Updated on 07.31.14

Reader Mailbag #67

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.

What is the thought process you go through when organizing an article to write? Do you outline your thoughts first? Often when I try to write something, it ends up fairly chaotic.
– Crystal Groves

I usually start off by writing down a bunch of ideas in a very stream-of-consciousness fashion. Facts, ideas, and other bits all just get thrown down on paper. I don’t worry about the order or anything else – I just try to dump the ideas out of my mind.

After that, I usually try to make up my mind about the order of the article. I usually just move the pieces I jotted down around until they make some logical sense.

From there, I just write the post. I literally go through the points and transform each one into a paragraph or two, outlining what I’m thinking. Sometimes, I just polish the rambling into a sentence. Other times, I add a lot more flesh.

At that point, the article’s almost done. I scan it again for any major errors, check anything that still needs checking, then I consider it done. If it were a print piece or a portion of a book or something, I’d let it rest, edit it, let it rest again, and so forth, but that’s not a realistic process for a blog where the key is the fresh flow of ideas.

I was wondering what you would do if you were recently laid off like I am and had some credit card debt? I was going to pay it off with my tax refund, but then I unexpectedly lost my job. Some experts like Suze Orman and a few friends have recommended just making minimum payments on this debt and stashing the refund in my emergency savings because credit companies will close your line of credit, and you can no longer rely on it for the worst-case scenario.
– Writergirl

For one, you should never rely on credit cards for your worst-case scenario. That’s what a big, healthy emergency fund is for.

Having said that, I largely agree with Orman. If you’re in a situation with no income, your best bet is to minimize every possible monthly bill and conserve cash so that you can survive longer without an income – since you don’t necessarily know when your next employment opportunity will arrive. Thus, cutting down to minimum payments on debts is a strong step in that direction, even though it does mean a larger debt over the long run.

If you’re so worried about Mint’s security, see http://www.mint.com/privacy/security-tech/. Check out their security. if you can hack into and know several ethical hackers.
– Frugal Cubicle

I’m not worried about that aspect of security. My concern is with human failure and human failings. Every time you choose to share your account information with another company, you open up another hole for potential identity theft – someone on the inside skimming account numbers is just the start.

Thus, my logic is pretty simple: is the benefit of the service more than the cost of sharing your information with them? In Mint’s case, it might be, but does it offer a compelling advantage over other services that do much the same thing without requiring you to share your data, like a desktop Quicken install or Wesabe?

I’m not saying Mint is a bad service at all, and I have no doubt that their security is strong. However, every time you share your account information with yet another source, you increase your chances of identity theft and other chicanery. It’s not a trade I’m willing to make.

How’s your fantasy baseball team doing?
– Mel

Mel is actually a member of the very competitive fantasy baseball league I’ve participated in for the last two summers – this is my third year in the league. Mel is winning the league – I’m 7th out of 12. This is more or less Mel’s way of getting me to talk about my failings as a fantasy baseball player.

Here’s the scoop – my pitching is stellar. I have Roy Halladay and Zack Greinke. ‘Nuff said.

The problem is with everything else. One of my earliest draft picks was used on David Ortiz. Yes, the same one who decided 2009 was the year to watch his power disappear and his batting average drop to .190. He’s now on the bench. Several of my other picks are underperforming, too.

So, there I am – stuck in the middle.

My husband and I plan on taking a two week road trip this summer to VA, DC, PA, and OH. We signed up for AAA and saved so much on our DC hotel that it paid for the entire membership… Qustion: What will your family do to keep costs down on the road?
– Jessica

There are several tactics that can easily shave money from your spending. First, figure out which states have the lowest gas prices. For example, we found it was very worthwhile for us to gas up just before we crossed from Missouri to Kansas, then just barely make it into Oklahoma to gas up again – saved us several dollars by just planning a bit better. Second, air up your tires before you go. Third, take along picnic foods and eat at rest stops – this allows everyone to run around and stretch and keeps food costs down. Fourth, minimize stops (because gas stations are loaded with impulse buys) – and when you do stop, have everyone use the bathroom. EVERYONE.

Those tips will go quite far towards cutting your costs while you’re on the road.

