listen to the audiobooks on my ipod through my car radio when I have long car trips.

    Hope this helps =)

  3. DIY Joe says:

    @Susan – Baby names
    The way we worked the baby name selection is this:
    EARLY on, we compiled a large list of names that we liked from every book and website we read. Then we set the list aside for several weeks.

    We then picked up the list and started culling. Try rating every name on a scale from 1 to 5. Anything below a three gets cut right then. Then set the list aside for a week or so. Try name combinations. Rate them. Purge the low-ranked ones.
    Rinse and repeat until you are down to a few names. We went into delivery with two names for a girl and two names for a boy (we didn’t know the sex). Then, when the baby is in your arms, just try them out and see which one fits.

    And if the family names don’t make the cut, don’t stress over it. Any upset, new grandparent will likely forgive you the moment the baby first smiles.

  4. Too many people feel like they “have” to tip 20% no matter what, and that’s just plain silly in my view. I too understand that waiters and waitresses don’t make a lot of money and that tips are a big part of what they make, but still… Tipping is how you express your like or dislike with their service.

  5. @Robin Crickman, regarding horses

    What about finding “beginner” homes for the horses? If they’re still able to do a little bit of work, they may be perfect for a young child just getting started around horses. One of the horses (well, ponies) we started out with was a bombproof 30-something year old pony – he was fantastic for my sister and I to learn with.

  6. SP says:

    “Two months’ worth of family living expenses for every dependent listed on your income taxes. That’s the rough rule of thumb I use.”
    i think you’ve said this before, and I don’t get why it wouldn’t just be “X months”, and only the dollar amount would change based on how many people you have. Why do dependents come into play?

    I don’t have any dependents, but I think it would be silly to walk around with just 2 months in the bank, considering I don’t have a spouse to fall back on if I lose my job. Why would you only need six months if you had one less child?

  7. Sam says:


    I feel the need to be giving to charity but figuring out who to give to, how much to give, and when to give are a bit overwhelming.

    Now I just just sort of pitch in on a case-by-case basis, but I want a charity plan.

    Any rules of thumb for a plan for giving money to charity?

  8. Ah, good points about extra emergency funding per dependent. I like to keep 6-months for emergency funds, but I’ve been called paranoid before. ;-)

    And I’ve found that getting into a business mindset -does- require getting dressed to play the part. It’s really fascinating. :)

  9. I always enjoy reading these. As I’m a horseback riding enthusiast myself, I’m glad Robin is concerned about the retirement of these horses. Too many horses are made to work hard their entire lives, and then are abandoned during retirement. I think, in this case, frugality has to be set aside in order to ensure the well-being of the horses.

    It’s the right thing to do, and I applaud Robin for being concerned enough about it to ask questions.

  10. Chris says:

    Trying your hand at some stock speculation eh Trent? I’m glad that you’re going to try this! There are a lot of bargains out there right now, and especially if you’re looking to invest for dividends, the yields are way down on many stocks that will most likely yield some capital gains as well when the market bounces back. Good luck Trent and keep us posted on how it goes!

  11. jrr2ok says:

    “I would make a concerted effort to reduce that fraction to 20% at the most, but I’d keep the rest in the same asset class (stocks). Look for broad index funds to put that 30% into. That way, you’re not simply taking big losses from the recent fall – you’re just moving from one stock investment to another.”

    Trent, I’m assuming your making this suggestion with the assumption that the individual’s company stock has fallen by roughly the same amount as the overall market. I agree with your overall position, but I’d hesitate to counsel someone to sell outright from a large chunk of stock then plow it into index funds. First, not all index funds are created equal. Second, sometimes the appropriate place to be is cash. I’m not saying that the latter is currently the case, but it’s worth considering if you’re going to exit a current position.

    Your overall assertion, however, is rock solid. 50% in one company’s stock is foolhardy. Additionally, there’s the need to diversify away from your source of income. YOU are, in some ways, an investment in your future. Your income future is tied to your current company. Why not diversify your investments away to help manage your overall risk?

