Updated on 06.04.13

Reader Mailbag #49

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. One reader asked me what I thought of Dave Ramsey’s books, so here are my reviews of most of them.
Review: The Total Money Makeover
Review: More Than Enough
Review: Financial Peace Revisited

And now for some reader questions!

What are your thoughts on using a utility company’s budget plan?
– Anne KD

Most utility companies offer a “budget plan” where you are charged a specific bill amount every month throughout the year, regardless of the actual usage. At the end of the year, you receive an “adjustment” bill that makes up the difference between the amount you’ve actually paid in and the cost of the energy you’ve used over the course of the past year.

For the most part, these plans are just fine, particularly for people who like their bills nice and regular most of the time. The only problem comes with that adjustment period – quite often, it can be a nasty adjustment, causing you to pay in substantially more than your normal bill just to make up the difference.

If you sign up for such a budget plan, either be sure you have plenty in your savings account to cover any unexpected adjustment at the end of the year or ask for a slightly higher monthly bill. That way, you won’t have to worry about a nasty surprise at the end of the year while still getting the regularity of a budget plan.

I have a question – are you worried about the volcano in Yellowstone erupting? It’s been all over the science blogs I visit. If anyone hasn’t read/heard about it, it’s an interesting read.
– sophia

To me, the Yellowstone caldera (read all about it!) is one of those things that’s simply so far out of my control – and the consequences of a bad event so devastating – that it’s not worth my time to worry about it one iota. The same goes for the possibility of a cataclysmic asteroid hitting the earth – it would be incredibly devastating and far beyond any one person’s ability to plan for it (unless you’re Bill Gates and can build a bunker in a mountain or something).

When I was a kid, there were a lot of predictions about a major devastating earthquake along the New Madrid fault line which, if they happened, would have pretty much leveled my hometown. My father basically took the same approach: why worry about it at all? It has a very minute chance of happening, it’s out of our control, and there’s not much we could do to really prepare anyway besides having earthquake insurance (which was just a few dollars in our area).

I think that’s the reasonable (and healthy) way to go.

Do you have any suggestions on how to find a good attorney, and how to save on attorney services?
– Griffin

I would hit my social network before doing anything else. Ask some of your friends, particularly those you trust and those that have good standing in the community. The advice you get from these people will almost always be the best advice you can get in your local area.

In terms of saving money, your best bet is always to be as prepared as you can before you begin using the services. Know exactly what you want, have as much information ready as you can, and have the questions you want to know ready to go before you visit. Attorneys typically charge by the hour and if you don’t have your information together, you’ll eat into that time simply due to your lack of preparation.

My question is what if you have been married for a while, are very much in love with that person and vice versa, but the one thing that has changed about that person is her spending habits? I find myself having to be the bad guy all of the time about vacations and material things.
– T

A change in spending habits is often tied to other life changes – new friends, a new career, changes in health, and so on. Has anything else changed in your partner’s life over the last few years?

The best tactic for digging through difficulties in a relationship is always rational communication. Don’t yell. Never yell. It will get you nowhere. You should also realize that if you begin to question someone’s bad behavior or flaws, they’ll often try hard to reverse it – and if they do that, admit to your flaws and say that these are things you need to work through together.

Your political advice makes me nervous because you aspire to a political office. I don’t want anyone who recommends a political Dummies book above me.
– Michael

I’m assuming you’ve never heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”?

Most of the books in the “Dummies” series are actually excellent simple introductions to the topics in question and almost always point the reader towards more sophisticated and detailed works in that area. The “Dummies” books on political topics are no exception to this – they lay out the basics of civic government in America and also provide suggestions for continuing on a journey of learning.

I would far rather have someone read a “Dummies” book on a topic that they didn’t know well than read something overly complex – or even worse, read nothing at all. A “Dummies” book is a completely reasonable place to start.

Did you ever finish reading Neal Stephenson’s book Anathem? What did you think of it?
– Adam

I’m nearly finished with it – and I loved it. You have to give it time, though – Stephenson spends most of the first half of the book setting up the characters and situation and much of that can seem complex and tiring because Stephenson is fleshing out a rather complex world.

For those unaware, Anathem is a giant 900 page work of fiction by Neal Stephenson. The book is set in something of an inversion of our world – the theoretical scientists in the world lock themselves into what amounts to monasteries and live very isolated and spartan lives, and outside of these monasteries, both religion and purely secular lives thrive. What happens when the scientists are basically forced to come out of the monastery because of a global situation that affects everyone? It’s a wonderful novel.