We are upside-down on my husband’s car loan and are trying to get rid of it. what steps do you take to do this when the car is worth less than the loan?
– nw

When you sell an upside-down car, you’re still responsible for the difference in cost – there’s no magic way around that. If you don’t have the cash to immediately make up that gap, you either need to keep paying down the loan or find another way to leverage something else you own to get yourself out from being under water.

For selling it, your best bet is to simply do the leg work yourself.

If money were no object, would you hire a nanny for your children?
– Kali

I would, but it wouldn’t be a typical nanny hire. I would hire my sister-in-law at a rate to make her plenty comfortable. She’s been providing care for preschool-aged children for almost a decade now and I trust her deeply with our own children.

Would I hire a nanny if we were making enough that we could easily afford one? More likely, I would hire someone very competent to handle much of the drudge work of The Simple Dollar – approving comments, filtering email for the ones that are relevant, researching specific points, setting up interviews, etc. – to someone else, trim my work time quite a bit, and do it myself. We simply don’t earn enough to do this – I’ve tried hiring people at a level I can afford, but their competence hasn’t been there.

My biggest concern, though, is my children’s social development. Where we live, there’s not a ton of stay-at-home parents or other such individuals to give my child any sort of normal social interaction at a preschool age. That worries me – I was very ill-equipped to handle the social aspects of school when I started and it took me literally ten years to figure out how to start coming out of my shell. Believe me, I’ve looked for opportunities, and short of driving my children forty minutes one way to stay-at-home dad meetups in Des Moines, there aren’t many options.

You talk a lot about researching before a large purchase. What do you use to research?
– Jessica

My first stop is almost always Consumer Reports. They’ve almost never led me wrong when I stick with their “Best Buys.” I’ve used their advice in car purchases, appliance purchases, and countless other smaller purchases.

If the purchase is a big one, I usually hit the magazine room at the local library and dig through five years or so of Consumer Reports back issues to get a big picture of what’s going on.

I’ll often Google for web reviews as well, but I tend to not trust them as much unless they come from a source I’ve long viewed as reliable. I tend to believe more in trusted sources than I do in sheer quantity of reviews. This is probably borne from my experience as a blogger, where I’m almost constantly inundated with all kinds of offers to do positive reviews of various things.

I was wondering about how to best position yourself for getting a mortgage. I am 20 and have only had one credit card and no debt. should i get a CC and make some smart moves to build credit so I can get the full amount on a mortgage (with a proper down payment also)? and what are smart credit moves?
– Erik

I think you’re already doing fine. Just avoid being late on any bills and use your credit card regularly but keep the balance paid off, and you’ll be in good shape.

One big thing you should do, though, is check your credit report at http://www.annualcreditreport.com/, which is the website the federal government set up for people to get free copies of their credit report. Don’t use other services – they try to trick you into paying for something that the government has ensured you can get for free.

Make sure there are no errors on it. Check up on anything you see on there that you don’t recognize. Doing so will ensure that your report is accurate and, with your good history, will provide great support for getting a mortgage in the future.

What religion do you practice specifically? I’ve gathered you’re a Christian, but what denomination?
– Mark

I’m an ELCA Lutheran. If you want to know more, you can bone up on our beliefs.

Why am I a member? Several reasons. First, the ELCA is not a group of Biblical literalists. They encourage discussion of what the religion means, what the Bible actually means, and so on. Second, they practice open communion and encourage discussion with people of all faiths. Third, we don’t believe one can “earn” their way into heaven – it’s not up to us at all – and we generally don’t believe faith to be a conscious choice.

What about the “E” in ELCA, which stands for evangelism? I don’t believe that quoting scripture does any good at all in the modern world. Actions speak louder than words, and actions of love, respect for others, and fulfilling one’s commitments speak awfully loud. If someone asks what I believe, like Mark does, I’ll tell them – until then, I’ll let my choices in life speak for themselves. I can do a lot more good in the world by actually focusing on being a better person and doing good deeds than by wasting my time judging anyone else for their choices.

Got a question of your own? Ask it in the comments, and I may address it in a future mailbag!

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  1. Michael C says:

    Love the blog. I have one issue I don’t think I’ve seen covered yet. I love gum. I know buying it in bulk is cheaper than at a liquor store, but does anyone else have ideas beyond that?
    BTW, if anyone has a make your own gum recipe that is something I would try. (I still haven’t tried the make your own detergent, although we have used the make your own pizza dough.)