  12. paula d. says:

    A suggestion for Robin’s dilema is, if they know someone who has the interest in having a rather large pet, is to give away one of their oder horses. Mind you, not every one wants a horse as a pet, but since I live in a rural area, I know people who have used their pastures for retirement of older horses. Just a thought.

  13. Erica says:

    I don’t tip very much at all, if anything, if the service is poor. This may sound awful until I mention I’m a waitress and wouldn’t expect anything if the service I provided was poor, at the same time it’s nice to be remunerated for a job well done.

    The best thing someone can do when they’ve received exceptional service is speak to the manager, often there are incentive schemes based around this kind of feedback, the server may receive a beauty treatment, free meal etc.. as well as the recognition.

  14. Kelly says:

    As an alternate answer to the horse care question, I faced a similar situation this year, my family was moving across the country, and I could not afford to take my older horse with me. I found a friend of mine who has known my horse even longer than I have, and I asked if she would take care of my horse. Luckily she agreed, and I am no longer responsible for barn board payments, feed and vet bills. Depending on where you live there are a few “retirement” homes for older horses. My instructor told me about one that I think is in Oregon somewhere. But you can do an online search for “horse retirement” in your state. Trent, your idea of saving for an animal’s retirement is a *very* good idea, no matter what the size of your pet. What if your pets gets cancer, or some other ailment? The treatments are available now, but always expensive. As an aside, I don’t plan on getting another horse of my own for a very long time, there are plenty of busy horse owners with not enough time and neglected horses that I can volunteer to spend time with so I don’t spend so much money each month. It was a difficult, emotional decision to make, but it’s the right one for me.

  15. KC says:

    Names – I look around at family members (I like) and see if there is anything there – an unused middle name, or a slightly different version of someone’s name. I’ve even seen families where a good deal of the women share the same name they just have a different nickname – Elizabeth, Ellie, Ella, Liz, Beth, Eliza, Libby…

    I try not to pick a name that is overused – nothing trendy. But even a name like Katherine can be overused. Beautiful name, but when I was in college there must have been 5 different Kate, Katie, etc on my hall.

    Tipping – I usually leave around 15-20%. If I am at an inexpensive joint and get great service I might leave 25-30% – its only a $1 more. But if I’m at a really nice place, I’ll leave around 18%. But I’m really quick to mark it down for bad service – mainly because there should be no bad service at an expensive place. But there are some really nice places where it costs an arm and leg, but the entire staff is falling all over themselves for you – Commander’s Palace in New Orleans or Folk’s Folly in Memphis come to mind. I’ve tipped over 20% eventhough the bill was in excess of $100. It was worth it – the service was impeccable and all that tip money is being spread around, but mostly it was earned, just like the guys at the $5 Mexican place who were hustling,too.

    I actually find the worst service to be at cheap chain places like Applebee’s and Chilis. I dont’ eat at places like that much and when I do the tip rarely exceeds 15% because they do less then the standard I set to receive 18%.

  16. John F says:

    Your point about telling the manager if the service is fantastic is spot on. While a tip will help your waiter financially that night, a good review to the manager will get them better (read fuller) tables/sections in the future, which will pay serious dividends. Enough of those and depending on the restaurant they could end up with some serious V.I.P. table paydays.

    On the low end, I’ll typically tip them lower than 15% if service is terrible, but it needs to be pretty bad. There are only two scenarios that I’ll talk to a manager about bad service though: first, if they are truly disrespectful or rude; second, if I believe that they were doing everything in their power, but they just didn’t have the resources or back up from the restaurant (too many tables, slow kitchen but they attempted to make up for it, etc).

    Those two situations require a manager’s attention, but I don’t believe inability or incompetence does. First, they probably know anyway, and second, it’ll probably work itself out without need for back of the house drama. They’ll either get better or they’ll leave, without all that.