How do we get through to a 14 year old about the differences between rich, poor, and all that is in between? It’s not just black and white. And also, how do I encourage her to come up with a plan for being “rich” (I prefer having her come up with a plan for success, not just being “rich”), without coming straight out and saying becoming “rich” doesn’t just happen overnight? Which, I have said, but I need something to translate to her young language.
– heather

Don’t translate it at all. This is a perfect opportunity to use the Socratic method for teaching. You should lead by asking questions to determine what she is actually thinking about the topic.

If she talks about “rich,” ask her what she means by that. The same for “poor.” Ask her why she wants to be “rich” and not “poor” by her definition. Ask her why she thinks people are “poor” – is it by choice?

Let her lead and show you what she knows. Quite often, teenagers have very fresh and coherent views of the world that are largely correct but simply haven’t been aged by experience – much like a wine freshly fermented. You can provide a bit of that aging by making them consider their views a bit more.

What’s the most frustrating part of writing a blog like The Simple Dollar, with such a big audience?
– El

The biggest problem (from my perspective) is the difficulty that I have remaining part of the conversation.

In the earlier days on the site, I could post an article and then engage further with readers in the comments. This works well if you have a limited number of commenters.

However, most discussions on the site now reach into the hundreds of comments with fifty different strong and intelligent voices and, quite often, there are multiple strong perspectives being voiced. I love that. However, if I ever jump into that mix, it is impossible for it to end well. If I attempt to offer an alternate explanation for something I said in the post, I’m seen as being defensive. If I admit to being wrong and offer to change the post, I’m said to be spineless and caving and attempting to cover the tracks of my “flaws.” Even worse, no matter which path things follow, I’ve destroyed the nice ongoing conversation.

Thus, I simply don’t participate in discussions much any more. With so many vibrant voices commenting, most of the angles I can think of are well covered in most of the discussions, so I don’t really have a role to fill other than “disruptor,” which is something I don’t like to do at all.

I miss the interaction, though. I miss it a lot.

My question: While growing up (I am 37), I learned about money, managing expenses, and saving through, for lack of a better term, observations of the “real world” – my parents always explained to me what was going on when they went to the bank, used a credit card, or sat down to pay bills every month. Now that so much of banking and bill paying is done on-line (making money far less tangible), what would be your strategies for teaching children everyday concepts about money?
– Christine

My plan with my own children is to show them how I pay the bills and keep the money balanced no matter how I do it – on paper, on the computer, on my iPod Touch, or anything. The principles behind it still remain the same – I strive to spend less than I earn, keep my bills paid, and build up personal wealth over time.

That’s really what I want to teach them. They’ll be able to figure out the technology of the moment – what’s most important is that they understand why it’s being used.

What do you and your wife plan to do on Valentine’s Day?
– Lily

My parents are coming to visit that weekend and are insisting on watching the kids while we go out somewhere, so that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go out for a simple dinner somewhere in Des Moines, then likely out to a movie (Milk looks like our tentative pick).

For many people, this will seem boring and uneventful, but trust me – there are virtually no evenings where we have the opportunity to leave the kids with babysitters we 100% trust (my parents) and simply spend some time out and about alone together.

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

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  1. Trevor - 14 Year Old Blogger says:

    Nice mailbag again. I’ve been following for weeks and these mailbags are awesome. =)

    I have a question:

    Do you believe in spirituality?

  2. Brandon says:

    You should just create a pseudonym and comment under it if you really have those reservations about participating, but you really wish to do so.

  3. Brandon says:

    You should come up with a pseudonym and comment under it if you wish to participate, but are afraid to do so because of backlash, etc.

  4. I like Brandon’s idea for a pseudonym.

    For the bad guy on vacations, I know that pain. It sucks to sometimes put your foot down and simply say “no” to something. I’m fortunate in that my fiance wants to spend money, but she usually stops herself before I say anything. Trent’s advice is spot on though. If your partner loves you, then communication shouldn’t be a large barrier.

    Trent I wish I had the attention span for Anathem, I’ve heard wonderful things. But I know myself, and I wouldn’t be able to finish it.

  5. Michael says:

    Thanks for answering my question. Actually, I have read too many Dummies books and judge the cover of the ones I haven’t read by the content I have read, which is fair. I expect someone well-read in politics to recommend something better, even if those books are good enough for a curious person.

