Updated on 02.26.09

Reader Mailbag #53

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.
Summer Camp In The Neighborhood: How To Get A Collective Of Parents Together To Save A Ton Of Money On Daycare During The Summer
The Lawn Care Dilemma: How Much Time And Effort Should You Spend?
On Starting Over

And now for some great reader questions!

I have a credit card that I use infrequently and it never carries a balance. Because of that, I didn’t pay much attention to the APR until I recently got a new Terms and Conditions pamphlet. The APR is 25%. I know that I can call and ask the company to lower your rate, but how should I go about doing it? I’ve only had the card 2 or 3 years, but I’ve never been late and always paid in full. What rate should I ask them to lower it to? I would appreciate some kind of mini-script or guidelines. Thanks!
– Megan

Given your situation, you’re what the credit card companies think of as a bad customer. You don’t earn them anything for their efforts, since you keep your bills paid off. Thus, it’s not likely that they’ll go the extra mile for you.

Still, it can’t hurt to try. When you call the number on the back of your card, the first person you speak to won’t actually be able to authorize any changes to your rate – only their supervisor can do that. So, as quickly as you can, escalate to the supervisor – simply ask the person you are talking to to speak to their supervisor.

Once you’re speaking to the supervisor, make your case. Point out that you’ve been a customer for a long time and have never missed a payment, but don’t mention that you rarely carry a balance. Request a rate reduction – and be specific about what you want.

You likely won’t get what you want out of this negotiation, but you very well might get some degree of rate reduction. Good luck.

Have you played Fallout 3? I know you love video games that you get some bang for your buck and this is one of those games that you can play for over a hundred hours.
– Tony

I actually don’t currently own a software platform that Fallout 3 – I don’t own a Playstation 3 or an Xbox 360 or a Windows machine with the necessary hardware.

Having said that, Fallout 3 is definitely a game that I’d like to play. In my early college years, I played through both Fallout and Fallout 2 and thoroughly enjoyed those games.

In some ways, I’m glad I don’t have access to a system where I could play this game, because I have a feeling it would be a giant time suck for me.

Trent, you should write a tip-off post about Nouveau Riche.
– Michael

I’ve been contacted by a lot of readers who wanted me to get involved with Nouveau Riche University. In essence, it’s a very clever marketing scheme disguised as an educational opportunity.

Nouveau Riche markets itself with free seminars all over the country. At these seminars, you’re encouraged to sign up for a larger educational program and also to get involved with their real estate selling programs. These programs encourage you to take the equity out of your home and invest it in the investments that they have identified for you.

If you want to learn about investing in real estate, throwing $16,000 into tuition at an unaccredited institution is not the way to go, nor is throwing $3,500 away on books, nor is picking up the bread crumbs of investing that another group is leaving behind for you. You’re far better off hitting the library, getting involved with real estate auctions locally, and learning from the people who are actually doing it successfully in your area.

Are you still planning on having a third child?
– Emily

For the time being, a third child is on the back burner. We were quite interested in a third child earlier on when our children were younger, but as we’ve watched them develop, we’ve decided that, for now, the two kids we have deserve as much of our attention as we can give them.

So, for now, we’ve decided to not have any more children. We intend to look at the question again in a few years, perhaps when these two are approaching school age.

Personally, I wished you’d stop advising people to base their emergency fund on whether or not they have kids. EVERYONE should be able to support themselves (or their family) for more than a month, even if they don’t have to worry about little ones. Yes, you need more cash if you have more to support, but you don’t need more months of security. You need security even if it is just you.
– SP

Everyone needs an emergency fund. Families with kids need a larger fund. Why is that? An adult has the ability to go out into the world and earn a living. A child simply cannot do that.

There are a lot of factors that dictate the size of an emergency fund one should have, but the presence of dependents in the home is one of the biggest. The more dependents you have, the bigger your emergency fund should be.

Other factors include how many monthly bills you have (a person with a mortgage, for example, needs a larger emergency fund than the same person without a mortgage), the stability of one’s current job, and the ease of which a person could find a similar paying job.

How do you convince your kids to eat vegetables? I have a two year old that refuses to eat anything green.
– Jay

The biggest key is to repeatedly show your children that you’re eating and enjoying vegetables. If you want your children to eat vegetables, establish a strong regular meal time, make sure that meal includes vegetables, and take a giant helping of vegetables yourself. Put some on the child’s plate and merely request that the child try a bite of the vegetables.