  17. Des says:

    I’m with KC on the tipping issue. My range is 10%-35%. I can’t bring myself to tip lower than 10%, even for horrible service. I know that’s silly, but I can’t bring myself to do it. If a server is exceptional, however, I want them to feel very appreciated.

    I feel like when I go out, I’m not really there for the food. I can cook most meals better for cheaper at home. I am going out to be served – to not have to worry about anything but enjoying my meal and my company. Bad service ruins that experience. I resent the server that ruins that experience because now I didn’t get what I paid for.

  18. John F says:

    Also, for what it’s worth, I paid myself through college as a waiter. So all of the above are how I would have liked/expected to be treated, and what I think the likely outcomes of such actions would have been.

  19. Frugal Dad says:

    Thanks for tackling my question, Trent. I like your idea of saving up to kill off debt in one swoop rather than scraping the bottom of the savings barrel while trying to squeeze extra debt payments. Math nuts will tell us that we pay more interest, but in the grand scheme of things I’ll take a good night’s sleep over a few extra dollars in interest charges.

    I am a big tipper if I receive outstanding service, and I am still a good tipper if I receive bad service. I guess I give the server the benefit of the doubt since I know behind the scenes a number of things can happen that affect their performance (slow cooks, understaffing, etc.). My wife was a server in college and I remember some of her horror stories of bad tippers, so I always try to avoid that category.

  20. Adrienne says:

    For names I highly recommend “Beyond Jennifer and Jason” – it has lots of different kinds of lists plus interesting thoughts on all different aspects of naming (different spellings, family names, etc.)

  21. Dave says:

    Trent, I have a question regarding my not-so-frugal fiance. She complains about how difficult it is to save money while living rent-free at home, but she spends a fortune on clothes, recently impulse-bought a $400 videogame system (which will probably collect dust), and is paying off her brand new BMW. Of course she justifies each and every one of these purchases (“Well the Honda dealer screwed me over last time/I don’t want to deal with someone else’s used-car problems/At least I didn’t buy the Mercedes”). I’d like to spend the rest of my life with her, but I’m concerned that if she can’t get her finances under control now, how will she ever deal with making mortgage payments and having more than her own mouth to feed? And how do I convince her that just because she can afford something, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to buy it (especially when she truly convinces herself that she *needs* the new BMW)?

  22. Mike says:

    Regarding the horses, I heard of a charity ranch that takes healthy & neglected horses. They use the horses to work with neglected and hurt kids. They teach the kids how to care for the animals and how to ride them. It sounds like a wonderful place for both the kids and the horses. I hope you find this helpful.

    Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch

    19344 Innes Market Rd.
    Bend, OR 97701

  23. BethBeth says:

    I too really like the name Emily, but to make it a little bit different my favorite way is to change it to Emma Lee.

  24. Wendy says:

    Emily is a pretty name, but it has been in the top ten girl’s names since 1991, and it has been #1 since 1996, according to the social security website.

  25. Mister E says:

    Hey! Emily is my favourite girls name too.

    I’m also partial to Elizabeth.

  26. Crystal says:

    I like the idea of putting money into savings and then using that to pay off a card all at once. It’s something that will work much better for me.

    Also, I love Amazon’s wishlist because it helps me curb impulse shopping. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted something, but instead of buying, I’ll add it to my wishlist and wait a couple of weeks to see if I still really want it. Most of the time, I’ve decided I can live without it.

  27. KC says:

    Dave – I think you need to tell your fiance what you just said “I’d like to spend the rest of my life with her, but I’m concerned that if she can’t get her finances under control now, how will she ever deal with making mortgage payments and having more than her own mouth to feed?” Maybe phrase it a little different, but the part about I’d like to spend the rest of my life with you, but… That might just hit home with her if she really wants to marry you, too. I know when I was in my early 20s if my boyfriend, now husband, would have said that I would have changed.

