Updated on 06.05.14

Reader Mailbag #60

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. Readers regularly ask me for recommended frugality books. Here are three I like besides my own (links go to my review):
America’s Cheapest Family by Steve and Annette Economides
The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn
The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches by Jeff Yeager

And now, some great reader questions!

I’ll need a set of wheels for after graduation to get to my job. I’m considering leasing a vehicle. Should I open up a new credit card before signing a lease, or wait until after? Does the timing even matter, and will it affect my ability to get a lease? I’m not too familiar with how car financing works, but I want to be in the best position I can.
– Liz

First of all, avoid leasing if you can. Leases leave you with no car at the end of the lease, meaning that if you’re not in a good financial state at the end of the lease, you’re going to be out of a car. Instead, if this is your first vehicle, start off looking at a late model used car, but with the current economic environment, don’t be afraid to compare the prices you see on those to the prices on a new car, because on many models, the price difference is relatively small.

Having said that, getting a credit card several months before purchasing a car can be of help, especially if you don’t already have a student loan that’s in repayment. A positive history of repaying your debts is the basis of good credit, and good credit is what you need to get a low-interest loan. My recommendation is to get a card, but use it minimally – use it just to buy a few things that you would normally purchase, like groceries, and pay off the balance in full at the end of the month.

Yes, dealerships will check your credit before giving you a lease or a car loan. The worse your credit is, the more likely you are to have to pay a higher interest rate, a larger down payment, or a security deposit, all of which are less-than-optimal ways to use your money. Thus, you’re better off, whichever way you go, to do what you can to improve your credit.

Two years ago, Santa put a gecko under the tree for our then 7 year old. Unfortunately, Santa didn’t consider the fact that a gecko costs between $12-15 a month to feed (and that feed – live crickets and meal worms – can only be purchased in a town 50 miles away). How would you go about convincing a now 9 year old that the gecko needs to find a new home because the cost of keeping him (and the headache of reminding said 9 year old to feed him) is driving Santa and Mrs Claus crazy?!
– Stacey

My solution would be to make the gecko solely the child’s responsibility. Give the child an allowance that more than covers the cost of the gecko, then turn the responsibility for gecko care over to the child entirely. Once the child begins to see that the expense of the gecko is really affecting his/her life, the child will either become more committed to the gecko or make the choice to sell the gecko back to the pet shop.

Another possibility is that your child may become interested in catching appropriate gecko food. Here’s some advice for catching crickets and for growing your own mealworms. These could be great garage/outdoor projects for your child.

The best way to make a child aware of responsibilities and costs is to put those responsibilities and costs onto their plate while you stand by for the support they’ll need.

Our son is turning 18 and will be attending college this fall. Right now he has a job with our school district, just a few hours a month and that will end in June. I say he needs to get a summer job (any job). He doesn’t want a summer job. His father/my husband says he should only get a summer job if it’s related to his future career plans, other wise he can just stay home and work on his hobby projects. We are NOT wealthy by any means and will need student loans for his education. I know this is a no-brainer but at least now it will be in print – what do you think?
– deb

I think it depends on his hobby and projects. Are they actually related to his potential career? Is he growing in any appreciable way because of them? Do they earn him any income?

If you go through that list and say “no, no, and no,” then it’s likely that he could be doing something more productive with his time, whether it be getting a job or investing himself in a worthwhile project of some kind.

The most important thing one can get from their college years is personal growth, and there are many better options for personal growth than a menial job that earns minimum wage.

I’m curious of your thoughts on the Watchmen movie. I saw on facebook you had seen it recently. I left a comment that my boyfriend had me read the graphic novel before I went, which I’m really glad I did. I thought they did a fantastic job.
– Ashleigh

It was good, not great. It was obviously intended to be as literal as possible, following the graphic novel very closely, but I feel that film is a very different medium than graphic novels and should use different techniques. There were some lines of dialogue that almost made me cringe, for example, and the choice of elements to keep and elements to toss changed the story in a number of ways.

Watchmen was written to be a critique on the tired cliches of superhero comics, from the often one-dimensional characters to the static storytelling, and it really helped push the entire genre of comics and graphic novels forward. Watchmen was great because it took a different angle on the familiar elements of the format.

The film really didn’t do that. It retained a very good story, but something was lost in the process. A great Watchmen movie would take a serious look at the cliches and techniques of other superhero movies and turn those on their ear.

Question(s): I was just curious, what did/will you do with the car you replaced? Since it is starting to have a lot of problems I didn’t know if you would sell it, junk it, trade it, etc? I plan to drive my current car as long as I safely can do so. What’s the best option for getting rid of a car that’s not in the best condition?
– Jessica

We seriously discussed trying to sell it. It was a 1999 Mercury Sable with 175,000 miles on it, bad struts, an intermittent “check engine” light that we hadn’t yet figured out, and a transmission that was on the verge of failure (something that was pretty obvious if you drove it for a few miles). We used the blue book and had people look at it and we were given honest appraisals that the car would be lucky to put more than $500 in our pocket. We were also given estimates for repairs on the car that totaled into the many thousands at the same time, so we decided to give up the ghost.

To put it frankly, it had reached a point where we no longer felt safe driving the car for any significant distance. My wife was hesitant to use it for her commute.

In the end, we decided to trade it. The dealership offered us $1,500 in trade value for it, which was obviously part of the negotiation process, but if you take that $1,000 difference and apply it to the price we actually paid, it brought the price of the new Prius south of $20K, which made it actually cheaper than some late model used cars we had looked at.

I live in Alabama. We have a Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program that in the poor economy has suffered. I am sure you are familiar with these programs, but basically you buy the plan for your child and when you enroll in college the tuition is guaranteed no matter the cost at a state school. You can cash out for the average tuition in the state if you choose to go to a private school. We are blessed that my grandparents purchased this for my 2 year old, but the state has decided not to allow anyone else to purchase the plan – in effect ending the program. I have a 6 month old and my grandparents had planned to purchase the PACT plan for her. That is not an option anymore and we are not sure how to proceed. They have $18,000 set aside right now. What would you suggest we do with the money?
– Summer

If I were you, I’d open up a more general 529 plan, something I talked about a few days ago.

Putting your money into such a plan lets you grow the money without any sort of tax penalty for the next eighteen years, and you can then use the money in the account for college education anywhere – again, without having to pay taxes in the gains.

While the effective return might not be as good as a prepayment plan like the one in Alabama, you get the huge advantage of not being restricted to only attending a specific school. With a savings-style 529, the possibilities are endless.

I have changed to a new job where the norm for my colleagues is to go out and purchase their lunch (and it seems, breakfast, morning tea and afternoon tea as well). While I bring my morning tea and lunch each day there is considerable pressure, at least once a fortnight, to go out for lunch at a restaurant in the interest of ‘team building’.

I realise that, financially, we would be in a far worse position if I purchased my lunch each day and then went out for team lunches, but I still find it frustrating that attending the team lunches come at the expense of the saving goals my husband and I have set down. I feel that if I don’t attend the lunches (and drinks) I will be seen as not being a ‘team player’ and this will be reflected negatively in my performance appraisal, even though I have worked well in a number of team projects within the organisation.

As I know you started on your frugal journey prior to leaving the workplace, do you have any suggestions arising from your work experiences for dealing with this kind of pressure?
– Sarah

Given that these events are roughly every fortnight, I think such “team building” events are worthwhile, even if there’s an individual expense with it. If they were daily or multiple times a week, it might come across as a bit excessive, but given the irregularity, such events are definitely worthwhile.