That’s the routine that works well for our own kids. Because of that, both of our kids love broccoli, the older one is passionate about olives, and the younger one adores carrots. They simply see me and my wife enjoying these things and, on some level, seek to emulate us while also listening to their own taste buds.

I have a question: I have a 12-month CD ladder at ING direct, and right now CDs are earning less than just the savings account. A 12 month CD returns 2.00% while savings earns 2.4%. I know it’s not going to be a huge difference because the CD is less than $1,000, but, when the next rollover comes should I just keep the money in savings earning higher interest? Or should I take this as a sign the savings rate may be lowered soon and I should consider myself “lucky” to lock in a measly 2%?
– vguy

If you can earn more in a savings account than you can in a CD, put that money in the savings account. The purpose of buying a CD instead of having money in a savings account is to earn a higher interest rate. If you’re not earning that higher rate, there is absolutely no reason to own a CD.

CD ladders can be a great way to hold onto your cash, but only use them if you’re earning more than you would in a cash savings account.

What are you reading lately?
– Niles

My current read is The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer. It tells the true story of Gary Gilmore, who in 1977 was the first person executed in the United States after the reinstitution of the death penalty. It’s a long and incredibly detailed book.

I decided to pick it up because, frankly, the death penalty is an issue that I’m really undecided on from a moral perspective. I’ve heard from several people that this book provides some good insight into the issue, but so far I haven’t come to feel one way or another.

Aside from that, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories, mostly as “training,” I suppose, for my dream of being a writer.

Is there a directory or guide to blogs on finance and personal financial life that you can suggest?
– Robin

My favorite guide to personal finance blogs is the Wise Bread Top 10 Personal Finance Blogs list. It orders blogs based on a lot of different criteria.

Another good resource for finding lower traffic personal finance blogs is pfblogs.org. It’s basically a listing of the most recent posts on a few hundred different personal finance blogs that have opted in.

It’s hard to judge which blogs will click with you from just a listing of blogs, though. I suggest using these tools, visiting a lot of them, and finding ones that really speak to you.

How do you deal with junk that builds up in your wallet, like receipts, business cards, and so on?
– Andy

I have this same problem. I seem to just accumulate receipts, notes, and other miscellaneous material in my wallet almost automatically. After a few weeks, it can get ridiculous.

My solution for the problem is pretty simple. I have a handful of tasks that I take care of on the first of every month – paying certain bills, doing certain household tasks, and so on. A thorough wallet cleaning is one of the tasks on this list. I simply pull everything out of my wallet and evaluate all of the stuff, asking myself if it’s worth keeping or not.

Typically, my wallet loses fifty percent of its size during one of these sessions, believe it or not.

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

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  1. Johanna says:

    @Megan: If you never carry a balance, why do you care what your interest rate is?

    @Jay: I don’t know much about kids, but I read a blog post a few weeks ago that seemed to have some good ideas. Google “Dina Aronson getting kids to eat vegetables” (without the quotes) and you’ll find it.

  2. I agree with Johanna about the balance issue in principle. However just to see if it worked I did call and have my card’s interest lowered from 11% to 9%. Just call customer service and say you have an offer for a lower card (there are thousands of them) and would like a lower rate.

  3. Hillarie says:

    @vguy: The way ING is hacking and slashing interest rates lately, you may be better off keeping the 12 month CD at a fixed rate.

  4. Battra92 says:

    Per the CDs, check your local credit union. 6 months ago local banks and CUs were giving absolute trash for interest compared to ING, HSBC etc. Now it’s the other way around.

    My local credit union has a 1 year certificate at 2.40%. ING is a measly 1.5% APY. GMAC is 2.95% Choose wisely.

  5. Colin says:

    Only thing I can think of to want a lower APR if you always pay in full is that one time you do carry a balance it’d be nice to not get hammered on interest (9% vs. 25%). That said, if you’re in a position to pay off your card in full every month and you slip one month then I think you’ve got bigger problems than the APR. Did you splurge without having the cash to pay it off? Did some other expense come up that your emergency fund couldn’t cover?

    Even if you do pay your card off every month they are still making money off of you. You don’t see it because the merchant pays the fee to use the card. For example, PayPal is currently $0.30 + 4.9% of the transaction, which is undoubtedly higher than what the cards charge them. The worst customer is one who never uses the card.