    A brand new BMW? And she’s making payments? No one should ever have to make payments on a luxury car.

  28. Johanna says:

    I typically tip 15% rounded up to the nearest dollar (or maybe the nearest 50 cents, depending on the place) – and since I’m usually paying for just myself, it’s about 17-18% in practice. I’m not opposed to bumping that up or down for especially good or bad service, but I almost never actually do, since I rarely find the service to be excellent enough or terrible enough to make me care.

    But here’s a question: How are you supposed to tip at counter-service restaurants? Not places like McDonald’s (where I never go anyway), but places where you still order and pay at a counter before you receive your food. Some places like that have tip jars and some don’t, but if you pay with a credit card, there’s almost always a place to add a tip, and I’m never quite sure what to do. On the one hand, there’s no way to base your tip on the service you recieve, since you pay before you’re served – but on the other hand, if you don’t tip well, they can give you lousy service, since you pay before you’re served. What to do?

  29. I used to always be bored with finance books. Then I started reading Star Wars and James Bond in between. Alternating fiction with boring really helps.

  30. Paul says:

    My opinion on baby names: pick one that has some meaning, not one that’s just picked out of a hat. I always likes my name, even though Paul’s a popular name, because it means “small” (I was born 2 months premature). My middle name is the masculine version of my mother’s name. So, even though I have a ridiculously common name, it’s meant a lot to me because I have it for a *reason* and that was more important to me than what the name was.

    Generally speaking, don’t pick a name because it’s trendy – it’ll sound dated and silly later in life, as well as being the same as a lot of other kids the same age. Don’t pick something that’s too “cute” – the kid will be an adult some day, remember – nor a name that can easily be turned into an insult on the playground. The kid will be stuck with the name until they’re at least 18, so remember that they’re the ones who have to deal with it, not you!

  31. Ivy says:

    My favorite technique for choosing a girl’s name is to fit the name into the following two sentences:

    “And now, the President of the United States of America (name here).”

    “And now, appearing center stage at the Beaver Club, our all nude allstar (name here).”

    So “Katherine Elaine,” good. “Summer Starr,” not so good.

    For boys, you could replace the second sentence with “Indicted on three counts of armed robbery, (name here) appeared in court today.”

  32. Battra92 says:

    Girls’ names?

    Zelda and Marzipan. If I ever have a daughter (kind of unlikely) she will have one of these two names.

  33. guinness416 says:

    Google the Baby Name Wizard Voyager, it has a cool interface that allows you to see the popularity of various names over time (US only, of course). It’s fun to play with. Or you can enter a letter or two and see what comes up.

    Where on earth are all of you people eating that you have poor service so often? I’m with Johanna, service in the places where I eat is rarely outstanding and almost never bad. My husband bartends, and contrary to a couple of the comments here would far prefer a better tip for wonderful service than a mention to the manager.

  34. alo says:

    I will de-lurk to suggest babynamewizard.com which is a fun way to research the popularity of names throughout the years.

    Also, I second the caution above that just because you don’t think of a name as popular doesn’t mean it hasn’t become insanely popular in the last few years. After all, it’s based on new babies, not all the Jennifers you went to high school with. I love Olivia and Isabelle but unfortunately so does everyone else right now!

  35. getagrip says:

    @ Dave Good luck. You can’t change her. At best you might be able to open her eyes by asking how she plans on paying for her share of the wedding, if she thinks it’ll be safe parking her BMW outside your (name low income housing of choice here), and how she’ll support you when you quit your job to stay at home with the kids.

  36. Andy says:

    I just named my new son Zebulon! Cool name, or what!

  37. Michael says:

    Reward good service with a large tip and a commendation to the manager.

  38. Michael says:

    Also, when talking to the manager, don’t sound like a self-conscious douche who’s proud of doing a good deed and thinks he’s a “master networker.”

  39. Tony G says:

    Tipping a minimum of 15% even if the service is poor does not teach the server a lesson and, in fact, perpetuates poor service so don’t do it.