My suggestion is to just order a very light lunch that day – a salad, or something to that effect. If that’s not enough to sate your hunger for the day, bring along some healthy snacks with you to work and munch them throughout the day.

If you stick to a very light lunch, you’ll find that it isn’t too much more expensive than brown-bagging it yourself. The few dollars’ difference (comparing your brown bag and the salad) is well worth the value of building a better relationship with coworkers.

Is there a point in a job interview that it’s appropriate to mention a planned upcoming vacation (i.e. “I’ll need to take these days off if I get the job”) or should a person hold off mentioning anything until an offer is made?
– Helix

I’d only mention it if you’re directly asked. If you’re not, I wouldn’t bring it up.

If the job you’re applying for is going to really require you to be on-site during the first several months of work, the employer should ask you this question or they’re not doing due diligence.

You can, of course, ask about their vacation policies. You need to make sure that your vacation plans will fit within their policy. If it does not, then I would hold onto this as a bargaining chip once you’ve been offered a job and are negotiating.

I’m a graduating senior this year with a lot of student loans, but no credit card in my own name. So, my credit score is based almost solely on the amount of debt I’ve taken out to pay for school. Now that I’m graduating, I’d like to finally get a credit card and start building up good credit. Do you have any suggestions for good student credit cards for those just getting into the credit world?
– Liz

The best first credit card is one that matches your regular spending. Don’t sweat the interest rates too much, because if you’re using the credit card in a healthy fashion, you’re paying off the balance in full each month.

I’ll use myself as an example. One of our biggest expenses is our automobiles. My wife commutes to and from work and we also travel regularly, taking weekend trips to visit family (an eight hour round trip) multiple times a month. Thus, we get a lot of value out of using the Citi Driver’s Edge card, because we get 3% back on our gas purchases plus a one-cent rebate for each mile we drive.

We also use the Amazon.com Visa (for our Amazon purchases, which is where we buy many gift items and other staples) and a Target Visa (we shop there for prescriptions and household supplies). Those cards offer great rewards if used at that merchant specifically, so we just use the card for those merchants.

I realize baking items at home tastes better and also is comparatively more frugal..given the electricity consumption of an oven, wanted to see if you had done any analysis on what the effective savings would be..i.e will the increase in the cost of electricity make the effective savings of baking at home less attractive from purely a frugal perspective.thanks
– C

There are a lot of variables at work here. The average oven uses around 4.4 kilowatt-hours of energy, which means that if you use it for an hour of baking, it’ll cost you around fifty cents in energy use. However, that’s not an exact number – it varies quite a lot depending on how exactly you’re using the appliance and the energy rates in your area.

Most from-scratch items at our house requires quite a bit less time than that to cook. For example, I can finish off a loaf of bread in about forty minutes, meaning I’ve used roughly thirty cents’ worth of energy in the process. If I bake two loaves at the same time, the cost difference is negligible.

Another note: oven use heats your home, so the impact is somewhat greater in the summer (because you have to cool down your house to make up for the heat) as compared to the winter.

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

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  1. Nick says:


    Don’t ever buy a pet unless you are 100% committed to taking care of it! Would you ever think of having a child but 2 years later decide that it ‘needs to find a new home’ because of the cost and work involved to take care of that child!?!

    People like you are the reason that animal shelters are overflowing with ‘unwanted’ pets that were ‘dumped’ after just a couple of years (think of the puppies/kittens on x-mas or the rabbits on easter).

    I’m sorry for the rant, but I see a lot of parallels between this type of behavior and the problems with financial responsibility that are often discussed here. Both boil down to people making unwise decisions and then later refusing to take responsibility for their actions.

  2. Abby says:


    There are many companies that will mail you live crickets. They are a little expensive, but I think that would solve your fifty mile dilemma. As for the expenses, giving your child an allowance for chores and other help around the house would give him/her the opportunity to earn the money necessary to care for a pet.

  3. Johanna says:

    @deb: Who will be taking responsibility to pay off your son’s student loans – you or your son? If it’s your son (or if you’ll each be taking a share), then make a deal with him that any money he earns now, or while he is in school, will go directly toward reducing his future debt. Talk to him about the consequences of student loans – about how much easier it will be for him to get a good start in life after graduation if he doesn’t have so much debt hanging over his head. Make sure you’re really getting through to him, since most people who have never had to handle their own finances don’t really understand these things.

    Then let him make up his own mind about whether to get a job. He’s an adult – treat him like one.

  4. Michael says:

    “Who watches the watchmen” should have been asked of the movie.

  5. leslie says:

    I have actually wondered about baking, whether it is cheaper to use my toaster oven, gas oven, or microwave oven say, to bake something like a baked potato.

  6. Gillian says:

    Stacey/Santa –

    I wholeheartedly agree with Nick’s post.

    Santa is an adult who made the decision to purchase a live animal as a gift for a child. By “convincing” the child to give away the gecko, Santa is punishing the child for Santa’s own failure to do research and planning ahead, and is also teaching the child to take the easy way out.

    My personal opinion is that by purchasing said gecko, Santa made a commitment to take care of this creature. Santa may have made a logistical mistake by not taking into account the difficulty of feeding the pet, but keeping the gecko is a great way to teach the 9-year old that you have to live with the consequences of your actions.

    Don’t punish the child or the pet. Sure, it’s “just” a gecko, but where do you draw the line? Let it be a $12-15 minute, 50-mile drive lesson that animals don’t make good presents.

  7. Beth says:

    Deb, I think Trent’s advice about the summer job is off the mark. For one thing, I don’t consider summer jobs to be “menial” or useless. I’ve held a variety of summer jobs and found something useful to learn from all of them.

    Second, if you have to go into debt for an education, why wouldn’t you work? Even a couple of thousand dollars earned from a summer job is still money you don’t have to borrow. Trust me, that money will come in handy for start of college expenses like a computer!

    Third, spending a summer on hobbies isn’t going to impress anyone on a resume unless there’s something to show for it (like building a website or learning employable skills). If a so-called “menial job” is out of the question, what about volunteering instead.

    I didn’t have the luxury of taking a summer off. Looking back now, I’m glad I didn’t.

  8. Joy says:

    I wanted to say thank you so much for responding the way you did to the Santa/Pet question. I still remember when I got my childhood pets. I did not have allowance but I had to use my babysitting and gift money for the first pets, two fish. I tried to go somewhat cheap, buying feeders, and they ended up dying after a week. My dad took me back to the store and I upgraded to two fish that lived for at least 8 years. It was a great lesson in value vs cost. While the tank itself (which was maybe $15 20 years ago) was a gift, everything else was purchased by me. Because I was so responsible with the fish, we eventually got a “family” rabbit that my parents helped pay for supplies and such. I was a tween but we discussed the life expectancy for rabbits and I had to ask my sister (who was in college at the time) if she would have had enough time in high school to care for a pet and really think through if I could commit to taking care of the rabbit for the rest of it’s life. As soon as I drove and got a steady job, I started covering the cost of everything except for the vet appointments to have his teeth clipped.

    These were all great lessons in responsibility and finances that to this day I use. My husband and I own many pets and also foster. We set aside money each month to pay for all their needs including medical. (Pet Insurance would not be worth it for us in addition that some of our animals are too old to qualify.) We weigh taking in a new pet against our debt-payoff goals.

    While this family didn’t start out on the path of pet ownership in the best way, there is definitely lessons to be learned by both parents and son. Again, I appreciate that you suggested those lessons rather than simply giving up the animal. I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while and you always have excellent, rational, advice.