  6. Shawn says:

    @Andy: I use evernote (www.evernote.com) to keep track of business cards/other notes. It is a great note-keeping web app that allows you to sync your notes between different devices, computers, etc. The reason this works so well for business cards in particular is that you can upload pictures of the cards (or take pictures directly with a webcam) and it recognizes the text from the cards and makes it searchable, so you can quickly find contact info. They offer a free plan, and paid plans with more storage space as well. The free plan has worked out well for me!

  7. Wendy says:

    Under normal circumstances, I pay my cc balance off in full every month. However, there are 3 or 4 times in as many years that I have not gotten a payment in on time- my baby came early, for one. Now that they can’t use two cycle billing, those mistakes won’t be quite so difficult to absorb, but having a reasonable interest rate makes a big difference, too.

    Also, when we needed a new roof last fall, we had to carry a balance for 2 months, and of course we chose the card with the lowest rate.

  8. Kris says:

    Megan, I rarely carry a balance on my credit card, but successfully negotiated the interest rate down a few points using a Suze Orman tip.

    First, I went to Bankrate.com and researched the interest rates other companies were offering. Then, I called my company, asked about the possibility of reducing my APR, and mentioned that Company X was offering a card with no yearly fee and a lower rate. They heard the number, and immediately dropped my rate three points.

    I think this was right before (or after?) I put a college class on the card, so it helped a lot in the end.

  9. Seth says:

    I haven’t quite figured out why some experts recommend a 6 month EF, but a 9 month EF if you have kids. Why do you need the extra three months, just because you have dependents? Since you have kids your expenses would presumably be higher. Your EF would automatically account for that because it’s being guided by month’s worth of expenses and not a dollar amount.

  10. Frugal Dad says:

    Regarding emergency funds and kids…I have had emergency funds at various life stages, from being single, to married with no kids, to now being married with two kids. The number of months I wanted to save grew along with my family, not so much because the expenses grew, but because our need for peace of mind did.

    One other thought on this subject. As the size of your family grows, so do the chances of illness of accidents that might cause you to use up a good bit of that emergency fund.

  11. Studenomics says:

    All I want to say is that an emergency fund is not one size fits all. It’s all in your head and if you think you need 6 months of living expenses saved then that’s what will help you sleep at night. We all have a different level of risk tolerance.

  12. @ Colin

    Paypal charges just 2.9% (not 4.9%) + $0.30, most high-volume merchants can get a lower rate though. I agree with you that many credit card companies make lots of their money through the merchant fees. That’s why my credit card company gladly gives me 1% cash back on everything I buy.

  13. @Sp – being a young guy, I feel very little reason to have an emergency fund. Getting out of debt was a much higher priority, and now that I am, the emergency fund is still 2nd or 3rd on the list of things I want. I’d much rather fully fund a ROTH IRA, and have enough to buy more real estate(I prefer RE to stocks). I think young people only need enough to cover basic expenses, but honestly they shouldn’t have too many bills.

    Trent, mailbag question:

    Do you still do computer work on the side? How is that going?

  14. Shelly says:

    Regarding the credit card interest rate — I called my credit card company after they jumped my rate from 8.25% to 16.99% (background: I use my card frequently but always pay it off monthly).

    I know you say here that the first person you speak to won’t be able to help, but that’s not always the case. The person I was connected to was immediately able to find me a rate of 11.25%.

    She said that’s as low as she could reduce it for now but I could call back in a few months to see if they could lower it more. Considering the new rate is close to the current average and I’m getting awesome rewards for not giving them any of my money, I decided 11.25 was good enough and not worth trying to escalate to a supervisor.

    When I called, I was armed with my credit score and other credit card offers, but I didn’t even need them.

  15. Amy says:

    Some kids simply aren’t going to eat vegetables. My parents did everything right (loved vegetables themselves, encouraged me to try things multiple times instead of rejecting the first time, used innovative cooking techniques to make the flavor more to my liking, etc.), but I simply didn’t like vegetables. I refused to eat them. I would go without dessert for days rather than have to eat them. On several occasions, I vomited at the table to show my disgust.

    My parents finally gave up, which was the right thing to do. They supplemented my diet with lots of fruit and vitamins, as well as a variety of healthy food I did like. The dinner table stopped being a battleground, and I stopped throwing up.

    Now, I’m almost 30, and I’m still a pretty picky eater. So are my siblings. But I eat spinach and mushrooms and lettuce and asparagus and a wide variety of other vegetables that I wouldn’t have eaten when I was younger. I just had to come to it on my own. I have friends who were forced throughout their childhoods who have never come around.