    By tipping little or nothing for poor service you are doing two things 1) creating an incentive for servers to earn their tip by providing good service even on a bad day, and 2) making it difficult for people who can’t perform to stay in a profession for which they are unsuited.

  40. Kevin says:

    Dave – agree with the first comment re: your fiance’. You’ve got to talk about this stuff before you’re married, or it will end badly. Trust me, I’ve been there. My ex- started shopping to compensate for low self-esteem and some other reasons and long story short, we eventually ended the relationship.

  41. Michael says:

    Names: How ’bout a name geared towards reaching your financial goals in today’s market: Patience?

    Tipping: As someone who struggled on a waiter’s salary all through college and who now makes a good living, it wouldn’t occur to me to only tip 15-20% unless the service was truly abysmal. 30% is the norm. I’m a big fan of spreading the wealth around if you can afford it; servers have families and dreams and needs just like anyone else.

    I don’t socialize with people who are stingy with tipping when service is good (like my gf’s father, who makes $130K per year and still uses a calculator to figure precisely 15%) — to me it’s a major character flaw.

  42. Peter Park says:

    I like the idea of putting money into a savings account and then paying off any debt. It seems to make more sense, especially since I feel like I can’t expand our budget any farther. Thanks for the advice.

  43. Shevy says:

    Our tradition is to name children after someone who is deceased, either a family member, a friend or a spiritual mentor. In some families, the latter is the rule.

    The only problem with that is when you end up with a class where every second girl has the same name and there are about 4 names for 10 boys!

  44. brooke says:

    About picking baby names, think about the important things in your life. My husband and I took into account not only family names, but also experiences in our lives that were monumental. Although we are waiting to have kids, we do have our children’s names picked out. One child will bear a family name entirely, but the other two (should we be so blessed to have three) will be named after places we have lived and experiences we have had during our wonderful 7 year relationship (two of which have been since we married):

    Brooklynn Sedona- Brooklynn is my name combined with my sister in law’s name, and also my husband lived in Brooklyn for a short, but important, stint. Sedona was one of our favorite places to visit when we lived in Arizona, and brings to mind many good memories.

    Isaac Hudson- Isaac is a family name, and Hudson is after the Hudson river in New York. Right now we live within a stone’s throw of it and it to me, marks the time we have spent in New York.

    About tipping- I agree with the previous poster said people who mistreat servers have serious character flaws. No one should be talked down to or mistreated, regardless of their job, period. My tipping strategy is just to be generous, both with the cash and compliments. If someone is good at their job, I genuinely want them to know that. Bad service just gets a standard percentage of the bill.

  45. John F says:

    Johanna: Good point with counter service tipping. My usual rule of thumb is to tie it to the level of knowledge the staff has to have. I may just drop the change in the jar when it comes to Starbuck’s, but at a cafe near me where all the staff have to know how to cook and bake everything, I try to tip a more standard percentage.

    guinness416: I’d say that bartending is different than waitering in this regard. A bartender is taking care of the same bar (and possibly the waitstaff) no matter what the manager thinks of them, unless they get fired or their hours get severely cut. For a waiter, the manager determines which section of tables they get and what kind of traffic the section gets.

  46. Johanna says:

    I don’t think I like the idea of naming children to commemorate a special experience that the parents had. Your name should be about you, not your parents. If I’d been named after a place where my parents had lived or gone on vacation before I was born, I don’t think I’d appreciate it very much.

    I do agree with the previous poster who pointed out that a child’s name has to serve him or her for a lifetime, not just in childhood. If you can’t envision a doctor, teacher, or business executive (or President) with that name, maybe you shouldn’t use it.

    My favorite name for a girl is Meredith. Unfortunately, it sounds stupid with my last name. It’s a good thing I don’t plan to have kids. (And yes, if I did have a daughter, she’d take my last name, not my as-yet-nonexistent husband’s last name.)

