Updated on 12.15.08

Reader Mailbag #41

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. Here’s some additional advice for dealing with winter weather.
Eight Frugal Ways to Prepare for Winter Driving
Eight Frugal Ways To Face An Iowa Winter
A Guide to Winterizing Your House

And now for some reader questions!

Hey Trent – my wife and I are not the most frugal people, but we are making strides…this year for Christmas gifts we want to give high quality unique homemade gifts, but are struggling to come up with things that would work with our families. We each have family members who are big tech geeks, but don’t really have the cash to spend on items they want. We have 7 relatives, male and female all over 22 years old that are on our list. Any suggestions?
– Jake

From what I’ve experienced, homemade foodstuffs rarely fail to make for a good gift. Homemade canned jellies, homemade candies, homemade beer – all of these make for great gifts for just about anyone.

One big key, though, is presentation. If you make homemade jelly, for instance, don’t can it in leftover pasta jars. Go to a warehouse store and buy a bunch of half-pint glass jars. Then, after the canning, the jars look good – classic and a bit rustic.

If I were you, I’d poke around online for some simple homemade foodstuff recipes and let your creativity go. Most people are quite happy with something tasty, and it doesn’t cost too much to make something really tasty.

I’m wondering, when you were working in an office, would you have used paid time off to stay home and look after your daughter? Would you have had to go into the office on the weekend and make up work? As a self-employed person, couldn’t you decide to give yourself that benefit when it’s truly needed?
– Adrienne

Typically, that’s how things work. I strive to write a lot of posts in advance so that if I need to take a day off to care for my own illness – or take care of my child or another emergency – I can do so without much worry.

Normally, I’ve been as much as two weeks ahead on posts for The Simple Dollar so that I could easily handle almost everything that came my way. With my recent illness, I managed to grind through that entire buffer, which is why I had to rely on a few guest posts recently (and may have to again in the near future).

The biggest benefit of being self-employed is that you can use your own judgment with regards to when you need time off, but you also need the wherewithal to plan in advance for it, too.

Do you have any advice for someone living and working in Detroit right now, with certain economic disaster if the government does not act to bail out the Big 3?
– Mark B.

If my economic future relied heavily on the American auto industry, I would be focusing all of my spare time on building up new skills and saving up as much money as possible. It’s very unclear what will happen with that industry and you’re better off being safe than sorry.

I would look into taking evening classes to earn a degree that can open you to new avenues of work. I’d take advantage of every professional training opportunity available to me right now. I’d cut back in every aspect of my personal spending and sock away as much emergency fund money as I could. I’d make sure that my retirement plans were as independent as possible from the big auto makers – that might mean starting your own Roth IRA.

The reason so many families will have problems if the “Big 3” fail is that they’ve tied their economic future to those companies. You should do everything in your power to put your economic future in your own hands – the job with the “Big 3” should just be an income source that you have the ability to easily replace.

did you make your own baby food when you started introducing solids to your children? If so, can you describe what you did. I’ve read a lot about this and I was hoping to get your take on it.
– Lauren

It was pretty simple, actually. We would just take leftover vegetables, leftover fruits, and occasionally leftover stews and other things, and puree them into a paste in the blender, adding a bit of water if needed. Then we would pour this puree into ice cube trays and pop the trays in the freezer.

When it came time to feed the child, we’d pop out a cube or two and microwave it until it had returned to a warm paste and then feed it to our child.

Our first child vastly preferred our homemade foods to the ones from Gerber, mostly because of our gentle spicing of the vegetables and such. Our second child didn’t like either one too much and migrated to finely chopped table foods pretty quickly. I think she had a stronger desire to eat what everyone else was eating, particularly her older brother.

Is it ever a good idea to scale back on my 401K contributions in order to pay off my credit cards faster? I’ve been contributing 5% of my salary and my company matches that. So with their match I’m contributing 10% of my salary. I’ve been doing this for close to 7 years now. With the market the way it is, I’ve been thinking about contributing less and using that money to dig out of my hole faster.
– Ed

If you scale back your contributions and lose the match that your employer is providing, you’re basically giving away an immediate 100% return to pay down a 20% interest rate debt. That’s a really bad idea, no matter how you slice it.