  2. Michael says:

    Other Lutherans do not adhere to closed communion to avoid learning about new religions. They do it because Paul says taking communion unworthily is dangerous to body and soul in Corinthians. Closed communion protects others from harm.

    I’m surprised you don’t know this – maybe you’re not talking to people of other faiths as much as you thought.

  3. Johanna says:

    A suggestion: Just as it’s been suggested that you describe food with words other than “tasty,” you might consider finding some adjectives other than “healthy” to describe your emergency fund.

    And a question: Does anyone know of a resource for Consumer-Reports-type reviews for furniture? I noticed on the CR site that they have reviews of mattresses, but not bed frames, or dressers, or bookcases, or the like. (Or do they have reviews of those things, but only for subscribers?) I’ll be buying a whole apartment’s worth of furniture later this summer, and while I don’t want to spend a fortune, I want stuff that’s not going to break.

  4. Laundry and dishes says:

    How would you decide how much to invest and how much to spend if you had a good (?) chance of dying pretty soon, but also a reasonable chance of surviving? The fanatic saving for retirement seems like a bad idea if you’re putting all your money into a future you probably won’t live to see. But if you do manage to, you don’t want to then starve to death on a street corner.

  5. Ted says:


    I’m not sure what religion believes you can ‘earn’ you’re way to heaven. Catholic’s are typically accused of this. It’s not true.

  6. KC says:

    I used to trust Consumer Reports until they led me to buy a car that wasn’t good. I took their suggestion (in Aug 05) and bought a used 01 Acura TL which they ranked as a reliable, best buy. Well the transmission failed after 3 months. I did some deeper internet research and the signs were there had I chosen to look further than CR. CR has since taken this car off their Best Buy list. Sure I should have done the deeper research myself, but I trusted CR and a few other sources – never again!

    As for buying furniture I’m not sure of a ratings guide. But I only buy American made, all-wood furniture. I stick with names like Ethan Allen, Henredon, Hooker, Drexel, Broyhill, Bernhardt, Sherrill, Massoud, etc. You’ll pay through the nose for it, but its well constructed and will last a lifetime. Even my upholstered furniture has lasted years – I just have it re-upholstered when the fabric is worn. I would never buy anything from Pottery Barn or any of those catalog companies – their furniture is disguised pressed wood made in Asia – it will fall apart in a few years.

  7. Ralph says:

    Trent, I’ve follow your website for about 9 months now. I’ve sat down at the computer to write this to you several times. I guess you can say I’ve been too prideful…and embarrassed. I’m 52 yrs old. No savings. No 401k. Nothing. I’m three weeks away from finanacial disaster. I have worked for several companies over the last 10 years. They paid good but I never did anything you suggest on your site with the income. I feel I’ve squandered my money and my time. At the age of 52 I see the errors of my way. I’m looking for work as I type, but for a guy with no chosen career path and 2 yrs of college, there is not much to chose from except 8 to 10 dollars an hour. That’s not much for a guy with 2 teenagers still at home. Why have I been so foolish…and where can I start? BTW, I am a follower of The Christ but with not much to show for it except…he died for me. That keeps me going.Thank you.

  8. Johanna says:

    @KC: If you’ve never bought anything from “those catalog companies,” how do you know whether it will fall apart or not?

  9. Tyler says:

    RE: Religions “earning” way to heaven – I don’t know the history behind tithing, but that to me is blatant “earned” way to heaven: pay for it.

  10. Jon says:

    “..and we generally don’t believe faith to be a conscious choice. ”

    What exactly does this mean? Do you believe that everyone is automatically going to heaven? How can faith in something not be a conscious choice?

  11. Salvatore says:

    Do you know of groups that have meetings for people interested in reducing debt or improving personal finance habits?

    Within the past 6 months, I have trained for and ran a marathon (largely by being held accountable for my training through the support of coaches and teammates) and I have joined Toastmasters for the group support and clearly defined projects. During this same 6 months, I read a lot about personal finance, but have yet to implement any changes. I think a group would help me be accountable for my goals and I am interested in sharing ideas with others.

  12. Lily says:

    Your blog is great! I was introduced to your blog by a friend, and so far have really enjoyed what I’ve read!
    Thanks for taking the time to make this blog and share it with others! I’ve only started reading today, and planned on making your blog an RSS feed to my berry. LOL.