    What I’m trying to say is don’t force the issue. Some kids won’t eat vegetables willingly, and you don’t want the fight over their food to define your relationship. Many kids have very sensitive tastebuds that dull as they grow up, so they may like things as adults that they won’t eat now. But don’t stress about it, and don’t stress them out about it.

  16. SP says:

    Yes, people with kids need a larger emergency fund by dollar ammount. Certainly. Maybe MUCh larger. But they don’t need a larger one by “months of expenses” ammount. That is the point I’m trying to make.

    If I were to lose my job, I don’t have much of a safety net besides what I create myself. As a single person, I need how ever many months of expenses I think it might take to find me a suitable job. That is much more than whatever number you suggested in the post that I left the comment on, in this economy. It has more to do with how much stability you need to create than the number of kids.

    Number of kids is a HUGE thing in the dollar ammount, but not in the “number of months” ammount.

    In my opinion, that is.

  17. Jon says:

    The easiest way I have found to keep junk from piling up in my wallet is to carry a “wallet” that has no space for anything additional. I actually only carry the id insert that is found in many bifold wallets. It has enough space for a debit card, credit card, license, insurance cards, and a couple of other small cards. Problem solved. Anything I get throughout the day (receipts, business cards) go in my other back pocket so I am forced to deal with them at the end of the day.

  18. Battra92 says:

    @Amy, you are so right! To this day I will not even try slop. I think most of the world refers to those high sodium concoctions made of Cream of Mushroom Soup as casseroles but I call them unfit for human consumption. My dad to this day still complains that I won’t eat his favorite foods (and I’m 26) but I just merely point out that he doesn’t always eat everything I like either.

  19. SteveJ says:

    One thing that my friends without kids assume is that having kids is a huge financial outlay. It’s really a redistribution of spending. It’s not like you get a raise when the first kid comes around. You have to make do with what you have and so you find ways to lean here or there to make it work. That’s the point behind having a six vs nine month EF, a single person with no job can make a month’s worth of living expenses stretch a long way with a some cuts and leaning on friends and family. A family of 4 may not have the same options, they usually can’t cut back on eating out and buying clothes, they don’t do those things anyway. I have no problem inviting myself to dinner with friends and fam, dragging along the kids is a different story. Most single people don’t practice making 4 times as much of a meal to eat on it for a week, the same amount of food barely feeds a larger family for a day. It’s true that a single person CAN live on a smaller income, but if I compare to the single people I work with that make comparable salaries, I guarantee my monthly expenses are less than theirs. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.

    Kids also change everything for a child care standpoint. When I was single, if I lost my good paying full-time job, I could pick up two or three other jobs and get by without the sleep and freetime. You can’t ditch your kids so you can go to work. If you’re paying for childcare, you now have two problems. As a single person, I can sell my car and get by with biking a few miles to work. Little harder to bundle up the kids and go to the grocery store.

    And as pointed out above, a household with kids is going to have a lot more trips to the doctor and other unexpected expenses. Even if everything is going peachy job-wise, if the kids head to the hospital and you don’t have great insurance, there goes your EF pretty quick.

  20. John says:

    Another way to avoid piling stuff up in your wallet – go with a money clip or front pocket wallet style.

    I always liked the style, and when I changed to it, I found that I was forced to get a lot more efficient with processing stuff like that rather than letting it pile up in there – simply less space for it.

  21. Aleriel says:

    I got the rate on my mastercard reduced from 19.99 to 10.99 over the course of a couple years. I call once a year to see if there’s anything they can do.

    I don’t pretend to have an offer from another company and I’ve never had to speak to a supervisor. (Although I suspect doing both of those might’ve yielded a better result — but I dislike confrontation.)

    I opened the conversation by saying “I’m wondering if anything can be done to reduce my interest rate.” and the rep came back with a lower rate offer. I didn’t have a specific number in mind when I called, so the proposed reductions were fine and I accepted them both.

    The first drop was from 19.99 to 11.99, and then second was to 10.99.

  22. Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy says:

    Sunday evening is “Fallout 3” night for me. I usually reserve about 2 hours and end up playing about 3, but it’s well worth it and much more engaging and entertaining that TV for relaxation and unwinding. At this rate, I’ll probably spend the rest of the year playing this game, and that’s fine for me AND my wallet!