Your best bet is to stay with the matching situation you have right now and seek out ways to cut some spending in your own life. Then, apply the money saved from those spending cuts to your credit card debt. For example, if you can do some simple things to make your home more energy efficient, you can easily save $40 each month on your energy bill. Take that $40 and apply it as an extra payment on your credit cards.

Does your Kitchenaid have the drop down bowl, or the top flips up, my mom had a flip up top and loved it and bought a drop down bowl the second go around and really didn’t like it (cause you had to take the paddle (or whatever) off before removing the bowl. What is your take?
– onaclov

My KitchenAid stand mixer is the Professional 6, which is pretty large and does not have a flip top. I don’t find the need to remove the paddle when you remove the bowl to be much of a disadvantage at all, as this often makes it easier to remove the remaining food from the paddle.

I actually think that a person tends to prefer whichever style they become familiar with first. I think both styles have advantages and disadvantages, but I personally prefer the larger Pro 6 style mixer with the stationary head.

My wife was laid off in October and has been unable to find a new job. In her time away she has grown to like being at home and is wanting to “work from home” instead of going back full time in a regular job. It is very stressful because I want to support her, but I cannot financially support the whole family. I have no idea on where to start to look for things she can do to earn a steady income from home. Any suggestions?
– Chris

Working from home doesn’t really work unless you’re (a) willing to invest a lot of startup time into making something work without much income at first (a la blogging and other online endeavors) or (b) you have marketable skills that people are willing to pay for in a freelance setting.

If you’re in a situation where neither of these paths really works for you, then you’re going to have a hard time making a go of it working from home. Most of the “work at home” opportunities you hear about on television either don’t work at all or only thrive in the hands of a person with a particular skill set.

Trent, I’d like to see a comparison of homemade spaghetti sauce vs. store bought.
– Nate

Homemade spaghetti sauce is universally cheaper and almost always tastier than what you can buy in the store, but it does take more effort. With the store-purchased spaghetti sauce, you can essentially just open the jar and dump the sauce into a saucepan to warm it up and you’re good to go. It’s not quite that easy making it yourself.

Even so, making your own sauce is still really easy. Just skin and dice up a few tomatoes, cook them down a bit, add a bit of olive oil and oregano and basil and you’re off to a very good start. The cost is maybe a couple quarters unless you’re buying tomatoes out of season.

When you get good at that, you can experiment however you like, but basic pasta sauce is incredibly easy.

I’ve seen these offers from credit-issuing companies for a kind of insurance that supposedly pays off certain kinds of debt when the person covered becomes disabled. I’ve also read that buying this insurance from say, a credit-card company is overly expensive and is generally a bad move.
What’s the low-down on this kind of policy? Is there legit insurance of this type and what’s the best way to go about purchasing it?

– Robert

You’re referring to long-term disability insurance. Typically, such policies provide an income for you if you’re disabled in such a way that makes it impossible for you to work. Some policies may pay off particular debts for you as well.

As for who to buy such a policy from, your best best is to simply shop around. Do some internet searching for disability insurance and see what you can find.

You mentioned before that you and your wife typically go out on a movie date each Christmas evening. What movie are you going to see this year?
– Im

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I loved the short story when I read it many years ago, we’re both fans of Brad Pitt as an actor, and it’s already garnered a pile of award nominations.

Honestly, none of the other Christmas releases pique my interest that much. For instance, The Day the Earth Stood Still almost makes me want to cry because the original is one of my favorite movies and the remake appears to be an utter butchering of everything I loved about the original.

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

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  1. Chris says:

    “If my economic future relied heavily on the American auto industry, I would be focusing all of my spare time on building up new skills and saving up as much money as possible. It’s very unclear what will happen with that industry and you’re better off being safe than sorry.”

