Reader Mailbag #59

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. A few readers really enjoyed the recent posts on marriage and wanted more insights. Here are three great books on that topic (links go to my reviews):
Financial Infidelity by Bonnie Eaker Weil
Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach
It Pays to Talk by Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz and Charles Schwab

And now, some great reader questions!

I came to this country 12 yrs ago, worked really hard and made some good money. I was very conservative in spending due – the fact that I was living on visa made me cautious. But few months ago, I became permanent resident. I never even bought a new car when I was making over 6-digit salary. Now, that I have my green-card, I am thinking on settling down – basically thinking about buying home. But at the same time I do hear Jim Cramer’s and some of top CNBC analyst’s comments as well – where they suggest not to buy anything big for next few years until market settles down. So, the question is: Should I invest in international market like Indian real-estate (I know it’s booming by the month) OR should I make my (our) dream come true of buying house here? Pls advise.
– PR

First of all, take the advice from Jim Cramer on CNBC with a grain of salt. There’s a reason his segments are prefaced with a big disclaimer similar to the one found on the Mad Money website:

All opinions expressed by Jim Cramer on this website and on the show are solely Cramer’s opinions and do not reflect the opinions of CNBC, NBC UNIVERSAL or their parent company or affiliates, and may have been previously disseminated by Cramer on television, radio, internet or another medium. You should not treat any opinion expressed by Cramer as a specific inducement to make a particular investment or follow a particular strategy, but only as an expression of his opinion. Cramer’s opinions are based upon information he considers reliable, but neither CNBC nor its affiliates and/or subsidiaries warrant its completeness or accuracy, and it should not be relied upon as such. Cramer, CNBC, its affiliates and/or subsidiaries are not under any obligation to update or correct any information provided on this website. Cramer’s statements and opinions are subject to change without notice. No part of Cramer’s compensation from CNBC is related to the specific opinions he expresses.

Past performance is not indicative of future results. Neither Cramer nor CNBC guarantees any specific outcome or profit. You should be aware of the real risk of loss in following any strategy or investment discussed on this website or on the show. Strategies or investments discussed may fluctuate in price or value. Investors may get back less than invested. Investments or strategies mentioned on this website or on the show may not be suitable for you. This material does not take into account your particular investment objectives, financial situation or needs and is not intended as recommendations appropriate for you. You must make an independent decision regarding investments or strategies mentioned on this website or on the show. Before acting on information on this website or on the show, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and strongly consider seeking advice from your own financial or investment adviser.

In other words, Cramer is an entertainer, first and foremost, and you should rely on an investment advisor before making any real money decisions.

Now, for your bigger question: should you buy a home right now? You seem to be mixing personal needs and desires (that of homeownership) with investment desires (Indian real estate). The real question should be whether you’re happy living where you are right now or whether you would be happier living in a home, and that depends on you and the factors in your personal life. If you’re simply looking to maximize an investment, don’t invest in your primary living quarters. Instead, invest in something that you can treat with a purely analytical perspective that you can make moves on without worrying about the personal consequences.

Have you ever tried adding any additional ingredients (ie: Oxy Clean) to your laundry detergent recipe?

I have been making my own laundry detergent from your receipe for a few months now with great results. Recently, I tried adding Oxy Clean and the results were not the same. The batch came out separated with a thick, creamy top layer and a clear, watery bottom layer. No matter how much I mixed it, it would not blend.

I was wondering if you had any similar results?
– Charlette

Yes, I have. If you want to add additional cleansing agents, do it separately, just like you would if you added Oxy-Clean to a load of laundry. You wouldn’t merely dump Oxy-Clean into your detergent bottle, would you?

Whenever you drastically alter a chemical reaction (and that’s what’s going on with the laundry detergent recipe), the product (in this case, the detergent) is going to be very different. Even a change as simple as choosing a different type of soap – or even the quantities used – will radically change the detergent you get in the end.

I have been out of the work force for 20 plus years (stay at home mom) and now would like to get back in. I know I lack many skills that employers are looking for today and would like to know a couple of things, 1. how and where do I go for general training for (office) skills? and 2. would you recommend going to a temp agency for part time employment? I am a bit overwhelmed starting this process,so any suggestions you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
– Mary

Some entry-level secretarial and administrative assistant positions require a high school education and some basic office skills (word processing, writing, and good communication skills, for starters). Many positions look for a person who has completed some sort of additional training, usually offered through a business school or a secretarial school.

One great place to start when digging into this is the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, particularly the section on such positions. In fact, the entire handbook can be useful for people who are trying to figure out the basics of a particular job in terms of what they need to do to get their foot in the door, what the job entails, and what kind of earnings might be expected. Good luck!