  23. Battra92 says:

    @SteveJ Thanks for reminding me why I’m not having kids anytime soon. ;)

  24. john d says:

    @Jay Try to get imaginative with them, make them taste good, and hide them. Alton Brown has some good recipes for this. For example, he has a recipes for split pea burgers. Try steaming some thin carrot slices in just a bit of water until they are tender. Add some butter and just a tiny bit of brown sugar. … Try all sorts of veggies, even the ones that you don’t like. Maybe they will like them. Focus on making them taste really good even if they aren’t that healthy in the beginning (brussel sprouts with bacon comes to mind), and then focus on making them a little bit more healthy once they accept that veggies are actually food.

  25. Pizpo says:


    To comment on the death penalty issue, here are my thoughts:

    1. Dealth penalty would be the right thing in a perfect world (by perfect, I mean absolute proof of guilt in each case).
    2. We do not now nor will we ever live in a perfect world (even with awesome sience, there is no way to rule out corruption, prejudice or other human error).
    3. Putting 1 and 2 together makes 3. We should not have death penalty becaue we cannot be sure in all cases that the convicted person is actually guilty.

  26. Lisa says:

    Re CD rates: I would lock in the CD rate. Speculations are that rates will be going lower. You are not talking about a huge difference anyway.

  27. Gabriel says:

    Great picks! Speaking as a childless college student who knows nothing about actually living with children, I’ve read some quite intriguing research about how children develop a fear of certain types of food. One key factor is whether they were breast fed. The milk provided by the mother tends to take on the flavor of whatever they are eating, thus their children are exposed to a wider range of flavors and are less likely to be picky eaters. Similarly, avoiding processed and refined foods both during pregnancy and breast feeding sets children up for a much healthier future, since refined carbs in particular can make their blood sugar and insulin more susceptible to the problems associated with sugary foods (ie – become carb addicts). This is not a good situation for raising a child who likes their veggies!

    Okay, I’m done. I’m sure this won’t be of any help to those who already have kids, but I think it’s interesting and I like to share :)

  28. Char says:

    During these tough economic times I have continued to use CDs even though the rates are not as good as they used to be. A few weeks ago I noticed the rates were lower on the CDs than in the savings and thought about rolling over to my savings instead of locking in a CD. Then I thought why would a bank do that? The only rational thought was that they were predicting the rates would fall again. I locked in at 2.5 instead of using the savings at 2.75 and sure enough now the 2.5% looks like candy! So the CD may be an excellent way to ride out the current economic turmoil.

  29. Hannah says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for half a year now and this is my first comment. I like your accessible and straight-forward style and have found many useful tips.

    However, as a Canadian reader, I find myself wanting to read similar content but from a Canadian perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I love your blog and read it regardless, but some things don’t apply up here – for example, these mysterious things called Roth IRAs :)

    So, here’s my question: do you or any of your readers know of any Canadian blogs that are reputable, well-written, and focus on similar topics?

    Thanks in advance!

  30. briang says:

    I do think you need more months of savings with kids. Here are some other things that a single person could do easily that would be harder or more expensive if you have kids:
    1. move to take a job
    2. take several lower paying jobs (as stevej noted, if you have to pay for childcare, lower paying jobs may be completely offset by childcare costs).
    3. don’t move your primary residence, but work somewhere that requires multiday stays.
    4. change your living situation to involve roommates (if you’ve ever tried to find or rent a room when children are a consideration, it’s much harder).

    In general, you need more months of emergency fund if you have a family because your options for both finding jobs and cutting expenses are more limited.

  31. Amber says:

    As a dietitian, and a former nanny, the easiest way to get kids to eat vegetables is to put them in foods they already like, but slowly. For example adding vegetables to mac and cheese makes an iffy nutritional food healthier; however, kids are very visual and if they see veggies in their food they may not eat them, so at first puree the veggies and mix with the cheese. Next step is to chop finely, and then eventually have bigger veggie chunks. This way the child will get used to the taste and texture slowly instead of shocking their senses upfront. I agree with Trent, the parent is the role model when it comes to healthy eating habits. If you still have a lot of trouble I would try talking to their peds doctor about it and find out if any nutrient supplementation is required. Also, talking to an RD can be helpful for parents with pickey eaters as we deal with food and pickey eaters all the time!
    p.s. to make mac and cheese more healhly make it from scratch …I promise it doesn’t take much longer than the fake boxed stuff.