    It seems clear to me that even with the bailout of the automakers, something has to give in that industry. Other countries are able to produce similar quality cars at much lower prices and if the U.S. manufacturers are going to survive they will need to lower wages or let people go and automize their operations. Don’t count on this industry, and make sure that you are preparing yourself so that you will have options in the future.

    Good advice Trent.

  2. Valerie says:

    Chris, send your wife over to http://wahm.com/forum/ . That’s the Work at Home Moms Forum, which is a good place to start investigating WAH positions. There are in fact a good many jobs that can be done at home, though there are also a lot of scams and all the real ones are fairly grueling. Check out their Telecommuting forum and job listings.

    You do have to be very organized and super-professional to do at-home customer service or research, for instance, but it can be done and you can make money.

    Check out that forum, the members are very frank about the jobs and opportunities.

  3. Nick says:

    The insurance from the credit card company could also be a “credit protection” insurance. Usually charges 75 to 99 cents per $100 in purchases and will make your minimum monthly payment in the event that you’re disabled or out of work or a bunch of other situations. I used to sell it as a telemarketer, but it’s totally not worth it IMO.

  4. Paul says:

    I’ll second the advice about the auto bailout. If you think your job’s in danger, cut back spending and invest in the future. Take a serious, unvarnished look at your skill set and honestly ask how applicable it is to other industries. Improve anything you find lacking, and you’ll have a head start in a bad market if the worst does happen.

    As for movies, glad to see you’ve chosen Benjamin Button. I can’t wait to see this, mainly because I’m a big fan of director David Fincher’s work than anything in the movie. I hope this does well enough to outshine the flashy, empty blockbusters, unlike the excellent but overlooked Zodiac.

  5. Johanna says:

    I thought that the auto bailout question was asking something slightly different. The question didn’t specify that the author works for the auto industry – just that he lives and works in Detroit.

  6. Dorothy says:

    A little comment re disability. It’s definitely a thing to plan for if you at all can. Becoming disabled can be very expensive. You will have a lot of medical bills to deal with, although as long as you make minimal payments you can not be had for medical debt. If you do become too ill to work, you are likely to loose your income for a long time, I have heard of cases dragging on as much as 5 years.
    Also keep in mind that even with insurance, you still have to prove how disabled you are, and that can be very hard. It’s not in the insurance companies interest to pay out.

  7. Michael says:

    “I hope this is an iPhone! Damn, a jar of jelly.”

    If they’re really tech geeks, they want things to play with, or puzzle through, or build, or a way to dialogue with other geeks. There are so many inexpensive ways to satisfy all of those.

  8. Jackie says:

    For the baby food reader, a really great book on getting started with preparing your own baby food is Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron (sp?)(purple with orange letters on the cover). It was a great help to me when I made food for my twins.

    Also, Trent, I’ve read that the movie is not necessarily that true to the great Fitzgerald story (which I also love) so be wary!

  9. Anna says:

    How to skin a tomato:

    This from Trent, above: “Just skin and dice up a few tomatoes…”

    Boil a pan of water–enough water to cover tomatoes completely. Turn off heat. Immediately drop tomatoes in the water for 20 seconds. Pour off the water, run cold water over the tomatoes, drain off the water. Peel tomatoes with a sharp knife. The skin will come off easily.

  10. dani says:

    for the first question: how about a mug full of some homemade coffee mix? every geek i know, myself included, loves coffee

  11. Anastasia says:

    A homemade tech-oriented gift idea might be this flashlight:

    You could use different colored LEDs and make each relative their own color :)

  12. gabrielle says:

    Re: homemade spaghetti sauce, I thought I would share what I do, as it is cheap and almost as easy as storebought. I buy the large cans of crushed tomatoes that are available at warehouse stores (128 oz, I think), and spend 30 minutes making homemade sauce (just some chopped onion, garlic, sauteed first, and then pour the canned tomatoes on top, mix, add dried Italian Seasoning mix, and cook down on a simmer for a couple of hours.) After it’s done cooking (and has cooled off), I portion it out in quart freezer bags, which is one meal’s worth of sauce for my family. You can thaw these by putting a bag in the fridge the night before, or by just putting it in a bowl under running water for a couple of minutes. It costs me 30 minutes and less than $3 to make 5 meals worth of sauce. Hope this helps!