  6. The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    @ How to find an attorney. I agree that a reference from a friend could be a good way to find an attorney, but consider whether that friend would know what kind of job the attorney did. Most attorneys will tell you to contact the local bar association. Of course, they’ll put you in touch with someone in your area of need that’s active in the bar association. This will probably be someone with ample experience, and this is a safe bet. I would add another idea – if there is a law school in your area, look up a law professor in your area. They’ve typically seen thousands of students come through the school. They’ll remember which of their star students ended up practicing in the area you need. This could be a good way to find an attorney as well. Just a thought from a young, relatively inexperienced attorney.

  7. DB Cooper says:

    “…most discussions on the site now reach into the hundreds of comments…”

    Most? Well, actually just 1 so far this month (of 16 posts) and 6 in January (of 57 posts). Maybe you not only don’t comment much anymore, but don’t even bother to look!

    But your point is well-made as to why you don’t jump in the conversation.

  8. KC says:

    I’m a library manager and degreed librarian and I frequently recommend “for Dummies” books to our customers. They started out as computer books “DOS for Dummies” and were just a very simple way of handling somewhat complex topics. The books spread from there. I find them very useful for parents freshening up on math, science and other topics that they need to help their kids with. I also frequently recommend them to people who want to learn more about a subject – for instance senior citizens who are trying to become familiar with computers and people who might be trying to grasp a new topic such as economics or politics. They handle complex topics very well and are usually written by people who are well versed in that field.

  9. KC says:

    As for parents looking for ways to teach their children about money one of the actions that always sticks out in my mind is going with my father to the grocery store. I can remember him teaching me about unit pricing. Even 20 years ago they had unit pricing listed on the labels. He explained it to me and then would talk about generics and such (how some are worth the cost others you might try and not like).

    I know this would be a complex topic for an 8 year old, but I think I grasped it pretty young like maybe 12. Don’t underestimate your kids they’ll understand money sooner than you think – get to them early.

  10. Tucker says:

    I understand what you mean about not commenting. I know when I read the earlier posts, your additional comments were very good, and I’m sad to see you in a position where you feel unable to contribute meaningfully.

    I know what you mean about Valentine’s Day. My girl and I are taking her daughter to dinner, then going to a free evening at a local spot. Just being alone, the two of us, is what will make it special!

    For the first time, I’m not paying on a budget plan for my natural gas, and while I have had to adjust my budget, I feel like my budget now better reflects my actual utility spending, rather than just a set number. And I can see more how my attempts at saving energy (installing weatherstripping, a prgrammable thermostat, sealing cracks, etc.) are working.

  11. SteveJ says:

    Anathem is awesome. Although I love everything Stephenson has written (including Big U), this one turned me off from the synopsis. I picked it up at the library and thought it would take me a while to slog through, but I burned through it in about three nights (giving up some precious sleep time).

    I never thought about the commenting aspect of running a blog. Once you pointed it out though, it was immediately obvious. When a heated discussion ensues, everyone would like an authority to come down on their side, and who’s more authorative than the author? Nothing good can come of the conversation once that happens though.

  12. Esme says:

    It amazes me that there are people who come here to whine about how you don’t comment or how you run your blog, and will find ways to pick apart your explanations(D.B. Cooper). Its your blog! You can run it and comment(or not)as you please, and its perfectly fine. It isn’t about blogging styles and writing-its about personal finance and frugality. I agree with you and your decision on commenting 100%.

  13. Mister E says:

    @DB Cooper

    For a moment there I was afraid there was no one on the internet tracking extreme trivialities on personal finance blogs.

    Thanks for clearing that up.

  14. Elisabeth says:

    @Trent – I believe you do get those reactions when you comment, so I realize I’m putting you in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. But I just know that sometimes I read a post, and have kind of a strong opinion on it, and look at the comments to see that many people agree. For example, the last post about Twitter, I just looked, and of the 17 comments, about 40% said that they felt that subscribing to those things would just encourage impulse buys. And about 25% were upset with your use of the phrase “living under a rock.” I don’t see how joining into that conversation would hurt you.

    @ others, I don’t think it’s fair to pick on D.B. Cooper. I guess some people think that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. That’s fine. However, if I were Trent, and this blog were my full time job, I’d be interested in the opinions of people who think I might not be doing the best job with every post. I would at least prefer to hear their comments, rather than just have them stop reading, and never say why.

  15. kz says:

    I am glad to have heard your perspective on the comments. I miss reading that discourse and am glad to know you miss it, too. For a while there, I was getting frustrated because I thought you’d gotten ‘too big’ (ego-wise) to mix with the readers. I appreciate you sharing your reasons, even if they’re not embraced by everyone.