  32. shirl says:

    Jay…you can always do as my husband did. He would tell the kids “now don’t try the broccoli, because you won’t like it and besides that leaves more for me”. Somehow they did not want their father to be right so they would always eat it.

  33. Amy says:

    My parents did everything suggested in this thread. Hiding vegetables, teasing me, breastfeeding, limiting sugar, etc. Didn’t help. Some kids (and adults) are just picky. Please, please don’t make this a battleground.

  34. Chris @ BuildMyBudget says:

    I’m glad to see you don’t buy into and push the network marketing…Thanks for keeping it real!

  35. Elisabeth says:

    I agree with SP. Your emergency fund would be a larger dollar amount if you had kids, but it would still need to support you for the same amount of months. Whether I have kids or not, if I can’t pay my rent in three months, I’m out on my butt.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that while kids can’t go out and earn a living, it CAN be easier (sometimes much easier) to qualify for state programs (food stamps, etc) if you have kids.

    As for the veggie question – I agree with commenter Amy (#13). Maybe they just don’t like them right now. I was a SUPER picky eater pretty much until my last year or two of high school. It wasn’t even leaving for college that changed me – I just gradually started liking more things. My mom would go crazy that I only liked like, 3 different things (none of them being fruits or veggies). But I just didn’t like them. I still don’t like most fruits. But I like lots of different foods in general, and like to try new things. I was healthy then, and I’m healthy now. Sometimes that’s just how it goes :)

  36. Chris says:

    I have an artist that I stumbled upon and I would like to own one of his paintings (even if only a print). What is your opinion on purchasing artwork? (Especially if they are over 200 dollars)

  37. Battra92 says:

    @Chris, as an artist (or one who pretends to be one) I know how absolutely worthless my work is. Seriously my work is mediocre at best and a cheap poster of a master like Monet or Winslow Homer can be had for $20 or less.

    With that said, buying art is a purely personal thing. If I was paying more than $200 it would certainly not be a print (unless it was a particularly prized antique or something.) An original that I fell in love with, maybe. It all comes down to value I think.

    @Amber – My parents tried that. It didn’t work either. I really think I’m hard wired not to like cooked vegetables. Of course, I’ve also realized in recent years my mom and grandma are not great cooks (I just assumed meat was supposed to be cooked to hockey puck stage.)

  38. Battra92 says:

    Trent: I have a mailbag question.

    I’m currently looking to leave the nest of home. I have a good, stable job in a stable industry. What’s some things to have in advance. I am personally hoping to have a 6-9 Month emergency fund pre-established before I leave but how about other tips? Thanks!

  39. prodgod says:

    As a child, I was never given a choice as to whether I could eat a particular food item or not. Meals were served and we were expected to eat EVERYTHING on our plates; no options, no alternatives, no discussion. Most would consider that cruel these days and I hated it, to be sure. However, I eventually developed tastes for ALL of the foods I detested before. My spouse has a different idea (similar to most here) and as a result, we have raised picky kids.

  40. Jessica says:

    Funny coincidence: I’m reading the Executioner’s Song as well. I’m taking a Law and Literature class and that is our current read. I’m only about 100 pages in so far, but it’s good.

  41. Lori Beth says:

    For my kids I have the rule: You have to try it. If they actually try it and don’t like it, fine, they don’t have to eat it. But that includes different ways of cooking it. They can’t throw down the blanket statement of “I tried broccoli, I didn’t like it” when they’ve only tried it raw, not cooked and vice versa. That way, there’s no fighting, and most of the time they discover they do like it.

  42. Lisa says:

    1. Don’t make it a battle field.
    2. Don’t ignore it. Nutrition for growing bodies is important.

    In our house, “no thank-you bites” of everything put on your plate works fine. We also make a game of seeing who can eat the most different colors.

  43. viola says:

    On the CD’s vs. the savings account, I would stick to the CD’s if you don’t need your money liquid. Those savings rates ARE NOT guaranteed, are usually teasers, and can go down at anytime. The CD rate is guaranteed.

  44. Battra92 says:

    @prodgod I would’ve run away from home if I was you. My dad was that way (and still is, even though all his kids are grown) and he would really turn it into an all out war.

  45. Amy says:

    Prodgod: attempts at that approach in my house resulted in vomiting. I was either physically or psychologically incapable of eating many common foods. Please don’t insinuate that lax parenting is to blame for food sensitivity.