  9. Angela says:

    I have to disagree with the assumption that “menial” jobs don’t contribute to personal growth. I learned an enormous amount from the summer jobs I worked through high school and college, even though they didn’t directly relate to my career–beyond the basic responsibility of showing up somewhere on time when I was expected to, I also learned how to get along with difficult people, and became much more careful with money after I saw how much effort went into earning it. I also think my days in food service made me a much more compassionate customer (and a better tipper!).

  10. guinness416 says:

    I also disagree with the response about the summer job.

    My “menial” summer jobs waiting tables and coat checking in nightclubs and the like contributed enormously to my personal growth. They taught me to value money I made myself and things like the tax system, made me lots of friends, led to some funny and crazy experiences and taught me I’m not too good for tasks like cleaning toilets. They also gave me the contacts and the “dues paying” to allow me to become an accomplished bartender in further summer jobs – something that allowed me to earn decent money working nights while at college and to work summers abroad, and something I can fall back on if I ever need it. Certainly I grew more on these jobs than I would have spending summers sleeping late and dabbling in painting or whatever in my parents’ garden.

  11. Debbie M says:

    @Helix – I’d mention your need for vacation AFTER they offer you the job and BEFORE you tell them whether you will take it.

    Once they have decided they want you, they are more motivated to give you what you need. (Before that point, the notification will be more likely to make you seem whiny and high-maintenance, and thus they will be less likely to pick you.) You can always offer to take unpaid leave if necessary to deal with policy issues and fairness to other workers.

    But after you have accepted the job, you may have agreed to policies that won’t allow you to take vacation that early. Negotiations are much more difficult.

  12. Cubziz says:

    Regarding summer job and upcoming college.

    Just a warning. Most schools will factor any wages made by a high schooler when giving out financial aid. In my case, I was told that 90% of my pay was expected to have been saved and thus was directly taken OUT of my available funds. (Which given that I had three jobs over the summers, hurt. Badly.)

    So, I would agree with the husband. If the goal is to increase financial aid from the school, do not work for money now. OR put the child to work, under the table, with family projects, like cleaning out that attic, garage, whatever. Supplement the allowance.

  13. BirdDig says:

    I agree with Beth. Spending a summer on “hobbies” translates into LAZY on a resume. If he doesn’t want a summer job, look for an internship. Just do something. Without a job or an internship those summer days will turn into excuses to sleep until noon and stay up all night.


  14. Michelle says:

    Right now we are using a 529 plan to save for college for our 3 kids. Someone told us that we should be saving in a Roth IRA because we could have more flexibility in how the money is invested, getting a better return and we would have more flexibility in using the money, so if our child got a scholarship and didn’t use the money, we could just apply it to retirement, whereas with a 529 it must be used for educational expenses. Our state’s 529 plan isn’t that great, but they offer a matching grant every year that we are eligible for right now, but will not be after this year. And if we move our money, we will lose all the matching funds.

    What do you think of this? Is it worth it?

  15. Johanna says:

    I think that many of the people responding to Deb are answering a question other than the one she asked. The question is not, “Is it a good idea for a graduating high school senior to get a summer job?” It’s, “Is it appropriate for the parents of a graduating high school senior to force their son to get a summer job?”

  16. Johanna says:

    And @BirdDig: Without knowing what the son’s hobbies are, I don’t think we can jump to conclusions about how they will appear on a resume. Deb did mention “hobby projects,” which suggests to me that if he works on them all summer, he will have something to show for it – “projects” implies something more constructive than watching TV and playing video games.

  17. SteveJ says:

    I too echo the sentiment that menial jobs are useful. A few lessons I’ve learned:

    1) At $3-4/hr, it hits home pretty quickly that eating out is a huge chunk of your day’s pay. I actually learned this as a paper boy when I was much younger, $2 at the convenience store after my route pretty much wiped out all the work I’d done that day. When everyone around you is maxing out cards on pizza and beer, you actually know what it takes to pay for that stuff.

    2) Stacking steel for 14 hours a day is easier than working on something mentally intensive for 8 hours.

    3) You will always have to make compromises between the hours you work and the hours you play. This is vital for a college student, since playing 100% of the time is a tempting option when you’re completely unsupervised.

    4) Going to college and getting a degree is worth it, if only because you can avoid those menial summer jobs.

    5. Most people who do menial jobs work hard and take pride in their work. You should respect what they do, and you’re more likely to because you’ve been there.

  18. Mel says:

    @Helix- I have a slightly different take… The last job I interviewed for (before become a SAHM) I was 4 months pregnant and needed to take 3 days off within a month of starting because of my brother’s wedding. I just laid it out there, told the interviewer, “I realize this may count against me, but I’d rather you know now than spring this on you if you offer me the job…” I explained the situation to him. He was fine with it and told me at my review that if I hadn’t told him about it, he would have rescinded the offer. I think you’d be getting off on the wrong foot if they deliberate on hiring you without all the information.

  19. Leah says:

    re: the car purchase, I recommend the reader look into local credit unions. I got my car loan from a credit union — bought a $15k car right after graduating college. The interest was 5%, and I was able to pay back the loan in just 3 years instead of the term of 5 thanks to the lower interest and my own hard work.

    re: the summer job, I’d encourage the kid to get a job. All my summer jobs ended up helping me in my career, whether I realized it at the time or not. Jobs teach responsibility, discipline, and diligence. All those skills are always useful.

  20. kristine says:

    1. A “menial” job still teaches the basics of what it is like to WORK. (Working at school is not the same) How to take orders, how to get along with a variety of people, how to budget time, how to suck it up, are all personal development.

    2. It teaches the lesson that you should work HARD in college, lest you end up with a “menial” job, permanently.

    3. It is unfair for the parents to be asked in ANY way to support this child during college if he had a chance to contribute but did not. He is and adult- act like one and do your share.

    4. Better to earn now, than owe later. (It may even be easier to get a loan if you show you will work.)

    4. It is WAY too competitive out there to not have worked, or volunteered, or turned something productive out over every summer break.

    Trent, a young man or woman readying for college needs more preparation on the real world, not the coddled child-world.

    Also, it is obvious this woman would resent it, and it would cause tangible friction in the marriage. The child’s desires should never come before peace in the marriage.

    I think this is the first time I have ever thought you gave really bad advice.

    AND, I resent “menial”. On a spiritual level, any job done well, and with a cheerful heart, is not menial. Menial is in the eye of the beholder.

  21. Heidi says:

    Ditto Nick. I realize it’s “just” a gecko, but teaching a child that a pet is a resource hog available for sale to a business fosters terribly irresponsible behavior and could create a pet-dumper for life.

    I can never understand why people think why someone else would be interested in investing in the pet they’re not interested in investing in. The solution is not to pass the buck on to someone else, the solution is to find a way to lessen the burden without the pet having to sacrifice. Catching crickets is a fantastic idea.

  22. loupgaroublond says:

    @Sarah –

    I know it’s against your savings plan to go on these ‘team building lunches’ but since it’s only once every two weeks, like Trent said, it’s not outrageous. Since you have to do this, i would look for another way to ‘justify’ the spending. On this blog, Trent’s mentioned many other ways to motivate you to save money, including some form of rewards. Perhaps you can look at the opportunity to go to a restaurant and a ‘reward’.

    You don’t have to spend much anyways, but at least having the right perspective means you’ll enjoy your meal. Eating a meal together is one of those social things built into people, and you really should take the chance to enjoy it. Since it’s also team building, i’m sure it gives you a chance to relax with other team members, and perhaps get a different point of view what’s going on. You never know what intangible gain might come out of it, but if you’re stressing out about the money spent the whole time, you’ll never see it in the first place.