  16. Jennifer says:

    ToughMoneyLife just wrote a piece on saving money on attorney fees. There’s not much about selecting a lawyer though. http://toughmoneylove.com/2009/02/08/save-money-legal-fees/

    As for budgeting of your utilities, why not implement your own system so you don’t have surprises? Average up your bills for the last year or two (this assumes you have lived in a place long enough to have a baseline). When you get your bill, compare it to the monthly average you calculated. If it is lower than the average, then pay the bill and save the difference as specifically earmarked towards the utility cost. The next time you get a bill that is more than the average, simply pull the difference from your utility fund. This has the advantage of not ending up with a suprise huge bill at the end of the year, nor having a significant amount returned that could have been earning interest. The only downside is that if you want to implement this tactic right now, February is likely one of the higher-spending months for your utilities, so you might have to go a few months before you have a surplus over the average that you calculated.

  17. We have a utility budget plan and have done so for years. If you sign up after you have a year’s history at your home, the adjustment has never been a nasty shock. It might have been as much as $30 before, which would be about 25% to 30% of the monthly bill. The key is to use efficiency measures around your house and keep an eye on utility costs, so that if you know natural gas prices have skyrocketed, you keep a reserve to help pay for that adjustment. The last couple years our bill has actually gone down at the adjustment.

    Regarding kids and finances, we work all the time with our almost-8-year-old. She gets allowance that she must divide into spending, saving and giving. When she outgrows pricier toys, we allow her to choose to give them away or sell them on eBay/Craigslist (she sold some princess toys she had outgrown and purchased an American Girl doll — and chose a “classic” model on eBay that was the best value). We’ve explained compound interest, which makes her excited to put money in savings. And we try to explain everything … like the way I charge most purchases to a rebate card, and that that means we have a debt, but we pay the bill every single month. She does not like debt so she really disapproves of even that — and she saves diligently for her purchases. I don’t think having a checkbook or not makes a difference.

  18. AnnJo says:

    Tips on finding and working with an attorney:

    – Most state Bar Associations and many local Bar Associations have Committees or Sections for specific areas – Family Law, Probate, Real Property, Intellectual Property, etc. Those committees or sections in turn have Boards or executive committees. The people in those leadership positions are often among the most experienced and well-regarded attorneys in that area of the law.

    If I were looking for a divorce attorney, for example, I would call the local (county or city) bar association and ask for the names of the people on the board of the local Family Law Section. If there was no local section, I’d call the State Bar Association, and ask for names of attorneys in my area who are serving on the state Family Law Section Board.

    The suggestion about using a local bar association’s lawyer referral service is so-so. Those services typically require the attorney to agree to a free half-hour or hour consultation. Highly experienced attorneys don’t need the business and see that as wasted time and often don’t sign up for those services, so the attorneys on the list are often newer, ‘hungrier,’ less experienced attorneys. That doesn’t make them bad choices, but just being on the list is no guarantee of quality.

    To minimize costs:

    – gather all the information and paperwork the attorney requests and organize it well. If the attorney gives you a questionnaire to fill out, fill it out completely and accurately.

    – give careful thought to what you want to accomplish by your legal action, and mercilessly strip away goals like “teaching the SOB a lesson,” showing that you can’t be pushed around, and “it’s the principle of the thing,” unless you really don’t care how much it costs. Run your goals by the attorney in your first consultation, and get feedback on whether they are realistic.

    – don’t call your attorney if you can email; don’t email daily if you can consolidate your information and email weekly or semi-monthly. Don’t use your attorney as a therapist, accountant, or financial planner – those specialists are all cheaper by the hour than lawyers.

    – don’t expect your lawyer or the court system to make your estranged spouse, business partner or family member into a different sort of person than he/she is. If he/she always cheated on the taxes, paid bills late/not at all, turned every molehill into a mountain, then that’s the kind of lawsuit you are going to have. Let your attorney know early on, so that you can decide together whether your goals in the lawsuit can be accomplished at a reasonable cost or may end up having to be scrapped, in which event, sooner is better.

    – ask your lawyer how each proposed legal step (motions, discovery demands, etc.) will advance your goals and whether there are alternative less expensive ways of accomplishing the goals.

    – measure settlement proposals against a long-term perspective, something like this: “Five years from now, will I look back on whatever compromises I have to make for this settlement and cringe that I let myself do it, will I still be digging myself out of the hole it caused me, or will the amount at issue be basically insignificant to my life at that point?”