  13. George says:

    @Michael – “And it’s a disgusting flavor.” (or am allergic to or…)

    At least the gift-giver should know their recipients well enough to avoid those awkward situations.

  14. Heather says:

    Another option — instead of increasing income — to having a SAH parent is to cut expenses, making that the woman’s job.

  15. sprfrkr says:

    Jake –
    Remember mix tapes? A great way to make something personalized and possibly introduce someone to new music? Same can be done with all digital media.

    Give them a CD of all your book marks, cool files, pics, videos, or anything else you find on your computer. They may look at you weird when you give it to them, but the ones that actually do load the disc will likely get a big kick out of the new things they see.

  16. liv says:

    a lot of people are saying that about “the day the earth stood still”…i also wonder if it’s also because keanu reeves is in it and he might say “whoa” :P

  17. Anne says:

    For the wife wanting to work from home, I have done that for 10 years as a Virtual Assistant. Startup costs are minimal compared to many businesses, and the training I received through http://www.AssistU.com is the best! It’s a growing field — supporting other entrepreneurs.

  18. Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy says:

    @Jake – If your relatives are truly tech-types, you might find some useful ideas in one of my recent blog posts where I list 10 gifts under $100 for computer techs:


    Also check out thinkgeek.com for ideas on great novelty items for geeks.

  19. Linda says:

    Movie recommendation: SlumDog Millionaire

    It is a wonderful Indian film. Don’t know how widely it is being distributed, but I saw it in Chapel Hill, NC.
    You have not seen poverty until you see this movie. But it is totally uplifting and worth looking for!

  20. CreoleIvy08 says:

    Trent, have you ever had a De-Lurking Day? On De-Lurking Day you would request for all the lurkers out there (myself included) to come out of hiding and post comments about themselves:

    * Screen name
    * Geographic location
    * How they found your The Simple Dollar
    * Male or female
    * Age
    * Married or single
    * What keeps them coming back to your blog

    This might be a good way for you to see the diversity of your readership and to help tailor future postings to your readers.

  21. Mister E says:

    Regarding the tomato sauce, out of season you will often find canned tomatoes to be of just as good or higher quality than fresh ones and there’s no skinning required. In season of course you can’t beat fresh.

    If you are using fresh it’s a good idea after skinning them to halve them and give them a squeeze over your garbage bowl – there is a lot of acidity in the seeds and getting rid of them will produce a higher quality sauce.

  22. !wanda says:

    “If my economic future relied heavily on the American auto industry, I would be focusing all of my spare time on building up new skills and saving up as much money as possible. It’s very unclear what will happen with that industry and you’re better off being safe than sorry.”

    I’m with Johanna: I think the poster just lives in Detroit. I read another blog by an oncologist specializing in breast cancer who happens to live in Detroit. He’s also deeply worried about the fate of the auto industry, not because he’s employed by it but because he perceives that the whole lifeblood of Detroit lies in the Big 3. He is worried that if there’s no bailout, there will be mass unemployment and stagnation and (secondarily) that no one will have health insurance or be able to afford to go to the doctor. If Mark B. is a service provider in Detroit, he would be worrying about the same things. I guess the best thing for people like that is to just move, if they can find a job elsewhere, or to switch their services to those needed by poor or unemployed people. But that’s more easily said than done.