    I was wondering though: What made you decide to start a blog on this topic?

  13. harry says:

    guys don’t ask for trent to clear things up. Follow his link and start reading. If you truly have an interesting question I’m sure a direct email to him would be more rewarding.

    On another note, I love your thoughts on setting a good example, rather than going around evangelizing people. I believe this speaks much more effectively.

  14. Ro says:

    I was also interested in understanding what ‘we generally don’t beleive fath to be a concious choice” means. Are you talking about some type of predestination, as you mentioned in your post that you don’t believe that it is up to us whether or not we end up in heaven.

  15. SP says:

    I was raised ELCA Lutheran as well! As far as religions go, it is more liberal and inclusive than many I’ve run across.

    With the car loan, it may be more complicated than you stated. Typically the loan holder has the title and you likely will have to work with them to sell it. I can’t imagine they’d let you just keep on paying the loan if you sold the collateral.

  16. Brooke says:

    Question for the mailbag:

    I am in my early 30s, own my own apartment, am employed, have good credit and a family that is financially well-resourced and stable. I am dating a man, also in his 30s, who is a financial mess. He works his butt off following his passion, but does not generate a ton of income (he has trouble paying rent and is often behind on bills). He has credit card debt from his 20’s (he admits he was stupid about it at the time), and his family always on the brink of financial disaster. On the plus side, he is a hard worker and does not spend frivolously. He also respects and supports me, makes me laugh and challenges me, and may be the love of my life. I love that he follows his passion and I support him in that.

    I love my boyfriend and can see a long-term future together. At the same time, my (admittedly privileged) background makes me skittish about merging lives with someone in such financial turmoil.

    What questions should I be asking myself (and him) as our relationship continues? I want to go with my heart here, but my head is worried I could be walking into a life of debt and money anxiety.

  17. Sarah says:

    ELCA Lutheran… I knew I liked this blog for a reason!! ;)

  18. Steve says:

    Will your “Mint et al” stance change if and when desktop Quicken is discontinued, as Microsoft Money has recently been?

  19. dream says:

    Johanna, personally I suggest getting your apartment full of furniture through craigslist and moving sales if there’s no rush. You can find some great deals that way by buying used AND see for yourself whether or not it is a good quality piece or pressboard junk. The “pressed sawdust” furniture most often coming from catalog companies (AND many retailers these days!) really are easily damaged and don’t hold up well. I worked for an “unclaimed freight” furniture store a few years ago, only to discover that most of their inventory was purchased wholesale from Asia and of VERY POOR quality.
    Hope this helps.

  20. Michael says:

    ELCA’s articles on doctrine are so vague and unsure. They can’t articulate or explain anything very well. Is that because they think any religion’s as good as their own?

  21. Johanna says:

    @dream: No, actually, it doesn’t help. If I knew how to tell whether a piece of furniture was good quality or poor quality just by looking at it, I wouldn’t have asked the question in the first place – there are plenty of stores in my area where I can look at furniture a whole lot more easily than I can by tracking down individual craigslist sellers or yard sales.

    If your takeaway message is “solid wood good, particle board bad,” is that something you know for a fact, or something you’re assuming? Plus, it ignores a whole range of things in between. Not all wood is created equal, for example – pine is not “pressboard junk”, but if I can scratch it with my fingernail, there’s no way it will hold up for very long under my normal daily use. And what about veneers? You can have veneer on solid wood, plywood, particle board, or anything else, but how do you tell what’s under the veneer unless it’s already coming off? If you’re at a store, you can ask, but what are the odds that somebody selling his used desk on craigslist is going to know?

    Also, a piece of furniture can be made from the best materials in the world, but if it’s not designed well or held together well, it can still break. Joints can come apart, moving parts like drawers or hinges can break, or the entire thing can be poorly engineered so that the parts that bear the most weight aren’t strong enough to bear it. There’s got to be somebody out there who knows how to evaluate these things.

  22. Hannah says:

    FYI Ortiz is not on the bench. He had a weekend off a while back, and a game off this past series because there was a lefty pitching. He is actually starting to turn things around so your luck may be changing!