  47. Anna says:

    Baby names:

    Make sure the first name and last name are easy to say together. For instance, if your last name begins with a vowel, and the baby’s first name ends with a vowel, the two together don’t flow well.

    Make sure the initials don’t spell out something that will embarrass the child in grade school.

    Trendy names get ridiculous when people invent new spellings of them in an effort to be original: Brittany/Britney/Britany; Madison/Madisyn; Michaela/Mckayla/Makayla, etc. The child will spend the rest of his/her life spelling out the name for other people. Save your child that burden and stay away from the trendy!

  48. Misty says:

    On reading- I love to read (I was an English major, so I have read a ton) and find that I have a hard time reading non-fiction books as I literally read the entire book (most non fictions are not made for this style of reading!)
    Try looking into classic book lists, NY Times Bestsellers or even banned book lists :)
    Fiction can be just as good for you, it challenges your imagination and can make you think. Here are some books I recently read and loved- they are all engrossing and terribly hard to put down: Water for Elephants, The Life of Pi, The Time Traveler’s Wife and even Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is an interesting read given recent politics.

  49. Trent just wanted to say I truly hope you feel better soon. It’s no fun to not feel good- and I find as a work at home girl, it’s easy to dump work and stay in bed when illness hits. I admire you working through it. Feel better soon.

  50. miep says:

    So, questions can go here, eh?

    Riddle me this: My father is generously covering our mortgage costs right now. Before a recent pay cut, my salary was about 38K. My partner is unemployed, but looking for part-time work, and we are expecting a baby any day now. Our debt load is currently around 21K — 8.5K in a personal loan, the rest on credit cards due to some nasty medical bills.

    Is it feasible for us to start saving for our child’s education, or should we be trying to pay off our debts first? The personal loan has four years left on it. The lion’s share of the cc debt has an apr of 10.74%; the rest is between 12 and 18%. Neither of us has a retirement account (not available through my workplace), and my partner will be paying for her own medical insurance, and I’ll be paying the premium for our child.


  51. Denise says:

    Trent, have you thought about non-traditional medicines, since the traditional ones dont seem to be working? You may spend more out-of-pocket money but sometimes it is worth it. I go to a really good herbal apothocary and have a consultation with the owner. He has been recommended by many folks that i trust. Also, changing your diet around may help some symptoms, like having no dairy for the mucous or taking active yogurt cultures. Good luck.

  52. Kevin says:

    Hope you feel better, but it sounds like you have a good attitude towards it and that usually helps.

  53. Mitch says:

    15% is stingy?!?! Let’s run the numbers here. Assuming 4 tables per server, 3 customers per table, and an average of 1 hour spent at each table means the average server serves 12 people per hour (I’m basing these assumptions on what my wife told me about her experience as a waitress at a bar/grill type place in college). The average person probably spends $15. So in an average hour, a waiter or waitress serves about $180 worth of food and drinks. 15% of that is $27. Subtract 10-15% to tip out the bartender, and you get around $23.50. Add the minimum wage ($2.88 for tip earners here in Iowa) and the average server earns $26.38 per hour. Assuming 20 hours per week, they’re earning $27,435.20 per year for half-time hours. And you know damn well they’re not claiming all of the tips on their tax returns. In Iowa, the average household income is around $45,000 per year, so I’d say well over half of that for a part-time gig isn’t exactly a raw deal. They’re servers, not doctors or lawyers, and should expect to earn accordingly.

  54. Victoria says:

    Just wanted to let you know I truly enjoy reading your post and to let you know that I too have not felt well for about 6 weeks if it has not been one thing it’s another. I fell down my spiral staircase and thought I broke my knee but lucky that my MCL was only stretched. Then got an ear infection along with sinus. Got over that long enough to get what I swear has been whooping cough. But I am daily feeling better and you will too.
    Now for Names how about Christian Hope?
    When I read all of this from you I remembered what my grandma always said “Honey, we need some good old fashioned Christian Hope” so maybe that will work for you and your family.