    Personally, i like to keep a certain amount of my budget set aside for ‘social eating’. I like to eat, and i like to be social, and sometimes just taking a friend to a meal can have very good consequences. (I also like to invite friends over to cook, or cook at their places, as a way of saving money.)

  23. Kevin says:

    I agree with Nick, in comment #1. People need to stop treating pets like disposable commodities. If the budget is feeling a little squeezed, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider who costs more to feed – the kid or the gecko?

  24. IRG says:

    I’m with those who think the young man should abandon his hobbies (whether or not they are related to his college major, etc.) and take a job. And earn some money for college (who the heck is paying for this kid’s personal spending? And why doesn’t HE feel responsible for earning money? Doesn’t matter how he’s getting loans.)

    Not mandating a job and basically endorsing the pursuit of “whatever”, well, to my mind, it sends a really bad message about personal financial responsibility. The issue isn’t even about what constitutes “menial” or whether a teenager should even be concerned about what type of work he takes, as long as he works.

    I’ve seen this attitude in the children of well-off and wealthy parents. Interestingly, the kids of the really rich parents are the ones who literally tell their kids: GET A JOB for the summer…or else. There is no “if you feel like it.”

    NOT working is not an option.

    As someone who worked tons of what some might term “menial” jobs before and during college to be able to afford it, I had no problem doing so. I didn’t even debate it, just went out and hustled to get work and keep it.

    I never realized there was an option to do otherwise. What I’m not getting is how this kid thinks he does NOT have to work.

    And frankly, I’m truly taken aback by Trent’s response. I mean seriously. Your answer does NOT make sense in the context of all you’re written before Trent.


  25. Bill in Houston says:

    @ Helix

    I had a similar problem happen some years ago. I told the interviewer up front, “I have a small problem. My father turns 65 on _____ and I have already bought the tickets and paid for hotel accommodations. I’d be more than happy to take this as unpaid leave.”

    The interviewer already knew that I was sitting in front of her because the company I had previously worked for had gone belly up (this was the tech bust of 2001). I had made the previous plans some three months earlier and had expected it to be actual vacation time. I had already been offered this job and we were at the point of discussing salary and benefits.

    Be honest, but don’t make it sound like your vacation is more important than your job. I would only also mention this “planned vacation” if your vacation is already paid for. If you just want that time off because “that’s the time I normally take vacation” I’d butch up and wait until I’d been at the job six months.

  26. KJ says:

    @Stacey — what about buying pellet food from the internet to supplement live food? I don’t know anything about these companies, but a quick search turned up http://www.herpsupplies.com/subcategory.cfm?id=4&sub=105&gclid=CODGgoXKkZoCFRIcawodFFpnKw and http://www.reptilesupply.com/index.php?cPath=21_34

  27. Tammy says:

    Trent, it is possible to work a “menial job” and still find time for “personal growth”. At what point is he supposed to learn responsibility?

  28. Sandy says:

    Someone asked about a credit card after graduation. I could suggest a UPromise Card. We use it now for money that goes directly toward our kids college funds, but you can also set it up to help you pay off those student loans. Plus, you can have relatives sign on, too, and they can all help you out from under the loans faster.

  29. al says:

    i agree with the comments for deb that suggest that her son should get a summer job before college. it can be VERY challenging to budget in college, especially if your income takes the form of loans/scholarships and is disbursed all at once at the beginning of the quarter/semester. i think it would be meaningful for him to have some summer income to start dealing with realistic budgeting, and save some money for college as well (trust me, when he gets out with $$$ in student loans, he will need to find a job to start paying those off, even if his only options are “menial” at first!)

  30. Jimbo says:

    Comments like Kevin’s are mind-boggling to me. Dude, are you really comparing feeding a child to feeding a freaking gecko? People need to realize that not all people think of and value pets like children and that is perfectly okay.

    Pets ARE NEVER, EVER, EVER remotely equal to humans, let alone children. Get some perspective, dude. Unreal.

  31. Sandy says:

    About running your oven and the costs, etc..
    I always try to have 2 things baking in the oven (or more) to take advantage of the heat. For example, when I bake bread, I usually bake 2 loaves. But I might also bake potatoes or sweet potatoes, muffins or pie at the same time (watch tho that the temps don’t need to be drastically different.). Also, you can leave potatoes and sweet potatoes in the oven to continue baking after you are done with your baked good…the oven is usually hot/warm for another hour or so, so you can utilize that heat better.

  32. al says:

    oops, i have one more comment. trent, you mention that “the average oven uses around 4.4 kilowatt-hours of energy.” over what time period – per hour? appliance power ratings come in watts (a rate of use of energy), while your energy bill comes in kWh (which you have used over the course of a month). if you use a 100W appliance for one hour, (theoretically) it will draw 100 watt-hours of electricity (0.1 kilowatt-hour). also, if you have a gas oven vs. an electric toaster oven, the comparison will be a bit more complicated. i would suggest checking with your local utility company (companies if gas and elec are separate) to see if they have any helpful tools for estimating this sort of thing. there are probably also some calculators out there on the internet that might be worthwhile.

    sorry to be picky on this, but i deal with energy/power calcs quite a bit at work and well, if you use an apple instead of an orange in your estimate, it can really throw you off big time!

  33. Kevin says:

    @Jimbo (#25): My comment was tongue-in-cheek. I simply meant to highlight that many people are callously cavalier about discarding living things when they’re no longer convenient.

    That said, I think you’re wrong, in that pets CAN be compared to humans. It’s not as black-and-white as you think. If you had to choose between saving the life of your dog, or the life of your child, the choice is obvious. But what if instead of a child, it was an adult stranger? What if it was a convicted murderer? What if it was a cancer victim who only had a few days left to live anyway? Which would you save then?

    Morality is a gradient.

  34. Kevin says:

    So you’d judge your pet as more deserving of life than fellow human beings? That’s creepy. By the way, a good deal of “convicted murderers” were wrongfully convicted; the legal system tends to do that to the poor and the non-white. And as incomprehensible as it may seem to you, cancer victims are human beings too, with people who love them and children and husbands and wives and lives. It’s sad that you’d be so willing to condemn people you’ve never met as only worthy of death.

  35. Joey says:

    @ Kevin (28):

    So you’d judge your pet as more deserving of life than fellow human beings? That’s creepy. By the way, a good deal of “convicted murderers” were wrongfully convicted; the legal system tends to do that to the poor and the non-white. And as incomprehensible as it may seem to you, cancer victims are human beings too, with people who love them and children and husbands and wives and lives. It’s sad that you’d be so willing to condemn people you’ve never met as only worthy of death.

  36. Johanna says:

    @Joey: What’s also creepy is that people see somebody saying “It’s wrong to kill animals” and are so quick to translate that into “It’s right to kill humans.”

    Fortunately, in this situation, it’s not necessary to choose between the life of the gecko and the life of any stranger, convicted murderer, cancer patient, or any other human. It’s merely necessary to choose between the life of the gecko and $12-15 per month.

    And getting back to the original question, I disagree with Trent’s suggestion of making the gecko the child’s responsibility. First of all, the parents were the ones who bought the gecko in the first place without realizing that as a living animal, it would need to be fed, so they should accept the consequences of their mistake. Second, the parents know that the child is already having trouble remembering to care for the gecko. For them to put all the responsibility on the child’s shoulders would be to virtually guarantee that the gecko will starve to death. That’s cruel.

  37. Jeff says:

    @kevin: the human, every time. Pets are great and you should care for them and love them, but they are pets.

    That said, I agree with your statement about people being a bit cavalier with pets. If you’re not ready for the responsibility, don’t get one.