  23. SteveJ says:


    I’m not usually in the market for high-end furniture, but I’m guessing the good stuff has decent warranties. My dad bought a couch from Ethan Allen and they replaced it when the frame broke. Should it have been better made so it wasn’t an issue? Of course, but I think even with good manufacturers you’ll have a weak joint or loose screw on a random piece that’s mass produced.

    Other than that, I’ve had good experiences with rural furniture stores (one in GA, one in NC, one in MN) and their stuff. The prices vary considerably, but I’ve had good luck with getting lots of throw ins and the items have all held up admirably (obviously I move alot). In each case the owner was relaxed, chatty, and more than willing to answer any questions well and truthfully. Alternatively, I bought an entertainment center at one of the big furniture stores (in VA) and regretted every second of the process.

  24. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “What exactly does this mean? Do you believe that everyone is automatically going to heaven? How can faith in something not be a conscious choice?”

    It simply means that people can’t choose what happens to them after they die by their actions on Earth.

  25. Brent says:

    “RE: Religions “earning” way to heaven – I don’t know the history behind tithing, but that to me is blatant “earned” way to heaven: pay for it.”

    I can tell you do not know much about the history of tithing, because if you did you would have not made such an ill-formed statement.

    Tithing, literally a tenth in the ANE context, was a tax paid to Kings to keep the kingdom running properly (i.e. building, army, roads, feeding the poort, etc.) Now put it in the OT Jewish context with Moses. The tenth is paid to Yahweh. Simple way to get it that God is King. So in the OT it went to keeping the tabernacle/temple fixed, poor, paying for the prients, feasts, etc. So in the NT it is used for similar purposes. Basically to keep the work of the Church going.
    Do some people think they are buying their way to heaven? Sure. Does somebody misunderstanding a teaching mean it is not true? No.
    So it may seem like a tenth is a lot of money but I can say that my own Church does a lot more for the community (food pantry, garden, get out of debt classes, addiction classes, convict recovery, refugee classes, etc) than the government has or will ever do for people. All that and ten percent is a lot less than I pay in taxes for sure.

    I just re-read what I typed and realized it may sound a little harsh, but it annoyed me that you basically said, I am ignorant on this subject but I am still going to state my opinion. Seemed a little close minded to me.

    But no hard feelings, and I agree with you that there are certainly people who think that they can do something that can put God in a position that He owes use a favor. A checkmate for God, I did this and now you have to do this God. I agree that a mentality like that is bad and rather foolish.

  26. I feel the same way as you do about Mint. I actually started an account there and then, after realizing how much information they wanted, cancelled the account.

    It bothers me that they request so much information for a free service. What have I got to lose? A LOT! What have they got to lose? Nothing?

    No thanks!

  27. John says:

    @Michael Regarding ELCA communion, we practice open communion (all baptized Christians may receive it). I think other Lutheran church bodies such as LCMS and WELS practice closed communion.

  28. Michael says:

    Right, John. I was saying that ELCA’s argument against closed communion is a strawman. Closed communion is about protecting people, not shutting down inter-faith dialogue.

  29. brooke says:

    my husband was raised missouri synod lutheran, and i was never allowed to take communion at his church, despite being a baptized christian. once we were married and moved away from his family, we joined the elca lutheran church and i am able to take communion, which is one of my most looked forward to moments of the week. I love the inclusivness of elca, and that the word is not interpreted literally. I knew I loved your blog for a reason!

  30. MichelleO says:

    I’ve been both ELCA and Missouri Synod Lutheran. This is what I was taught in catechism regarding communion.

    It has to do with the blood and body of Christ. Catholics (please correct me if I’m wrong here) believe that the wine and wafers are the blood and the body. Lutherans believe they are the blood and the body once they enter your body and other Christian denominations believe the whole thing is symbolic. Therefore, some Lutheran synods restrict communion to those individuals who have received instruction in the faith, i.e. catechism.

  31. Shevy says:

    No, tithing is not a way to “pay” for a ticket to heaven. It is based on the concept that *everything* you have or receive in this world actually belongs to G-d and that part of being responsible with what you’ve been given entails following G-d’s instructions for what to do with a specific percentage of it.