    Anyway, keep the faith,

  55. Jennifer says:

    Unless service is really bad and I feel that my server is being lazy or rude, I always tip 20%. I have worked in a restaurant, and I understand that a server’s ENTIRE wage rides on his or her tips. Usually the difference between 20% and 15% is only a few dollars at most. Ask any server and they will tell you that 20% is the standard for a tip at any decent restaurant. Unless, like I mentioned, the service is awful, I feel like it’s my responsibility to support the system and pay the server a fair wage.

    In response to Misty – I would second her recommendation to read the Life of Pi! It is a fantastic read, I stayed up all night to finish it.

  56. MS says:

    I am a single guy with no dependents, but I wouldnt be comfortable with only two months worth of expenses in the bank. For myself alone, I worked really hard to save up $10,000 over the course of a couple years, and I keep it locked away for emergency use only. This would proably last me about 7 months.

    At minimum, I would say at least 6 months for myself, and add an additional 2 months for any dependents I had.

    Maybe I’m a little too paranoid, but I wouldnt be able to sleep at night with only two months in the bank.

  57. Ken says:

    “For now, though? I think the ethical thing to do is to just ride it out.”

    Har har har!


  58. Akinoluna says:

    I thought it was kinda funny how you posted a detailed way to find a unique but classic baby name and then named one of the most popular, current baby names as your favorite. :-)

  59. My name is Emily and I have to say… although I agree that it’s a lovely, classic name, it’s WAY too popular now (now being the last 2 decades or so).

    I can’t go anywhere without having to do the “that’s my name too!” thing at least once… and when I’m in crowded stores, hearing mothers yell “Emily, put that down! I said not to touch anything!” kind of puts me on edge. haha.

    Emma Leigh and similar aren’t much better, because then the poor child will just have to spell her name to everyone!

  60. Jade says:

    On baby names: I don’t use my real name online, but my mom once said that she considered names that had a lot of options for nicknames, so I’d have my choice of what I wanted to go by when I got older. And I ultimately went with what is on my birth certificate, but my mom’s side of the family still calls me by my nickname. No one else gets away with it though, not even my boyfriend. And my dad’s side of the family was more than happy to quit calling me by my nickname, because I have an aunt who has my nickname on her birth certificate, so that caused a lot of confusion when I was a kid.

    If I ever have to pick a baby name, I would insist on something with at least one option for a nickname, something that hasn’t been used in my family in the last 3 generations, and something that would not require a pronounciation key at graduation. I like unusual names and all, but I find that it makes my life much easier having a very common first and last name that is fairly easy to spell and pronounce right, and I want to pass that on to my kids. If I find that I really like a name that is hard to pronounce or spell, I would use it for a middle name, thus giving the kid a choice to just ignore his/her middle name or use it if he/she liked it a lot.

    On tipping: A trick someone once told me was to double the sales tax on the bill. Of course this depends on what the sales tax rate is, and assumes that you have sales tax where you live. Around here sales tax is 8.75%, so double that you get 17.5%. If the service is not that great, I double the sales tax and round down to the nearest dollar. If the service is average, I round up to the nearest dollar. If the service is great or awesome, I double the sales tax and tack on at least another 2 dollars and then round up so the total bill including tip is an even dollar figure.

  61. Nancy says:

    Names – If Susan is just starting out, she could try scanning non-alphabetized lists of forenames (such as the names in phone books, spam folders, or film credits). Which names grab her attention? Can they be lumped together in any way? Maybe most are French, or sound old-fashioned, or end with a K, or have fewer than 5 letters…who knows what patterns might pop up. This could help her focus her search.

    P.S. Thank you for the link!

  62. Sunshine says:

    On naming: My name is Sunshine Alyx Elizabeth (lastname). I certainly got picked on when I was a kid, but, if you asked me, it helped me to be who I am today. How can a person not be happy with a name like mine? (Conversely, I have a friend who’s name is SKY and she hates it and is super cranky and grumpy all the time.)