  23. Melody says:

    I read back at least 10 of these mailbags to see if anyone had a question/situation similar to mine and didn’t find one.
    My basic problem is that I am in debt up to my eyeballs, partly because of choices we have directly made, (ARM refi/2x) and partially because of the defaults of others affecting us. The kicker is, I don’t get a ‘paycheck’. I am working on trying to pay myself from our business, but we help to finance quite a bit of it now that our other sources have dried-up due to maxing them out. (we have equipment costs, but no inventory) I am lucky some months to get groceries out of it and pay a couple bills. I have been one month away from foreclosure at least twice last year. (I am current now)
    This is our only source of income. Both my husband and I work at this thing, and we now have a 3-year-old with Type 1 diabetes. Since we are self-employed we cannot afford health insurance. I have fought with the state on getting my daughter covered by medicaid and that is still un-resolved, meaning all her expenses are out-of-pocket, to the tune of at least $200/mo.
    This situation started to go horribly south around 2006, after we had my daughter and did some work for another company that ended-up being a very bad alliance. We sued, we won, but collecting is always a problem and we didn’t get much. The company has since shut-down and he is moving out-of-state.
    We have a strong business on our side. We have repeat customers, referrals, and a very strong positive rating from our referral sources. We feel once we can get past this and put our organizational ducks-in-a-row, we will be doing much better.
    In the meantime, I just can’t *not* file bankruptcy, IMO. Having no steady income to budget, how can I sock any percentage away? Unfortunately, I had every intention of paying back debt – but at least one someone else was morally bankrupt enough to not care about me (or others he had dealings with) and I have no choice but to pass it on somewhere.
    I hope others will have advice, as I can’t be the only mom/pop shop around! If you choose to take it up as well, that would be great. I am sure there are many readers out there looking to start their own businesses that could use a bit of advice on the ‘realities’ of doing so.

  24. !wanda says:

    @Michael: “If they’re really tech geeks, they want things to play with, or puzzle through, or build, or a way to dialogue with other geeks. There are so many inexpensive ways to satisfy all of those.”

    Yeah, Trent’s answer to Jake was rather generic. If you can’t give them food that you know they’ll like- and honestly, I never use jelly and don’t see the point in it as food- you can give them books of puzzles, cheap fun toys, or cheap puzzle sets. They’re not homemade, but they’re much cheaper than gadgets. I’ve actually found that people really appreciate well-made homemade puzzles, if you can make ones that are interesting with unique mechanisms.

  25. I personally have found that homemade yeast bread is universally well-received. Even geeks like to eat bread. ;)

    On the mixer topic, I really like having the flip-top type, but I do wish I could have a bigger bowl sometimes. You can only get a bigger bowl if you get the mixer with the stationary top, though.

  26. Melissa says:

    In re spaghetti sauce: I can’t easily get good fresh tomatoes, and if I could I would still probably use canned. Saute a small chopped onion in olive oil until soft and throw in a can of diced tomatoes, basil (preferably chopped fresh and it’s really easy to grow), some salt and pepper, and cook it until it looks done. Throw some diced vegetables or ground meat into the saute if you want a more substantial sauce. You can start the sauce before you put the pasta on to boil, and it’s done by the time the pasta is ready. So it’s not that much extra time.

    The flavor improvement over canned sauce is so worth it. Not to mention the aroma while it’s cooking, which makes everybody in the house happy. I think canned sauce is just nasty and I’d rather eat something else entirely. Or just have pasta with butter and Parmesan.

    Sometimes getting the lid off a can of sauce is more work than cooking it from scratch, at least for me.

  27. momof4 says:

    I agree with johanna and !wanda. I live in Michigan. 4 of my family members are out of work, all of them in nonautomotive fields, all with degrees and a min of 15 years professional level experience. At the moment there are no jobs coming through. they have been unemployed ( or vastly underemployed, think food service) anywhere from 2 weeks to nearly 2 years. I’m usually of the opinion that if a company can’t thrive on it’s own it should die, but i fear that the failure of the bailout would be the death of so many nonauto people here. We have been in a recession for quite a while, with no end in sight. If we ( my husband and I) lose our nonauto jobs it will unfortunately be a situation where we have to leave our family and get out of Michigan, because there are few options right now.