I discovered your blog a few months ago and quickly subscribed to it via Google Reader. I find many of your ideas very helpful. I have noticed that every so often you write about an email you receive of someone who has criticized your ideas and/or style of writing pretty harshly. Do these emails make you feel bad? How do you resist being offended or resist taking these criticisms personally?
– Gwen

I see dozens of negative comments and emails each day – it’s just a fact of life for anyone who writes anything with a large audience.

At first, these comments bothered me quite a bit – I kept thinking I had actually said something wrong or offended someone. Now, I realize that the vast majority of such criticizers are simply people with giant chips on their shoulders. They’re out there looking for something to complain about, and I’m a fairly open target.

So, for the most part, I ignore it.

The only problem with that approach is that you can lose valid criticisms in the flood, but if I spent all my time wallowing in the negativity to find a handful of truly accurate criticisms, I’d spend all my time looking at negativity, and the only result of that would be to make me a negative person.

I just wanted to add that although I no longer use my Discover Card, I don’t ever remember receiving calls from them ever.
– leslie

Discover uses a fairly tricky method to contact people. Instead of directly calling cardholders, they call with an ominous-sounding voice recording, urgently telling people to call a certain 1-800 number. That number connects you with Discover’s accounts office.

Once upon a time, we used to receive these fairly often – and we ignored them. One day, curiosity got the better of me and I called the number, not knowing for sure what to expect. To find that the number originated from Discover was a surprise, to say the least.

Any word on how your adoring public can get an autographed copy of your book?
– Mol

Is there interest in this? I have no idea what kind of mechanism would be needed to do this type of thing. I hadn’t actually even considered that there would be significant interest in selling signed copies of the book.

If you are seriously interested in buying a signed copy of my book, leave a comment to this post. I’ll show them to my publisher and see whether or not we can come up with a good arrangement that makes everyone happy.

hi first id like to say thank you as you have inspired me to walk thru my fears and start selling and writing along with persuing my lifetime dream of becoming a multimedia artist. so my question to you is, are there any places to start your own website that are very user frendly and reasonably priced as im working on a budget.
– denise warner

It depends on what you’re looking for.

WordPress.com is probably the easiest option for someone who just wants to get a website going. However, WordPress.com doesn’t allow you to include advertisements – you have to stick with the templates they provide.

Blogger is another free option that offers more control over the design, but their interface for actually posting can be difficult at times.

If you just want to put up a small handful of static pages, Google Pages might be the right place for you.

Each of those options make it pretty easy to start your own website to talk about whatever you wish. In truth, it’s all about the writer/creator – if they’re doing something interesting, people will come.

I got a Canon Powershot camera two Christmases ago, and just a little over a year later, the display went black and it won’t take pictures. I sent it back to Canon for repair and since it’s just past the one-year warranty, Canon is giving an estimate of $100 with no guarantee that the problem will be fixed. The person who bought it for me paid $200 on Amazon and it’s currently priced at $277. What is the frugal thing to do here – buy a new camera or take our chances with the repair? Is there a point when a repair isn’t worth it?
– Sandy

If there’s no guarantee the camera will be fixed for that $100, you’re better off buying a new camera. Your best case scenario here is that you wind up spending $100 to get back a used camera with one new part in it, and there are a multitude of much worse scenarios.

Spend some time researching the purchase, though, and make sure that you’re actually getting the camera that best matches your real-world use. You may find that the camera you really want isn’t the one you had before.

I inherited several one ounce gold bullion coins. I have no idea what to do with them. Any suggestions?
– Eddie

Your best bet is to identify any gold dealers in your area and get some quotes from them. Don’t just sell to the first dealer that makes you an offer – call around and get quotes from several dealers in your area. Here’s a handy tool for finding such dealers.

You should also do some research online before you call so that you know exactly what you have. Type any identifying marks into Google and see what you can learn about the coins you hold, so that you can accurately describe the coins to the dealers.

What price should you expect? You should get offers per coin that approximate the current value of an ounce of gold, within a few percent. If these are U.S. minted coins prior to 1934, you should get an additional small premium.

How are you doing with regards to your goal of working on a skill every day for one hour, have you been following it? I believe yours was to be able to solve the Rubik’s cube, which only takes a few weeks to learn if you look up how to do it and memorize the moves, but would take years of studying mathematics in order to be able to learn to solve it on your own with no assistance whatsoever. What path did you take?
– C.I.

I’m still learning, actually. There are two difficulties with the Rubik’s Cube for me. First, my hands are enormous, making it difficult to match some of the grips I see in YouTube videos (meaning I often end up solving things completely incorrectly).

The second problem is that I started off trying to learn the Petrus solution, which is pretty difficult. I should have mastered one of the easier solutions, then moved onto this one.

My goal of being able to solve the cube in a minute or so is still in place and I still think it’s realistic.

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

Loading Disqus Comments ...