    @Johanna et al, re presswood furniture

    Well, solid hard wood furniture definitely stands the test of time. Go to any antique store and take a look at mass-produced items from the turn of the (20th) century. The 1908 Sears catalog was full of quarter sawn oak furniture and there’s still a lot of it kicking around in excellent condition.

    Pressboard oak veneer (or foiled) furniture from IKEA? Well, I’ve had a ton of it and I had Billy bookshelves that lasted about 20 years. They withstood hard use and would probably still be around except for one thing. Water.

    I had a flood from a broken sprinkler system in my condo a couple of years ago and lost 90% of my furniture in just a few minutes. Once it gets wet through, it’s done. My mother’s secretary desk from the 1920’s? Just fine, thanks.

    Or how about my parents’ hard wood dining room table with matched veneers (also from the ’20s), also damaged by water pouring from the apartment upstairs (this was back in the early ’70s)? The restorers did a beautiful job and we had it until my mother downsized 20 odd years later and sold it. Whereas the restoration company just tossed all my IKEA furniture off the patio into a waiting dumpster.

  32. Charley says:

    Ok, religion is apparently the hot point of this post. The piece that struck me instead was the isolation of being a stay at home parent, since my wife has recently made this decision to do so. I have a bit of advice, provided to me by several friends who are parents, and mean the best for my wife and I and our three new babies. They said that by the time the babies turn one, we should consider enrolling them in daycare one day per week for the social aspects of interacting with other children. Perhaps an idea for you, even though your children are a bit older.

  33. Fellow Christian says:

    Your comments on your religious believe are some of the most pleasant that I have read in a long time. Thanks for sharing them.

  34. William says:

    For your longer articles you might find mindmapping useful. Excellent o/s software at:


  35. Wren says:

    I’m just wondering… how is it harmful if, while being in church you are moved to receive communion, and thus want to take it? Why would I need to be protected from receiving communion just because I’m not of a particular Lutheran bent? I’m sorry, but to me that does seem quite exclusionary to others. I am a baptized Christian, so why should I be denied because I’m not in the same branch of Christianity as someone else? It’s one thing to just take it because it’s there, another thing entirely to say it’s closed if you are not part of our particular club.

  36. Carrie says:

    The Bible does not teach that you can earn your way into Heaven, however James 2:20 (and other passages) says “faith without works is dead,” meaning we show our faith (or lack thereof) through our actions.

  37. gail_d says:

    Trent, great responses on the ELCA! I teach religious studies at the local community college, and am an ELCA Lutheran myself. Excellent nutshell presentation of our denomination’s “distinctives.”

  38. K says:

    “It simply means that people can’t choose what happens to them after they die by their actions on Earth.”

    I think the question was more how can faith not be a choice. You either choose to believe something or you don’t. And if you can’t choose what happens to you after you die by anything you do here, what’s the point of any religion or faith at all?

  39. Tordr says:

    I am repeating my question from last week, as I would appreciate an answer to this question:
    You wrote an article some over a week ago ago: “Using Consumer Reports to Assemble Your Grocery List” which talks about Consumer Reports, but you have previously deleted your earlier content pointing to them. Your reason for doing so was “Consumer Reports has asked me to eliminate the content of my summaries and any other references to the content of Consumer Reports. I have complied.”

    Now if they (Consumer Reports) do not want to be mentioned then why have you mentioned them again?

    I am not trying to troll, but I am troubled by censorship. I know you love Consumer Report, and even today you linked to them as you say they are your first stop for big purchases. But you must have gotten some nasty mail from them which made you remove all references to them.

    So according to your own words you must either remove that new article because it contains references to Consumer Report or you must stick to the principles of free speech and not remove any posts about them. Or is there a third solution?

  40. CathyG says:

    I have a comment about travelling with kids, especially the concept that EVERYONE must go to the bathroom at every stop.

    If you have an independent child like mine was, she refused to do something just because it was a rule – she didn’t have to go potty so she wasn’t going in there!! So we told her that was ok, she didn’t have to actually go to the bathroom, but she did have to sit on the potty and count to 10 (20 as she got older). This was enough of a compromise that she was willing to do it, and trust me, if you can sit bare-butt on a toilet for 10 seconds and not actually go, then you’re either really stubborn or you really don’t have to go.

  41. Lenore says:

    Indeed, what IS the point of any religion or faith at all? I have never been able to fathom why people spend time, energy and money to worship, debate and tithe a deity that no one can prove exists.