  28. Saver Queen says:

    Some excellent questions here!

    Lauren, I actually had a guest post written on my blog on how to make your own baby food that I think might be useful to you. http://saverqueen.com/2008/10/25/guest-post-a-new-moms-perspective-pureed-baby-food/

    Jake – I’m making people lots of homemade gifts. My sis and I are making for my parents homemade Muslix, Trail Mix, White Almond Bark, Poppycock, and infused tea. I’m also making a homemade magnetic, dry-erase recipe calender for my sister and Archie-comic themed magnets. The options are endless! I’m also making homemade labels for the jars.

  29. Wayward says:

    Hi Trent,

    I have a question regarding 401k contributions. This summer I reduced my 401k contribution from 20% to 10% in order to rebuild my emergency fund after some unexpected expenses. I now feel comfortable with the emergency fund and am ready to return my contribution to 20%.

    Unfortunately, last week our company sent out a statement that due to the economy, the company would no longer be offering an employer match to the 401k funds. So my question is, should I continue contributing to my 401k at all, and instead move my money to a different investment?


  30. Madelaine says:

    Homemade tomato sauce can also be based on a can of crushed tomatoes, which is still a lot cheaper than Ragu/Prego etc, and ends up tasting better.

    Just add some olive oil, salt, sugar, oregano/basil to taste.

  31. H says:


    I saw a sneak preview of Benjamin Buttons and it is really good. Very beautifully shot. Long though. Two hours and forty five minutes.


  32. Johanna says:

    On pasta sauce: Where I live, fresh tomatoes that are worth eating are expensive – and for 6-7 months of the year, cannot be had for any price. For me to make pasta sauce out of fresh tomatoes, it would actually cost more than Ragu/Prego. Canned tomatoes are cheaper, easier, and available year-round.

    If you like pasta, I highly recommend the cookbook “Pasta e Verdura” by Jack Bishop. Many, many recipes for vegetable sauces for pasta. Some are variations on plain tomato sauce (my favorite involves adding arugula and olives), and some are completely different (like broccoli and balsamic vinegar). All of them are excellent.

  33. kz says:

    I’m with momof4 – I, too, live in Michigan, just 30 minutes from Detroit. I’m not trying to sell the bailout, but I think it’s important to mention that the failure of any of the ‘Big 3’ (or the ‘Detroit 3,’ as NPR has taken to calling them since they’re not the biggest three auto manufacturers anymore) would be very difficult for all members of our state. I work in the energy industry, which is relatively stable, but am still affected because of home values that have been on the decline since at least late 2004. Unemployment is very high already, and not just among blue-collar workers.
    Luckily, my family is doing okay so far because we live below our means and didn’t spend more than we could afford on a house. But it’s still very unnerving when you know so many things are going wrong.
    I know there are a lot of people who say, “Well, if you can’t find work there, then leave. Move somewhere else, anywhere else, for a job.” Waaaaay easier said than done. If you’re on the edge to begin with, moving to find a job when your house will likely sit on the market for over a year at a heavily discounted price will just not work.
    I’m not complaining – personally, I love Michigan. I just wanted to point out my own perspective – the ‘solutions’ to our problems aren’t as simple or fast-acting as some pundits would have you believe.

  34. The Other Michael says:

    Ed says: “With the market the way it is, I’ve been thinking about contributing less…”

    Ed – The whole point of investing is to buy low and sell high. The market right now is low, so contributing less now would be foolish. There is never a good time to NOT take advantage of the maximum amount of free money your employer offers you.

  35. Shevy says:

    Even ignoring the cost of a bottle of olive oil and a jar of oregano (because I happen to already have both) it would still cost me *far* more to make tomato sauce than to buy a can.

    Let’s see. Tomatoes $2.49 per pound. Fresh basil $2.99 for a plastic blister pack. I’d be surprised if I just needed one pack, unless I need less than half a dozen leaves.