  38. Leslie says:

    Trent – I need to add my comment to those above that feel that you were way off on the advice about working in the summer before heading off to college. Others have already made the points I was going to so I won’t duplicate them here. I will just say that just about the most off target advice I have seen you give. Very condescending too.

  39. SP says:

    To Liz – depending on what type of job you have, you may not need a “nice” car just yet. I’m surprised Trent didn’t at least suggestion you CONSDIER used. And by used I don’t mean “late model used that is almost as expensive as new”, I mean a plain old used car that will get you around while you start out your job and gain some financial footing. Some people are really into cars–fine, whatever, you can get a newer car. But I’ve been driving the same 10 year old car since I started working about 3 years ago, and it has saved me a TON of cash.

    Re:the high school student and a job. Um, I have a job AND I have hobbies. Time for him to grow up! The real issue in that question is getting the husband on the same page first.

  40. Andi says:

    Two more comments to add to the soon to be college student:

    1. What 18 year old truly knows what his/her career plans will be and how many of us are working in different fields than their declared major in high school?

    2. Not all skills learned on the job are career specific. A lot of times even “menial” jobs teach us how to improve our interpersonal skills and take directions from a supervisor AND that sometimes you have to suck it up and do a job that’s not “fun” if you want to pay the bills.

  41. Anna says:

    I add my vote to the numerous statements that the new HS graduate must find a job this summer. Any job will do. All the reasons given are excellent.

    Employers want to see hard evidence of a work ethic. They want to see that a potential employee will do whatever it takes.

    I have one question. The husband thinks the son doesn’t need to get a summer job. What was the husband’s experience at that age? What is the husband’s attitude toward work? We’ll probably never know, but I think the answer would be illuminating.

  42. tightwadfan says:

    It sounds like Santa and Mrs Claus didn’t do enough research before they bought the gecko. Now they want to convince their 8 year old to abandon the pet. Nick is right that it’s people like this who are responsible for our overcrowded animal shelters. Santa and Mrs Claus should learn their lesson and stick it out with this lizard, and next time figure out if they’re ready for a pet BEFORE they buy it.

    Sarah – I’ve been in your position and understand your frustration. I was one of the lower-paid employees, too, so these meals were harder on me than some of my coworkers. But unfortunately I think you have to suck it up and absorb the expense of the team-building meals. I think all you can do is try to find ways to lessen the expense – order the cheapest things on the menu, etc. Maybe you can make up a previous engagement to get out of every 3rd or 4th meal so you’re at least getting some credit for team-building but also cutting your costs a little.

    Helix – I had two relatives recently in this situation, both mentioned during the interview that they had previous upcoming travel plans. In both cases their vacation days wouldn’t kick in yet and they were clear with the interviewer that they would expect those days to be unpaid, but they just wanted to let the interviewer know ahead of time so they could make their decision with that info in mind. In both cases they got the jobs. If the interviewer starts telling you about the company’s benefits package, like vacation time that comes with the job, I think that would be a good opening to bring up your plans. In both of my relatives’ cases, the travel plans were for important, inflexible, family events (a wedding and a graduation), and I think that makes an important difference. If you just have a ski trip planned you may want to rethink it.

  43. Jem says:

    I agree with those who said we need to be a lot less cavalier with how we treat the animals in our lives.

    Whether or not you feel animals deserve the same treatment as a human being, when you take in an animal you are making an unspoken promise to care for it because, as it is domesticated, it can not care for itself. It is your responsibility, one you willingly took on, to provide that animal with the best life you can.

    If the letter-writer was unable to afford food for their own family, let alone food for a pet, I would say their pet was best served by giving it up to someone better prepared to care for it. But giving it up because they would rather save $12? If the author of the letter is going to do that, I hope that they will avoid owning any pets in the future…at least until they realize that it is a big responsibility.

    Too many animals end up abandoned because people don’t want to be inconvenienced with their care. I have two dogs, both rescues. One was a stray, probably turned out when her owners decided they didn’t want her, but the other was surrendered by her owners. Why was she surrendered? She has a medical condition that costs about $20 a month to treat.

    For some, sadly, that is an economic burden to great to bear, and I would never begrudge anyone who gives their animal up for adoption in order to give it a better life, but that wasn’t the case for my dog. Her owners, seemingly like the individual who wrote the letter, just decided they would rather spend those $20 on Netflix/take out/a new DVD/whatever.

    So yeah, even if they aren’t that interested in the gecko, even if they would rather spend those $12 on something else, they already made the choice to take in the gecko. So rather than take back their sons Christmas gift, maybe they should just suck it up and pitch in the $12 a month and make a rule for the future, no more pets.

  44. Barbara says:

    @Johanna – I totally agree. It is wrong to suggest to parents that they abandon a pet THEY brought into the house by relegating the responsibility to the child (and presumably hoping for the worst.) The reason I don’t have a dog is because I can’t afford one – these are the kinds of things responsible people think of before acquiring a pet, even a gecko.

  45. Steve says:

    I am surprised to hear that you got your Prius for an “effective price” of under 20K. I would be interested in hearing more about that price. I looked at your post(s) about buying it and didn’t see that; I had always assumed they cost more than that (and had gone up recently as well.) So, I would be interested in a quick post (or email) about the price you paid, how you calculate that price, and how you negotiated it (even if the last bit was just a reference to another post by yourself or someone else)

  46. Todd says:

    I don’t like the term “menial” either. I would draw the line at “dangerous” instead. I had a friend whose parents forced him to go out and get a job. He ended up being killed on the all-night shift at a convenience store. Another high school aquaintance lost a finger in a construction job he wasn’t properly trained for.
    I wouldn’t want my high school age kids to do a dangerous job, but I do think “menial” work is an insulting term to those who do such work. I met some of the nicest, most decent people I’ve ever known while working in a supermarket in high school.

  47. lurker carl says:

    I shoveled cow manure during my evenings/weekends and cut grass during the summer to pay for my college education. I suppose those jobs fit your definition of menial employment.

    The money earned from those jobs covered ALL education and living expenses during my college years. No potential employer reviewing my resume ever questioned why I worked such jobs instead of persuing a hobby that might enhance a possible career with their company.

  48. Jim says:

    al #27 said “trent, you mention that “the average oven uses around 4.4 kilowatt-hours of energy.” over what time period – per hour? appliance power ratings come in watts”

    I’m sure that Trent meant to say that a typical oven uses 4400 Watts.

    I did a google search and first page that came up says 4400 Watts:

    So if you use the oven for 1 hour then thats 4400 Watt/hrs = 4.4 kilo Watt / hrs (kWh). An average electric bill charges 11¢ per kWh so you’re looking at about 11¢ x 4.4 kwH = $0.44 per hour usage. Ballpark of 50 cents. Exact costs will vary depending on your actual utility rates. My dad only pays 6¢ per kWh but people in Hawaii might pay 25¢.

    Keep in mind that is for use of the OVEN. Not the cooktop range burner elements. Those use much less power.

  49. bob says:

    “The average oven uses around 4.4 kilowatt-hours of energy, which means that if you use it for an hour of baking, it’ll cost you around fifty cents in energy use.”

    The 4.4kWh figure is the maximum amount of energy the oven uses when the heating element is in use. However, once the oven is at temperature, the element switches off and uses no electricity. According to this webpage ( http://www.bestbuy.com/olspage.jsp?id=pcmcat160300050011&type=category ), an oven uses ~2.0kWh to cook a typical casserole in 1 hour. The Department of Energy estimates the average electric oven costs $27 to operate for a year ( http://www.energyguide.com/library/EnergyLibraryTopic.asp?bid=austin&prd=10&TID=17256&SubjectID=8371 ).