    Alyx is a version of my father’s name and Elizabeth is my mother’s name. I NEVER use my middle names – don’t need to.

    I abhor average names and would NEVER name my kid something like Jennifer or Jason. I urge you to consider unusual names, within reason of course – Apple anyone?

  63. SteveJ says:


    Your calc assumes 20 hrs of decent tables. Some of those waiters/waitresses are working dead hours where number of tables determines if rent gets paid that month. And if it’s dead, you get cut loose before it picks up. Speaking as a child raised by a single parent working three jobs, there’s far more bad nights than good ones. And far more 5% tippers than 20% ones.

    I think it’s like any other profession, if you’re truly outstanding you deserve outstanding compensation. My buddy makes WAAAAAY more money than I do, he is a superb waiter at a nice restaurant, while I’m a superb engineer at a small company. The difference is good engineers aren’t all that uncommon (and we start out higher) while good waitstaff is in high demand. There’s also a risk factor, I get paid for every day of the year, regardless if I show up or not(within established limits), while my buddy will take a huge hit if he gets sick, has to go to a funeral, etc. I wouldn’t trade places even if I had the ability to be an exceptional waiter.

    Anyway, people are going to tip based on their experience, I doubt a 100 opinions will make a bad tipper into a good one. My policy is the same as everything else: if you can’t afford it(meal plus tip), don’t do it(eat out).

  64. Mitch says:

    Like I said, my figures were based on my wife’s experience at one restaurant. This was in a small town (10,000 people), and it’s the best and most popular place in town. I’m sure the waitstaff at some of the other restaurants there made less–but there was nothing stopping them from applying to the place where my wife worked. Maybe the fact that the food and drinks are cheap in a small town ($18 for a 16 oz. ribeye w/2 sides, $6 for a top shelf martini) helps people justify giving better tips.

  65. Kate says:

    I used to be an extremely frugal person (too frugal) until I met my husband. We balance each other out; he encourages me to spend more on quality things and take care of myself better (i.e. investing in some good career clothes and decent shampoo that doesn’t destroy my hair), and I reign him in a bit and help him to be more budget conscious.
    I still find it a huge struggle to be financially responsible though; I took on a lot of his debt when we got married, and I’m only 24 so managing it has been a steep learning curve for me.
    My question is; should we seek counselling? We are slowly improving our situation, but I find it extremely hard to make him stick to a budget, and this usually causes me to fall off the wagon too.

    I feel it might be more beneficial to both our relationship and our bank accounts to have a third party, whether it be a financial councellor or someone more relationship oriented help us out.

  66. George says:


    We have a car loan and we are planning to get a new car soon. However, we are wondering if leasing would be a better idea as we won’t be doing a lot of mileage on the second car. What are your thoughts?


  67. LK says:

    Steve- On tipping. You are SO right. A flood of comments telling people they are cheap (and less than 20% is cheap) won’t change them. I work for 2 well-paid professionals and see their expense accounts. One is generous and the other is not. The one who is not has tons of lame excuses for why this is: “I don’t drink.” “It’s not like they went to Med school.” “Why should I tip on a bottle of expensive wine when it’s the same effort to open a lesser priced bottle?” Truly- the difference between being cheap and not is usually only a dollar or few… Why be so stingy? I know it isn’t your responsibility but consider that they usually don’t have healthcare, have many factors affecting their income that is beyond their control and if they take off one weekend a year to attend a family wedding they reduce their income by a significant amount. I feel it would diminishes my own enjoyment of a meal if I stinted on the tip. If I dine with people who are cheap, I find myself making up for them, which does make me mad. I don’t try to force my 25%-30% practice on them, just make them stick to a decent 20%+ a little. Then I don’t go out with them again. Gosh, people, get it together! If you can afford to eat out, you can afford to tip like an adult, not a petulant child.

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