    – just because you know you have a fight on your hands, don’t set out to find “the most aggressive” attorney around. A good lawyer can be aggressive when necessary, but not just for the sake of being an SOB. Look out for a lawyer who is rude or nasty to a courteous opposing lawyer. You’re paying for YOUR fight to be fought, not your lawyer’s, and opposing attorneys who can work professionally and courteously with each other save their clients time and money.

  19. Elisabeth says:

    Also, about the utility budget plan, as long as you can keep up some savings in case you have a big adjustment at the end of the year, that can be a good thing. That means you’ve been getting interest on that “adjustment” amount all year, instead of handing it over to the utility company. Probably not a huge amount, but can’t hurt, as long as you’ve been saving.

  20. Scott C says:

    “Thus, I simply don’t participate in discussions much any more. With so many vibrant voices commenting, most of the angles I can think of are well covered in most of the discussions, so I don’t really have a role to fill other than “disruptor,” which is something I don’t like to do at all.”

    I agree that your best course of action is to not participate in the discussions for all the reasons you stated. However, we love your insight, so perhaps you could respond using a pseudonym? No one needs to know you’re commenting on your own articles.

  21. Jimbo says:

    I’ll just point out that if JD at Get Rich Slowly (a far bigger blog with consistently more comments) or Leo at Zenhabits can participate in the discussions on their blogs, so can you.

  22. Anastasia says:

    Our gas budget plan doesn’t have a big payment at the end of the year. They revise the plan every 3 months. If we’re far ahead, they will lower it. If we’re behind, they will raise it. Certainly if we had a super tight budget, those changes could present a challenge. So far though the plan has stayed pretty consistent.

  23. spaces says:

    Griffin: Additionally, listen to what your attorney says and don’t fight the advice. I would be happy to stay on the clock and educate a client as to why he can’t get from A to C directly, or why he has to go through B to get to E, but it’s really not a good use of his money to pay me to do so.

    My best clients are those who are prepared for meetings and phone calls before they occur by knowing the facts of their situations, having the requisite papers in hand, having an outline of their questions, etc., those who leave their egos and anger at home and aren’t out for scorched earth, those who are sophisticated enough to have done some poking around on the net at REPUTABLE sites (no tin foil hats) and those who give me adequate time to return their calls and correspondence. In other words, those who stay focused on the ends they want to achieve and don’t interfere with my carrying out of the means.

    Coincidentially, that client profile tends to get the most work at the least cost.

  24. The Other Michael says:

    I remember the denigrating (to Trent) comment by Michael about the Dummies books — it was the reason I changed the name I post under, since I’d prefer not to be confused with someone who comes across as your standard 15-year-old troll.

    I see in his follow-up here that he mentions having read “too many Dummies books and judge the cover of the ones I haven’t read by the content I have read.” I can’t help but notice that he glaringly omits the title of a single one.

    I can say that those on politics, management, Linux, and HTML are excellent introductions to those topics.

    Please, Michael, enlighten all us poor Simple Dollar readers as to the “many” Dummies books you’ve found merely “fair” so that we might avoid them!

  25. CDG says:

    Yeah, the nitpicking thing (as long as we’re on the topic :) …

    It seems that some people (speaking in general, not pointing fingers here) get the most enjoyment from the opportunity to anonymously tell people how they’re blogging wrong, pick apart their words, blah and blah and gah, instead of discussing the topic of the post. Why else would anyone read and comment on a blog written by someone whose writing they don’t like? It’s a big internet. There are a couple of commenters on this current events type blog I read that always show up to tell the blogger how much she sucks. In fact, I quit reading Salon for this very reason.

    I guess, if that’s what floats your boat, but I find it extremely boring (wish there was a filter for that!). That’s why I love Television Without Pity’s “don’t talk about the boards on the boards” rule.

    Anyway, it’s too bad Trent doesn’t comment anymore, but I get why he wouldn’t want to spend all day dealing with the b!tching.

  26. Lisa says:

    I love the BUDGET UTILITY plans. My adjustment months have been very minor changes (<5%) which is nothing compared to the whopping huge surprises I used to get when the winter heating bills arrived.

    At my point in the getting-out-of-debt path, paying essentially the same amount each month HELPS me budget and eases the process more than $10 in interest (if I had budgeted for winter myself with a savings account) would help me. I have switched both electricity and gas over to these.