    While it is important to keep energy costs in mind when doing cost analysis, but sure to check that the figures are accurate.

  50. Joey says:

    Another day, another arrogant dismissal of the working class by Trent. Perhaps you’re considering a name change to The Stuck-Up Dollar?

  51. NYC reader says:

    @Lurker Carl

    I imagine that your experience shoveling cow manure was excellent training for the corporate world! ;)

    Seriously, though. The kid should get a job. If he can’t find paid employment, then he should find a volunteer opportunity. There are plenty of shelters, soup kitchens, and senior centers that could use the skills of a teenager.

    Pets are a responsibility in much the same way that children are – they are dependent upon others for their care, feeding, health, and well-being. I don’t expect a young child to have all the maturity required to understand that a living creature needs to be fed and cared for, but I *do* expect that the adults in the child’s life understand this. The only way the child will learn the responsibility and obligation of caring for the pet is for the adult to lead by example. Selling the gecko back to the store because the pet is “inconvenient” to feed will teach the child that s/he can easily shirk obligations and weasel out of committments.

  52. Holly says:

    I would encourage Liz to buy her car with cash if she can. It might not be as new and flashy as a new car, but if she can find a reliable car for a couple thousand dollars, it’s so worth it. I paid $1500 for my car, a Saturn SL1. It also needed about $300 worth of maintenance (had the brakes cleaned, new belts, etc), but all told it was well under $2000. It was about 10 years old and had 70K miles on it. I’ve had it for a couple years now and have had little trouble with it. I LOVE not having a car payment! I can’t believe people when they tell me they are paying $250-300 (or more) a month for their car! I hope to get another 2 or 3 years out of it at least, at which point I’ll sell or trade it in for a newer car, which I also hope to pay cash for!

  53. Shevy says:

    Did “Santa” & his wife neglect to do any basic research before buying the gecko? Ten seconds on the net showed me that geckos in captivity may live from 5 to 20 years! If you know how much they eat and the price of their food (hint: ask the pet store or breeder *before* you buy) it’s a pretty simple calculation to figure out how much their food will cost over their lifespan. If you have any doubt as to your ability to afford the basic upkeep, that would be a pretty good reason not to buy the pet.

    As for junior not keeping up with the day to day care of the gecko, well that’s a big surprise. Everyone knows that young children are 100% reliable and will take perfect care of any pet they request. Oh, wait. That’s just what they say in order to talk their parents into the purchase.

    At least junior didn’t beg them for a parrot. They can live up to 70 years, easily cost a couple of hundred dollars per month and require lots of attention and companionship while staying at the developmental level of a 3 to 5 year old. (Which is not to say that parrots can’t be wonderful pets for the right person, but that they’re totally unsuited for a child and end up in rescue shelters far too often.)

  54. Penny says:

    Hmm, I agree with many of the posts regarding the pet gecko. I was brought up being told that if you have a pet, the pet (whatever it is: cat, rat horse, goldfish, gecko) is your responsibility to feed and look after, even if it is not convenient to you. Also, when you take on a pet, it is not an option to give it up for convenience’s sake. I remember once as a child I forgot to feed the dogs one evening, and my Father simply asked me how I would feel if he forgot to feed me. He was driving home the point that I had the responsibility to feed and look after those animals, and that they relied on me. Obviously – my Dad never forgot to feed me! But he made an excellent point, and one that I’ve never forgotten. I will hopefully teach my children this same sense of responsibility one day.

  55. Beth says:

    I didn’t mean to say all of Trent’s advice was wrong in this case. I was reacting to the “menial jobs” part. It seemed a little odd coming from someone who makes his own laundry detergent — a task that many people have said would be a waste of time for them.

    My point is that “menial” is a relative term — or rather a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think something is worthless, you’ll take no pleasure in it and no learning from it and it becomes worthless.

    Even if you work for yourself, chances are there are going to be menial tasks as part of your day. Employers are looking for team players, not people with egos.

  56. Beth says:

    I didn’t mean to say all of Trent’s advice was wrong in this case. I was reacting to the “menial jobs” part. It seemed a little odd coming from someone who makes his own laundry detergent — a task that many people have said would be a waste of time for them.

    My point is that “menial” is a relative term — or rather a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think something is worthless, you’ll take no pleasure in it and no learning from it and it becomes worthless.

    Even if you work for yourself, chances are there are going to be menial tasks as part of your day. Employers are looking for team players, not people with egos or attitudes.

  57. Daniella says:

    I have a new question Trent, for your next Reader Mailbag:

    We invite a small group of people over to our house every Tuesday night. The group has grown from 2 people, to 20 people….and counting. I love hospitality and my husband and I decided we wanted to feed them dinner everytime they come over.

    With the group being the size that it is, I have started to use paper-plates instead of normal plates to serve up the meal. While in jest, one of the group members commented that paper-plates were environmentally unfriendly, but my rational was that washing 20+ plates would be more of an environmental offence. Afterall, where we live, we’re actually in drought and are on Stage4 water restrictions! What is your stance? Which is the lesser of 2 evils? Which option is more environmentally friendly?

  58. maf says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the comments about the college-bound kid and whether he should get a job–especially if the parents are not wealthy and have to take out student loans to finance their son’s education. The son defintely should be held accountable to contribute some amount of money himself. I cleaned toilets and showers in a dorm one summer in college and it was one of the best jobs I ever had: it taught me that I could do a “menial” job to scrape by if, God forbid, I ever needed to, and also, it motivated me to stay in school and get a degree.
    The skills of cleaning toilets and showers had nothing to do with my career aspirations or future plans, but it sure taught me a lot, and also gave me a nice wad of cash at the end of the summer to defray my tuition.

  59. Ajana says:

    My comment regarding the “team building” lunches is a question: If it’s for “team building”, i.e. for the benefit of the company, why doesn’t the company pay?

  60. C says:

    Hi Trent- Thanks for the insight (and response to my question) on the baking at home question..

  61. Catherine Cruz says:

    Regarding the gecko. The idea of hatching your own meal worms is the easiest (and cheapest) solution – a garbage can is usually a quick source if there is something that flies have been around. My husband throws out little pieces of hotdog or chicken and the geckos come running to eat it. Apparently, they don’t go by smell but by movement. It has to look alive.

    As for the baking, depending on the size of what I am making, I try to use the Convection Oven whenever possible. It is faster, at a lower heat, than the recipe calls for and being smaller the amount of heat hitting the room is much less than a large oven.

  62. sherri says:

    I don’t mean to jump on the bandwagon, but I was also surprised at your advice to the mother of the 18-year-old about getting a summer job. As I read the question I thought, “DUH, of course he’s going to tell her to make her son find a job instead of just wasting his summer,” for all the good reasons others have already mentioned. So your actual answer came as quite a shock. I’m not used to disagreeing with you so it’s a strange feeling indeed! :-)

  63. oldernwiser says:

    Ditto on all the comments above about the HS graduate needing to work and not pursue “hobby projects”. And working a “few hours a month”? I hate to say it but I think this would make it hard to develop a good work ethic and learning how to balance responsibilities of school/work/free time.

    Both my daughters had to start work while in high school to pay for their “extras”. They usually had jobs that were about 10 hours a week. The summer after graduation they were expected to work at least 25 hours a week, more if they could get the hours. Why? They knew they had to pay for their “extra money” for college. (Ironically, we’re in Alabama and had PACT. Youngest graduates in two weeks, WHEW…..).

    They also had jobs in college because they had to. (We’re not wealthy either.)