    It would be cheaper if you grew a tomato plant and some basil, but not if you had to buy the ingredients.

  36. Mister E says:


    Why do you buy your basil in blister packs?

    Maybe it’s a regional thing but I can buy an absolutely monstrous bag of the stuff for $2 at my local market. It’s also really easy to grow.

    You can make lots of wonderful sauces without basil too.

  37. greenfamily says:

    I’d like to respond to Chris about his wife working from home. I disagree with Trent’s very simplistic a) b) solution. Although I’m aware Trent doesn’t hold network marketers in very high esteem, thousands of people have made and are currently making a very good living working from home as network marketers. How to explain the success of Avon, Mary Kay, Melaleuca, Silpada, and Lia Sophia, just to name a few?

    Personally I prefere Shaklee, a nutrition/wellness company with an illustrious environmental track record and the best compensation plan in the business. The company was purchased five years ago by Roger Barnett, whose family owns (among other things) Columbia Music and Time Life Books? Apparently he thought highly enough of network marketing to spend $320 million to buy the company, and has since created several additional ways for business owners to earn great income and lavish trips all over the world.

    There are people in Shaklee who have made an excellent income very soon after starting their business precisely b/c they have harnessed the power of the internet. It’s no longer just sharing product within your own small circle!

    The cost to start a Shaklee business is $300, including over $200 of product. I made my investment back in the first two months, and am well on my way to my first promotion. You can look at the website http://www.shaklee/net/mygreenfamily.

    Besides that, Chris’s wife could also consider keeping other children in her home if she has kids of her own and is so inclined.

    I am also surprised Trent didn’t address the issue of living expenses. If Chris’s wife starts working from home, they may have to sacrifice some luxuries in order to make it work. Find ways to trim the outgoing expenses and make it work for her to stay at home. You can do it!

  38. GayleRN says:

    People who don’t live in Michigan (I do) have no idea how much of our economy is dependent on the auto industry. It reaches every corner of the state. In the small town where my parents live you can now buy a perfectly decent house for 15K. The problem is that there are about 5-10 jobs in the entire town. The situation is reminding me of 1973-4 where highly educated people could not find jobs at all. Michigan produces lots of highly educated people, but I see that the young people are leaving, just like I did back then.

  39. Rebecca says:

    Re: the question on baby food. I would also encourage you to check out “baby led weaning”. (Just google it for info) It’s a great way and certainly cheaper than jars! Also, don’t feel like you need to start early. 6 months is really the earliest they should be starting solids.

  40. Gigi says:

    You don’t need to be a fresh basil snob to get a good sauce. I’ve made great sauces with dried basil and oregano, and in a pinch (gasp) have used garlic powder. Its still vastly superior to Prego or Ragu. If you really want to be econmomical, you can get huge cans of chopped tomatoes at a warhouse club for less than $4 (I’ve seen them at Cub too, but they might be a little more expensive) which would make several batches of pasta sauce to either can yourself, or freeze. If you want a smoother sauce, use a hand blender to puree’ them, and because sometimes tomato sauce, made from canned tomatoes or fresh, are a little acidic, add a little sugar to the batch to balance it.

  41. Kristin E says:


    Tech geeks instructables! Great gift ideas for tech nerds when on a budget.

  42. Pooh says:

    Linda’s movie recommendation: I second the vote for Slum dog millionaire. It has everything you want in a movie – believable acting, beautiful and creative film making and a feel good story. It speaks to the question “what is really valuable in your life” that this site addresses so often. Not your run of the mill predictable film and worth the matinee price (you DO go to the matinee don’t you? – it’s cheaper) Oh and it’s mostly in English for those who hate subtitles.

  43. Chris @ BuildMyBudget says:

    Thanks for addressing the insurance issue. I have some(what I consider) priceless works of art my siblings have created over the years which I have wanted to insure. Rather than getting them appraised, I just decided on some economical renter’s insurance because you’re right–why would you want to replace a one of a kind?