  27. Diving Belle says:

    I recently was given an iPod Touch — I had never expressed a desire for it and am rather low-tech at heart but, as with many new things, I’ve decided to give it a try for six months and see if it fits in to my life.

    At the end of my trial period if I decide it’s a nice toy but not for me, I’m contemplating doing a mini-raffle, offering only 10 friends/family the chance to purchase a $25 “ticket” — but I wondering if this would cause hard feelings and perhaps I should just give it away.

    Yes, I could use the money, but not if it cost me friends!

  28. Jeremy says:

    > Anyway, it’s too bad Trent doesn’t comment
    > anymore, but I get why he wouldn’t want to spend
    > all day dealing with the b!tching.

    I hate people who circumvent the language filter. It’s there for a reason.

  29. CDG says:

    Apologies and thanks for the reminder – it’s an old habit.

  30. Gayle says:

    The question of teaching your kids about personal finance – it’s the same as anything else, just bring them along for the ride! My friend still recounts the story of my answering my six year old’s question about savings account (he wanted one) with an explanation of how compound interest works. We were in the car & he asked a question and I gave a real world answer. He’s now 31, by the way!

    Kids learn from the watching what you do and from listening to what you teach them. So watch out for unintended messages!

    I tell my teenage daughter that I wish I had it in my power to buy her every beautiful thing she deserves, but the electric bill is $xxx and the car payment is $xxx. She said to me the other day, “Mom, I have friends whose parents give them everything they want – I don’t want to be like them. They just get stuff & it doesn’t mean anything & they lose it or wreck the car or whatever. I can work and earn what I want.”

    There are some good days…

    But, I do have a question:
    A younger member of our extended family is facing foreclosure (as are many these days, it seems). They have consulted a lawyer (helps to have one in the family) and all possible contacts have been made with the lender. Giving the bank a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure versus hanging on to the bitter end – which is the lesser of two evils? Having a foreclosure and deficiency judgment against their credit either way, it seems to make sense to me to stay in their house as long as possible. What do you think?

  31. Shevy says:

    Regarding the monthly payment plan for utility bills, I’ve almost always had the opposite experience. Rather than a big payment due in the anniversary month I usually end up getting 1 to 1.5 months “free” (i.e. overpaying and ending up with a credit). This is probably due to the fact that the company prefers to err on the side of caution when setting or resetting the monthly charge and to overanticipate their own proposed price increases.

    If you’re setting this up for the first time you should ideally have lived in the place for at least one year (or at least through the winter) so you’ll be paying based on your own usage habits, rather than those of the previous owner or tenant.

    As for Trent feeling that he disrupts the flow of comments, I agree that he could comment using a pseudonym (although his readers might start looking over newer commenters, probing to see if they were actually Trent in disguise, and that could get uncomfortable for an innocent newbie). But there’s another way to interact and that’s to comment on the blogs of some of us who comment here. I know sometimes I’ll make a post that references an article Trent wrote or that was inspired by something he said and I’m not the only blogger who does this. He could easily comment on our take on the same subject and most of us don’t get the huge numbers of comments that he does so he might be inspiring discussion rather than shutting it down or sidetracking it. Just a thought.

  32. bentley says:

    I make my own utility budget plans. I started the gas one in winter and the electricity in summer, when the bills are highest. I keep track of what I’m charged (not what I’m billed, but what I’m charged) on a spreadsheet every month and figure out the average for the past 12 months (including the current bill) and pay that average. After a year, the monthly average varies only slightly from month to month. It makes it a lot easier to keep a balanced budget without getting that enormous bill the first air conditioning or heating month.

  33. Jillian says:

    I think Trent should post under a pseudonym, too. We could all have so much fun trying to work out which commenter he is ;-)

  34. Chris says:

    What do you do when your best is not good enough?

  35. Kelly says:

    About working with Lawyers on the cheap:

    I’ve gotten free and very cheap help from lawyers in 2 different states about 2 different matters recently. We just moved to a new state, and with two different residences the laws are different in each state. Look at your state’s local bar association website and keep searching it until you find a link for free or discounted services.

    I paid $50 for a half hour consultation in WA and $0! for a 1/2 hour consultation in IA. Other states probably have similar services (or at least recommendations for lawyers in the area for which you need advice).

    As previously mentioned, be prepared well in advance of your meeting. Have all your documents with you, bring a list of all your questions and bring a pen and paper to write down their answers so you can refer to it later. Email all your documents and questions ahead of time to the lawyer if possible, so they will be prepared to help you.