    The result? They both have GREAT work ethics and while in school realized that the “pampered” kids had the most “problems”. (That’s not to say that some kids who work and go to school don’t also have typical college “problems”.)

    He needs a job. Period.

  64. oldernwiser says:

    Oh, and that’s not to say that some odd job might lead to an interest in something he has no idea he’d be interested in at this point in time or want to pursue as a career.

  65. Shelly says:

    Trent, I’ll actually stick up for you on the summer job front.

    What matters is that her son is doing something meaningful for those summer months (not playing video games and calling it a “hobby”). If it’s just an excuse for laziness, that’s unacceptable.

    I didn’t have my first job until my freshman year of college. My parents weren’t wealthy either. I spent my summer months volunteering at a group home for children with disabilities, and spent my spare time learning HTML because I thought it was fun.

    Now that I’m in the working world, I can’t volunteer as much as I could then, so I’m so glad I did it while I had the chance. It taught me more than a minimum-wage job ever would have. I’m also glad I worked on HTML, because even though I went to school to become a special education teacher, I ended up becoming a webmaster with my self-taught knowledge.

    I learned how to handle money when I was in college. I had to — I only worked 10 hours a week in work study and I had a car loan to pay every month. It worked out just fine.

    That said, I will agree with the others that there are lessons to be learned from a minimum-wage job, if there aren’t other more meaningful opportunities that he wants to pursue.

  66. Courtney says:

    If the gecko is really unwanted, most pet stores will take one, gratis.

    FYI, you can bulk order crickets from, say, Fluker Farms.

    50 Count Crickets Tube Price:
    $6.00 – 12 cents/cricket
    100 count crickets tube
    Price: $8.00 – 8 cents/cricket

    at FedEx Priority Overnight – $14.04
    250 count bulk crickets:
    $7.50 – 8.6 cents/cricket
    500 count bulk crickets:
    $9.95 – 4.7 cents/cricket
    1000 count bulk crickets:
    $13.95 – 2.8 cents/cricket

    Buy the babies (1 week), keep them in a ten-gallon tank (or a plastic tote with screen on the top), and feed them fruit and veggie scraps and a very shallow dish of water. They should live for 6-8 weeks minimum.

    One gecko probably won’t eat them all, but it is almost certainly cheaper than buying them from a store – who almost definitely buys them from Flukers anyway.

    Even better, bulk order crickets, and see if you have someone around who would buy some from you – mark-up on resale is awesome. ;)

  67. Laurah says:

    @ Santa (déja vu?): crickets and mealworms can be purchased online and received in the mail— Foster and Smith carries them, I think, but I bet one could find many alternates by plugging the product in question into a favorite search engine.

    Do try searching for local herp/ fish fancier clubs in the area. There are tons of benefits to be gained by going social, and odds are at least one local entrepreneur who breeds her own food. These sorts often can offer informal veterinary advice, lend books, and even split bulk purchases. Of course, with a nine-year-old, I would chaperon contact— for every three scouts earning a merit badge, there tends to be one scary person who informally “breeds” pit bull mixes in the back of his/ her mobile home and is ticked off becuase the guv’mint yanked the license for hot reptiles, just because he had a *few loose cage tops*… I’ve found this is the case in every hobby, though. Part of growing up is learning to recognize what scary/ skeevy looks like and deal appropriately, is it not so?

    As for nagging, I’d recommend finding a reminder system that works for your child: prominently-displayed stickers on a calender for a visual learner, M & M’s in a pill box for a kinetic kid, playing a certain song at a certain time if s/he is sonically-oriented. Figure out what works. And yeah, it’s often harder work to get your kid to do the chores, especially initially, than to do the work yourself. Sorry. Kids brains aren’t mature, and part of that is handling responsibility without adult shepherding. That’s why we call it “immature” behavior. And some kids are going to be able to handle responsibility at nine that other kids (I use the term advisedly) don’t handle at thirty. You have my official license to smack the bitches upside the head when they tell you that they, or their children, were doing x at y age, and yours should be at least as advanced at this age, what with the august example of the speaker present and all. Ignoring the parameters of your equipment and its environment vis-a-vis your requirements for the equipment, whether your equipment is a backhoe or a fourth-grader, is bad engineering.

    Good luck!

  68. Jessica says:

    Thanks for answering my questions about the car. I’ve always heard it is better to sell it yourself so I was surprised to see what you got as a trade in. When my car finally dies (which I hope is 3-5+ years away) I’ll be sure to check all my options.

  69. Nick says:

    I was truly disappointed in Trent’s response about the 18 year old foregoing a summer job to pursue hobbies and projects. As an employer, I would much more likely hire a prospective employee with summer job experience before hobby experience. What happened to “work ethic”? He will have to have spending money as well as money for the student loans. I believe the father is doing more harm by telling him he doesn’t have to work. EVERYONE needs to start at the bottom and work their way up.

  70. Ken M says:

    Look into ordering crickets or meal worms online. Buy and aquarium for $10 and feed them food scraps.

  71. plonkee says:

    Whilst the kid probably should get a job, I don’t think that it’s necessarily the case that his parents should force him too, particularly as they don’t agree. I doubt that her husband is going to be persuaded by Trent’s commentators, for example.

    But then this comes from someone who barely worked at all whilst in education – exactly 32 weeks of employment throughout high school and college. I managed as well or better financiall than my siblings who worked through the entire experience.

  72. Nik says:

    @Sarah it really depends on how you feel about your job and your coworkers. Do you plan on staying with the company for a long period of time? Do these coworkers have the potential to positively affect your life? I don’t just mean that professionally, but are these people that you can actually make friends with? If the answer is yes, it is more than worth the money.
    You can also connect with them in other ways, too if you feel like being creative.
    If this job is just a stepping stone (I don’t do that but most of my peers do,) by all means collect your check and go home, forget what they think. If there are any coworkers you particularly like, invite them over to watch something you may have in common on TV and have some snacks. You don’t always need to go out, inviting people over to simple things like an ordered pizza even is a great way to connect with someone.

  73. Tea says:

    While I think the kid should get a job, there’s a point no one has brought up:

    Many need-based scholarships deduct whatever you earn from your scholarship. If the kid qualifies for need based financial aid, it might be worth spending the extra time applying to other scholarships, or making himself a more attractive scholarship candidate through academic extracurricular activities than getting a job.

  74. KC says:

    I think everyone should have a menial job at some point in their life. The best thing a menial job ever did for me was to drive home the point of working hard in school. After working my fanny off for pennies I knew I wanted to do my best in school and have a clear cut plan for what I wanted to do in my career. Another aspect of menial jobs is they often involve working with the public. Working with the public serves two purposes. The first is the same as the above – it reinforces why you want to go to school and do well (so you don’t have to work with the public if you do not want to) and it helps you to better understand the world at large and the people that live in it.

  75. anna says:

    Trent, here’s a question: What do you do in those situations when you go out to eat with a group of colleagues or acquaintances and they decide to divide the bill equally among each participant? I never order the expensive stuff and I don’t drink beer or wine, but often end up paying the price. Any ideas on how to politely get out of it?

  76. Andrea says:

    @ Sarah, I have been through this situation before. The ‘let’s get coffee’ routine particularly didnt suit me, because I dont drink coffee, but didnt want to spend the money on any other beverage either. But, I would walk down to the coffee shop with the group, hang out and get the same team bonding time without the expense. For my group a simple, “No thank you, I dont care for anything today, was sufficient. Just hanging out with you guys.” I’ve also said it like, “I dont want anything today, but I’ll walk down with you to get x.”