  46. !wanda says:

    Re: vegetables: There are ways of preparing many vegetables that also help. My mom always removes the skin of broccoli. This greatly increases prep time, and you’re probably throwing away nutrients and definitely fiber, but it takes most of the bitterness away. She also removed the strings in celery, to improve the texture, I guess. When I was elementary school age and older, I ate nearly everything because I really wanted to be taken for an adult. I probably eat fewer foods now because I decide what to buy, and I just don’t order chicken feet or fried intestine or brain now.

  47. princes_peas says:

    Regarding the contents of wallets…. I do a similar thing with a variation: keep a small envelope in the wallet. I find the “money envelopes” to be exactly the right size – I keep it in the notes section at the back. Simply, all reciepts etc get put in the envelope. Usually, I write on the reciept itself why I bought whatever it is and therefore combine this with tracking where my money goes and if my expenses are jutified. I have one envelope per month (but I don’t buy a lot of things a week, so one per week or fortnight might work better for others) and write eg. “Reciepts March 2009” on the outside. At the end of the month, I just put the envelope in a box with all the other ones I’ve collected. I have only been doing this or less than a year so I don’t need to do anything else with them, but I will probably use a large paperclip or bigger envelope to group a year’s worth together when I get more. This means I can always lay my hand on the reciept if I need to return something, I have a complete record of my expenses (apart from small change purchases that didn’t give reciepts) for months in a convenient way, I can examine the written reasons for purchases to see if my motivations have changed similarly if what I actually buy etc has changed. Works for me.

    And now I have two questions or next week’s mailbag:

    1) I have seen a number of times the “rule” that people should pay themselves (savings) first, before their creditors and before their regular expenses, but this is something that I don’t understand. Partly because I thought it was obvious that if you have savings, you use them to pay debt where you have got it because it seems counterproductive to keep savings but also keep debt as well. If you used your savings, your debt would be gone quicker – the same goes, as far as I can tell, for putting money in savings
    on a monthly basis. Or does it depend on what you’re saving for and your income level (barely make the bills or got a little to trim down) and other things?

    2) How do I go about finding a local credit union?

  48. Matt Brubeck says:

    Trent’s answer to the CD/savings question is pretty ironic, since ING savings accounts have already dropped to from 2.4% to 1.65% and are likely to go lower. In hindsight it’s obvious that the 12-month CD at 2.0% would have been a better choice.

    Some reasons you might want to increase your months of emergency savings when you have a family:

    1) If you’re single and in a tight spot, you might be able to move back in with your parents, or camp on a friend’s couch for a while. Family of five? Not so easy.

    2) It’s a lot harder to move to a new city or neighborhood to find a new job (or lower your rent) when you have kids in school.

    3) The larger the family, the higher the chance you’ll eventually have to handle two financial emergencies (e.g., loss of job AND serious illness) at the same time or one after another.

  49. prodgod says:

    @Amy: No, no, I didn’t even consider food sensitivities, sorry. And I didn’t mean to accuse other people with “lax parenting.” Just stating my experience and pointing out that I’m not bitter as a result.

    @Battra92: LOL!

  50. Marcy says:

    Trent, I have a mailbag question:

    My boyfriend’s father has been telling me recently how “dumb” it is to be putting away money for retirement at my age (24). He thinks I should be putting more money away in my savings, buying a house with a 15 or 7 year mortgage, then start saving for retirement around age 40 when my house is paid off. Now, I know this is taking a lot of things for granted: that when I’m 40 I’ll have a job with a decent retirement plan, that I won’t have kids in college, etc., and it’s not really a risk I’m willing to take. But I’m considering maybe a slight decrease in the percentage I am putting away. Right now I contribute 8% of my income to a 403(b). Once I have been with my current employer for one year (September 2009), they will begin contributing 11% of my annual salary. With the market the way it is, I know I am buying low and should continue to contribute, but is it worth maybe reducing my contribution to, say 6% and putting that money right into my savings? I have considered that my 403(b) contributions are pre-tax, so it’s not exactly an even trade. Sorry for the long-winded question! Thanks!

  51. Rebecca Hammer says:


    My husband and I have been pondering the prices at Sam’s Club to determine what’s worth it. I read your earlier posts, and see that you buy diapers and a few other things. What have you found there to be less expensive than locations that do not require a membership. Could you estimate the price difference?