    @Gayle comment #24: whether to do a deed in lou, or just do a foreclosure might only be the choice of the mortgage companie(s)?? Deed in Lou is supposed to be slightly better. Keep in mind there is a difference between the deed to the house and the money owed on the loan, and an action taken to handle one does not assume the other is also taken care of. Your lawyer should be able to give you details. A better choice for protecting their credit would be to sell the house (if possible) even a *short sale* (where the house is sold for less than what is owed on the loan) is better for your credit (and maybe their emotional well being?). Make sure to use a realtor who has EXPERIENCE with short sales (ditto with the lawyer). Good luck!!

  36. “If I attempt to offer an alternate explanation for something I said in the post, I’m seen as being defensive. If I admit to being wrong and offer to change the post, I’m said to be spineless and caving and attempting to cover the tracks of my “flaws.””

    And you care what people think because … ??

  37. riders says:

    Its difficult to used for this way but everybody try to find success in some day.

  38. JB says:


    I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time. Love the blog, but definitely miss the days where you would comment and add to the discussion.

  39. Kate says:

    I’m glad you made that comment about not getting into the discussions that can spin off from individual articles, and said that THIS comment section was where to ask a question. I have one that I posted before, but now I’ll ask it here in somewhat abbreviated format.

    One thing I love about Simple Dollar is that’s it’s more than *just* finance; I find it helping me on general efficiency. But in reviewing THE POWER OF LESS, you said, “Remember, a five minute interruption actually eats much more than five minutes, as you also lose time in refocusing on the big task at hand.”

    As a writer, I know this is true. Getting back to the state called “flow” can take some time, and I’m frequently convinced that what I write after an interruption is inferior to what I would have written before.

    However, for medical reasons I am unable to sit for too long at one stretch. I have a program loaded on my computer that dings and flashes at me when it’s time to get up and stretch, currently set to twenty minute intervals; a shorter interval is too little, but longer leaves me stiff. While this helps my physical condition, it plays hob with my productivity. Even a break of a few minutes to walk around and stretch seems to break the flow.

    I’m sixty, but people decades younger can have similar problems. Any suggestions for getting the flow back, or to keep from losing it? Thanks in advance.

  40. Kate says:

    I would think it was dishonest if Trent were to post under a psuedonymn. And while I can understand why he doesn’t like posting anymore I also don’t spend as much time here because of that–I am much more likely to quickly check the top post and only rarely skip down if I missed a post (like I did today).

  41. Ro says:

    I do miss the days when Trent participated in the discussions, but I do understand the reasons why he doesn’t any longer. I seem to be in a minority but I don’t want Trent to post under a psuedonym.

  42. AnnJo says:

    @Ro, I don’t think you’re in the minority an that. Probably most readers just assume Trent has better sense and more integrity than to post pseudonymously on his own blog and therefore haven’t expressed their opinions.

  43. AnnJo says:

    @Ro, I don’t think you’re in the minority on that. Probably most readers just assume Trent has better sense and more integrity than to post pseudonymously on his own blog and therefore haven’t expressed their opinions.

  44. Johanna says:


    I agree with your critics who think it’s poor form to change a post after people have commented on it to remove all evidence of whatever people found objectionable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t correct your mistakes. I like how this blog does it:


  45. mellen says:

    For Christine: I used to work with a woman who has 4 children and she had a great method for teaching her kids about the value of money. Every quarter she would give them their allowance for the next 3 months and tell them they could spend it however they wanted but they wouldn’t get ANY more money for 3 months. The first time, they all went out and spent like crazy and were out of money in a matter of weeks but when they went to Mom, guess what? no more money. She said they became so conscious of the value of money after that, although they each came up with different methods for handling the cash and had different priorities. Now, this also falls into the category of “you never know where a good idea will come from” because I personally don’t like the woman much, but I do think she was on the right path to teaching her children the value of money and I plan to do that when my child is old enough.

    @ Elisabeth: I don’t think people are objecting to conflicting opinions, I think they are commenting on the tone that was used, it was very ‘snide’ (there are other words but I’m not going to use them). I feel, as I’m sure others do, that if you can’t express your opinions in a courteous manner (Trent always does) then you may want to keep them to yourself. None of us want to listen to someone who obviously doesn’t have anything relevant to add to the ‘conversation’, why should we? I’ll listen to a well reasoned argument I don’t agree with any day over one that doesn’t add to the discussion, even if I agree with it (which in this case I do not).