    Hopefully that will give you some releif in feeling the social pull to participate. In some offices these times can be a key time to sit with the bosses in a more relaxed atmosphere and you can learn about new projects etc. So dont completely dismiss them, just budget around the opportunity. You might also make a suggestion for a lower cost restaurant for the group to try.

    Good luck!

  77. Marie says:


    Ask for a separate check when ordering. Polite and discreet!

  78. angela says:

    Have to disagree with you about the almost college student. As the mother of a college graduate and another in her 3rd year, I have walked this road. Children who have never worked don’t know how to deal with all sorts of people in varied situations. These are invaluable social skills in the work place. Also we learned that our children needed to be a little invested in the financial process. When we were paying for books, child number one bought new. But low and behold when we made him start buying his books, he found used, traded, etc!

  79. Mol says:

    You wrote about how you give your business to ethical businesses and businesses that provide good customer service. I would like to make my purchases at these kinds of businesses, but it seems there is a Walmart at every other intersection. Do you have any suggestions on where to start offering your business when you are looking for these qualities?

  80. Pankaj says:

    Hi Trent,

    I have a tough one.

    We (me + wife) have been using Verizon’s family plan for the past 4 years. We never exceed free minutes, do not text at all, are not after switching to latest models of phones and are generally happy with our plan (costs us $60 per month for two lines).

    I am interested in switching to iPhone, only if it makes sense. Not because I am a globe-trotting high flyer, but because I think I am missing out on full applicability of Web 2.0 (Twitter, FB, Google etc) by not being able to get online whenever I want (although I do spend most of my awake time near a laptop).

    The major factor is cost. We recently renewed our 2 year contract on primary line and it will expire in 2011. My line is on month to month plan. If we both were to switch to ATT plan (so that I can get that iPhone), it would cost us $129.99 per month (thats the cheapest family share plan at ATT). But that will entail a $160 penalty from Verizon for early termination.

    If only I were to terminate my month-to-month Verizon plan and switch to ATT, my wife would end up paying $50 per month for her Verizon and I would pay $69.99 per month for ATT.

    Does it make sense
    -to switch to iPhone (does it really change the way one lives?)
    -to opt for the second choice?

    Your general thoughts on iPhone applicability will be much appreciated.

    Thank you,


  81. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    The letter-writer specifically mentioned “projects.” Projects have deliverables and end-products. People who commit to projects on their own are showing and practicing self-direction, which is essential in college and in the real world. Plus, if the deliverable at the end is in line with the student’s career goals, it’s an impressive resume-builder. I’d be far more impressed by a kid who spent his summer participating in Google’s “Summer of Code” and completing a project than one who scooped manure. Does anyone argue that a multi-month self-directed project with a neat product at the end is worse than a job at McDonalds?

  82. Courtney says:

    And not all projects are solo. What about volunteering to run a local chapter of 4H, Boy Scouts, or Big Brothers/Big Sisters? It requires people skills, management skills, “menial” skills…

  83. Beth says:

    Trent, it depends on the “projects” and what the deliverables are, not just that they exist. For example, building models cars is a project with a deliverable, but it’s still not one that’s going to impress an employer. Now, if he was teaching children in his neighbourhood how to build model cars, that would be noteworthy. If he was selling model cars, then hobby becomes the summer job and everyone wins. (I’m just using this as an example — lots of hobbies can be turned into volunteer and money-making experiences).

    Furthermore, I think the example of shovelling manure is a bit ridiculous. That would likely be a duty of someone working on a farm, in which case there are many other employable skills as well — like animal care, planting, harvesting, etc. Many of my summer jobs involved menial tasks which I downplayed on my resume, but they also involved employable skills/tasks like customer service, attention to detail, teamwork and money-management that I was proud to include on my resume. I agree with the other commenters — Working with people in a variety of situations is good experience regardless.

    Furthermore, I don’t understand why this is an either/or situation for Deb’s son. Most people are perfectly capable of managing jobs AND projects. (It’s not like he’s going to be working 70-80 hour weeks). In fact, doing both is great practice for maintaining a work-life balance later on as hobbies are a great source of stress relief and creativity.

  84. mellen says:

    Kevin, I’d also have a really hard time choosing between a perfect stranger (ANY perfect stranger) and my dog. On the one hand, that human is probably important to someone but my dog is more important to me than that person is. I would feel bad if I had to choose between a person and my dog but I’m betting I would choose my dog; my husband and I love her like she’s our child (which we can’t have btw) and I wouldn’t be able to look him in the eye ever again if I could have saved her and didn’t. Anyone who feels that pets are dispoable shouldn’t get one. People CHOSE to domesticate animals and therefore we have the responsibility to protect those animals.

    One of my favorite quotes:
    “If it’s true that dogs don’t go to heaven, when I die, I want to go where they went”

  85. Another Beth says:

    @ Trent, I’m wondering if you truncated her email to fit into the post and therefore know more than we do — and that’s why there’s so much confusion. There’s very little information about what kind of “projects” Deb is talking about, so it’s hard to tell if they’re useful for his personal growth and career development.

    My question would be this: Would the student or his parents be willing to pay $1000 – $2000 out of pocket for their son to do his projects?

    The reason I ask is that the loss of his potential earnings results in an equivalent amount of debt, which will accrue interest until he can pay off his loan. Assuming that the projects won’t earn him any money, he’s effectively borrowing money for the free time to do them. If the money had to be paid now rather than paid back in some undefined future time, I suspect that would change the equation. I doubt many PF blog readers would advocate the “have fun now and worry about the money later” strategy.

    If the projects are worth the loss of income, then go for it. If not, then get a job and work on the projects on the side.

  86. megscole64 says:

    I was really disappointed in your advice to “Santa”. Santa should have thought through the consequences of getting a pet. Any pet. Telling your 9 year old that it is too much hassle and too expensive is irresponsible and sends a bad message to the kid…that pets are disposable when they get inconvenient. And the expense? $12-15 a month is NOTHING. We spend over $200 on our dogs every month. Just on food. We made a decision and they are our responsibility.

    This attitude of disposable pets is just wrong. People need to take responsibility for their actions and decisions.

  87. lurker carl says:

    Deb needs to kick hubby AND Junior in the butt and send both of them out working to pay for the upcoming college bills. College is an expensive and inappropriate place to “find yourself” or “experience personal growth” and should be approached as an avenue to a profitable career, particularly when money must be borrowed to attend. Junior can resume his hobby projects after his studies are completed and paid for.

    Interesting assumptions were made about menial jobs; as though scooping manure would be degrading, without merit and provide a minimal wage.

    Cleaning up after cows was my primary duty, a healthy bovine excretes about 100 pounds of waste each day. It didn’t take long to become efficient so I used the extra time for something other than goofing off or persuing “hobby projects.” Instead, I was assisting veterinarians working with the cows, maintaining/repairing a wide variety of equipment and working along side the world’s best large animal researchers and their staffs. The job was with the USDA Agricultural Research Center and it paid quite well. I had stellar letters of recommendation from world renowned scientists along with some great contacts in the life sciences field.

    Any job can be menial if you make it menial. I transformed mine into a career.

  88. LauraH says:

    D’oh! Sorry to keep flogging a dead equine, but Santa, you might want to know:

    1. Find stores that carry bait. Red worms will often do in a pinch— not a staple part of the diet, but— you know how sometimes you’ll keep a can of a soup you hate, in case you are starving when all the stores are closed. And some of these places even carry crickets.

    2. Check with the science teachers at your school; some of them will keep herps, or know who does in the community. In the worst case, it’s possible they may be willing to accept a donation of a class pet; in the best case, having a teacher ask about Sherry the Tokay (sorry) will help keep the lizard in your child’s regard.

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