  52. littlepitcher says:

    Best way to get a kid to eat veggies is to grow some!
    This will involve child participation and may make a mess, but should be worth it in better health and reduced meat bill.
    If you have no yard or it’s too shady to grow veggies, start out with a dishpan in a sunny window or under a grow light. Leaf lettuce is ideal. Once the young’un learns that one, try sweet radishes or baby carrots. Then move on to young mustard greens (great stir-fried with garlic and scrambled egg) and a few scallions.
    If you are really ambitious, go for a miniature squash or a determinate variety of cherry tomato.
    It’s become the kid’s project, and he will eat what he grows.

    Excellent article on reducing credit card rates. I have none but am passing it on to a friend with serious business card balances.

  53. pv says:

    Hi there,

    I recently finished graduate school and am working in my first real job and am earning more than I ever have (and more than I expected to). I live with my partner and the both of us are fairly conservative when it comes to spending. We both enjoy your blog and ardently believe that life is for living and that we want to make money only so that we can be free to spend as much time as possible experiencing different things. We are 28 and 30 years old, have retirement accounts, and routinely put money into different savings “pots” for various future plans, most of which involve traveling. In four or five years we hope to be able to spend a year traveling abroad working in developing countries (we both have doctoral degrees and we’d like to use our expertise for a good cause).

    I recently got into a surprising argument with a friend who insisted that my partner and I should be buying a house as we are both securely employed and are making decent incomes. She argued that we would actually be saving more by taking out a home loan. My partner and I both live in a very inexpensive rented apartment in a very nice part of our city and have not wanted to take on the responsibility of a home especially because we both are somewhat nomadic. Owning a house is not something that either my partner or I aspire to in the near future but do you think we are missing an opportunity here?

  54. Jonathan says:

    Mailbag Question:

    My wife and I live in Riverside County in Southern California, an area where house prices have plummeted especially low. This is great for us, because we are planning to become first time home buyers.

    I am a high school teacher, and I have the opportunity to get what they call an 80/17/3 loan. Basically one loan covers 80% of the value of the home, a second 5-year deferred loan covers 17%, and I pay 3% up front. Mortgage insurance is waived, as the 17+3 serves as a 20% down payment. There is no pre-payment penalty, so I plan to begin paying both loans immediately

    My question is regarding the size of home I should buy. My wife and I are newly married and do not plan to have children for probably 2 years. Should we buy a home that’s just big enough for what we need now and move up later, or should we take advantage of the especially low prices to get a house that is big enough to meet our future needs (without breaking the bank)?

    Like I mentioned earlier, it’s a great time to buy. 2,000 square foot homes can be found for ~$110,000. If home prices eventually rebound, I’d rather have a $175,000 investment doubled than a $90,000 investment.

    Sorry if the question is confusing… thanks for taking the time to look over it.

  55. Sarah says:

    That “bad” customer thing is not true about people who pay off their balance in full. Sure, those people aren’t giving the credit card company any revenue through owing money, however, everything charged to the card is paid for in the form of merchant fees. Actually, you’re a great customer if you pay off your balance in full each month because you’re not a risk to the credit card company – you won’t suddenly run up a huge bill and then disappear without paying it. They make a steady income off the merchant fees from everything you charge AND you probably won’t leave them hanging by not paying off your debt.

  56. Karen says:

    Re Executioner’s Song–If you can stand it when you’re done, read Shot in the Heart, by Mikal Gilmore, Gary’s brother. Simply the truest true crime story I’ve ever read. Painful, though.

    (You can find a similar “both sides now” approach to murder and the death penalty by reading Death Row, by Jeffrey Bledsoe, and Woman on Death Row, by Thelma Barfield. Thelma would have prevented more murders if she had been allowed to live in prison than she did by being executed.)

  57. Ali says:

    Hey Trent,
    What did you think of the interview of Jim Cramer on Jon Stewart’s show? Do you think it was just a horse and pony show?

  58. Johan says:

    “Given your situation, you’re what the credit card companies think of as a bad customer. You don’t earn them anything for their efforts, since you keep your bills paid off.”

    Stop propagating this myth. Credit card companies charge for transactions, which is how they make 1-2% on you for simply using your card (hence why they still give you “rewards” even if you don’t carry a balance) with no risk on their part. If you don’t carry a balance, they have no risk that you won’t pay it off. When their risk increases, so does your interest rate in the form of a 20+% APR. They charge that to ensure that they make a profit and to cover the costs of those risks that cause them to lose money. Casinos are built on 1-2 percent take.

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