    I know it’s a Christian sentiment but all other belief systems have a similar one; treat others the way you want to be treated – shouldn’t that apply to online discussions as well? Just because you aren’t looking at the person, doesn’t mean you can be a jerk.

  46. hb says:

    I am considering a Target Retirement fund, but i have a few questions/concerns. I have a Roth IRA: American Century Investments Equity Income. It has recently won some awards for funds that are doing well despite the current economic situation. Do you think i should transfer it into a Target account? Should i wait? Should i just gradually move it to something more conservative as my ret. age approaches (skip the Target fund altogether)? Any help would be appreciated.

    In case you need history: I am 33 with no dependents, have zero debt (not even a car payment), a modest but steady income/secure job, 6mths of emergency savings, Thrift Savings Plan through my govt job, another long term non-retirement investment fund.

  47. Sheri says:

    @Jeremy, Do you really HATE those who circumvent the language filter? Seems like an awfully strong emotion for something like that. :)

  48. Jimbo says:

    Jeremy – Unclench.

  49. Adam says:

    I’ve been on several interviews lately. I’m currently employed at the same place for 8 years, and at the interviews, the interviewer always asks me why I’m looking to change jobs. What should I answer with?

    I am engaged to a woman who has a child from a previous relationship and she can’t work (is on social security disability due to having fetal alcohol syndrome, she can barely read and write simple words or drive, but other then that you wouldn’t know she has a problem). Anyway, if we get married, she and her son lose their medicaid, food stamps, and social security disability. All told, it will be about a $1200 hit to our budget if we get married, and on my current income alone, it wouldn’t be enough to support all 2 of us, which is why I’m looking for something that pays better.

    So should I tell the interviewer that I’m looking for a job with better pay to support my family? If I say that, I feel like i’m telling the interviewer i’d just jump ship at the next opportunity that paid more, so it’s not a good answer.

    Another reason I’d like to leave is that I work for state government, and there isn’t much emphasis on technology spending here. Our budget is small so there’s not much spending for new computers, servers, etc. Most of the computers here were purchased in 2003 with new building funds when we moved to another building as part of a bond spending package.

    So should I tell the interviewer that I’m looking to leave because my employer doesn’t spend much on IT, and I have initiatives and new projects I’d like to do here, but our financial resources are limited so I can’t do much of what I’d like to improve the work flow of the agency? I feel like if I say that, then the interviewer would feel like soon after hiring me, I’d want to spend a bunch of money on new equipment, and every company is always looking to save where they can, but the bottom line is you have to spend money on computer technology to improve your infrastructure.

    Or, should I tell the interviewer that there is no room for advancement? Which is true, there’s only about 150 employees here spread across 4 divisions, and each of those divisions has 5 sections or so. 150/4/5 = 7.5 people per section, so each section usually has 1 supervisor who reports to their division head. So there’s just no room here to become a supervisor. I still feel that is not the right answer to give the interviewer because they may think that all I care about is becoming a manager, when I just want to work my hardest to improve the company.

    Should I tell the interviewer I’m done everything I can to improve the agency’s computing resources and I’m finished here and ready to help another company improve their infrastructure? I feel this isn’t the right answer because it sounds like I’ll jump ship every few years after I fix a company’s computer problems.

  50. brooke says:

    Milk rocks, enjoy the show!

  51. Deborah says:

    I love these reader mailbags! I have a question for the next one:

    The stimulus package might have some provisions in it for A) interest payments on auto loans, and B) sales tax on purchasing a new car. Will this affect your decision of when to buy a new vehicle if they make it through?

  52. Eve says:

    I am getting a $1500 bonus in mar 2009. my question to you is this what do you think about a wife note telling spouse about this cause if she does spouse will come up with a way to spend it. I am not telling him cause I want to save it for the future examp. car probs/ kids needs shoes/ mom needs to go grocery shopping. I know I should tell him but I have a secret stash that I keep and believe me I have saved my family when the crapper has hit the fan. what is your opinion on this. I am the saver/ spouse is and always will be the spender!!

  53. Hilary says:

    I have a process question more than a “what is the answer” question. The postage rate is going up in May. The PO sells “Forever Stamps” now which means we can lock in the current rate. What process would you use to decide how many books of forever stamps to buy before May? It’s certain money unless one loses the stamps (fire, flood, inattention, poor storage), but it’s today’s dollars vs. inflated dollars, etc. (We don’t have any debt, but I’d be curious how that would affect the decision as well). Thanks!

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