  44. Andi says:

    Something I am slowly learning (having read An Omnivore’s Dilemma and several books on grassfed meat) is that good food is not always cheap food. A hard paradigm shift for me to make because I’ve always looked for the deal. It may not always be a good thing that we have such an abundance of cheap, overprocessed food available to us.

  45. Kate says:

    Mailbag question:

    Since the markets are doing so badly, I want to withdraw about some money from a traditional IRA (about $12,000 over three semesters) to pay for full-time college tuition at a state school. This IRA has pre-tax and after-tax money in it, mixed together from when I contributed more than the employer match when I worked.
    Since I am using it for college tuition, I only will have to pay taxes and not the penalty. I plan to convert the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA when I am done with college, so I think this move will lower my eventual conversion tax bill also. When I get re-employed after graduation, I plan to pay the money back to the IRA.
    Does this make sense or is there something I am overlooking? My goal is to finish school with no student loans.

  46. Donna says:

    In response to Chris whose wife was laid off in October, I work part time as a cyberagent at home for a company who services Fortune 500 companies. I’m am preparing for when I “retire” and need supplemental wages. There are several companies out there that are not “scams,” but are very reputable. Of course there is a several week training period to qualify, then the training period for the company you decide to actually service, but I’ve been servicing the same company for nearly two years and it sure beats working retail!

  47. katie says:

    I have a question for you,

    My husband and I have been working really hard and have paid off out student loan and credit card debt. Our plan was to save up 1,000 as a mini emergency fund and then start paying down our auto loans(a total of about 10,000 which we could have paid off in about 7 months) now Im beginning to wonder with this bad economy if it wouldnt be better to continue saving for a more substantial emergency fund? Our interest rates on the cars are higher then we could get right now on a easy to access savings account. Thanks

  48. M says:

    It’s really hard to give advise without all the facts. Are there children at home? Would you save money by not having to pay child care. Did you eat out a lot before and is your wife willing to make meals from scratch. My friend and her husband found that it is actually less expensive for her to stay at home. She no longer needed clothes for work, they didn’t need a second car, he started taking brown bag lunches from left over’s the night before. Didn’t need an after school sitter, the children started doing better in school, they lost weight, no more to go food. They didn’t spend the entire weekend catching up on chores, laundry, house cleaning, and yard work, he now spends more relaxing time with the family. This takes a great deal of planning, sacrifice, and compromise, they gave up cable, changed their cell phone carriers from monthly to pay by the minute (emergency use only), started using public transportation, car pooled, used the public library to borrow movies and books, she put in a huge garden this summer and canned quite a bit. She went to garage sales for clothes for the kids, books and movies, she had several garage sales of her own, resold things from garage sales she had been to (buy a box of kids clothes for $1 and resell what she didn’t want). There are also options of a part time job, going to a temp agency and working when they call, watching a couple of children after school. My friend cleaned elderly people’s homes every couple of weeks. She also baked beautiful cakes. It was a combination of what they could save if she stayed at home and the willingness to do what it took to make a little money on the side. It’s not Leave It To Beaver, but they are happier, healthier, have a calmer home, more involved in their children’s lives . You two need to sit down and have an honest talk, what would need to be done to make this work, if it is even possible. Good luck.

  49. Monica says:

    We are upside down on our home with an ARM that is set to reset in 3 months. It last reset 3 months ago (resets every 6 months) and increased by about $100 but has a cap on it. Will the decrease in the interest rate help me when my mortgage adjusts or hurt me? Additionally, is there anything I can do to improve my situation (being upside down) besides negotiating with the mortgage company or borrowing money from family in order to come up with the difference (in order to refinance)? The mortgage company told me I could file some paperwork with them to keep the monthly payment the same for 6 months but that I’m only allowed to do that twice during the life of the loan. Right now we’re doing okay (if the monthly payment stayed the same) but we have $5,000 in credit card debt we’re trying to get paid off my April. A lower rate would help us decrease our credit card debt. We intend to stay in the home for about 5-7 more years.

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