    Faith is not a choice? Well, I guess I could understand that in the sense that all humans seem to be hardwired to believe in something above ourselves. It may be a holdover from the parent-child relationship that makes us yearn for some kind of authority in the universe. Or it may just be wishful thinking that prayer or good works may somehow improve our fate.

    Whatever the case, I get an icky feeling about anything with the word “evangelical” attached because so many people who call themselves evangelists have aggrandized themselves by taking advantage of the gullible. Trent doesn’t seem to be bent on social domination and rampant material gain, so I shan’t lump him in with Jim and Tammy Faye Baker just yet. Nevertheless, my advice is “REPENT, TRENT!” before any more of your income or individuality gets sucked into the maw of organized religion. There are so many nicer ways to spend Sunday morning than voluntarily surrendering to mind control.

  42. Emily says:

    My husband and I have no credit card debt. Our only debt is our mortgage which is at an interest rate of 6.625% (we can’t refinance at this time). In my mind it makes sense to dump all extra money into paying down the principal on our mortgage because that’s like getting a 6.625% return on our money. Right? We have chosen to do this rather than open any investment accounts which may or may not get a 5-6% return on our investment. What are your thoughts on this strategy?

  43. Liz says:

    For the person going to Washington DC this summer-use the public transportation if you need to go to an attraction that is not within walking distance. We just returned from a week in Wash. DC and we never rented a car. We flew into an airport, took a shuttle to the house we had rented, and then used the bus system and the metro train system to go to all attractions. We found everyone in Washington to be very helpful and friendly.

  44. K says:

    Tordr – I am assuming that Consumer Reports was upset that Trent was giving away for free the content of their magazines, which is a subscriber privelige. “Consumer Reports has asked me to eliminate the content of my summaries and any other REFERENCES TO THE CONTENT of Consumer Reports. I have complied.” They didn’t say that their magazine couldn’t be mentioned at all. In fact, I would guess that they would appreciate the advertisement (that it is a good place to check for purchases).

  45. Karen says:

    Great post! I am of belief that it is what you do in life that matters. I see people go to church every Sunday yet are horrible people Monday thru Saturday.

  46. WhirlMind says:

    A question for a future mailbag or a post :

    Tell us Top 10 interesting critical feedback given to your blog by the commenters.

    Let me explain a bit. ( You can skip this explanation if you are quoting my above question).

    (Means : What most people say they don’t like about your blog. Okay, that might at times border on what they don’t like about you. It could be what most people say or what most affects you. )

    I would prefer, if you don’t give your defences in the same post, just the pure criticism. You can cover your defences for a later post, because it might make the critical feedback post sound too defensive or as an attempt to dilute the commenters’s viewpoint. Something like a bonus issue acknowledging the critical comments.

    It would not only make an interesting post, but also might provide insights on what brickbats other bloggers can expect in the rise to glory like yours.

    Of course, do it only if you are comfortable and if you think some benefit may occur.

  47. Jessica says:

    Thank you Trent and Liz for your advice! We are leaving in about two weeks, so this post was very timely! We do plan on using public transportation in DC (when we can’t walk) just to avoid the hassle of driving around there. We are really looking forward to it!

  48. Jen says:

    RE: “…they practice open communion and encourage discussion with people of all faiths.”

    I didn’t read this sentence to mean open communion is practiced IN ORDER TO encourage discussion with people of all faiths. Which conversely would mean closed communion is practiced IN ORDER TO discourage discussion with people of all faiths. I think Trent was just linking two similar concepts with “and” in the same sentence.

  49. Mol says:

    Do you have any suggestions for free downloadable enjoyable games?

  50. Michael says:

    Mol – check out http://www.altitudegame.com

    It costs $20 for the full version, but the demo is plenty of fun.

  51. Tordr says:

    If as you assume Consumer Reports was upset about Trent giving away for free the content of their magazine, they should be upset about this new article also. In this article he clearly identifies that the inspiration came from the May edition. He then continues to name the 4 best cereals for children, 5 best buys for windows cleaners, 3 best coffees, 4 best tub & tile cleaners and the 2 best peanut butters. These best of lists come directly from Consumer Reports.

    Now to be fair if Trents article only contained these best of lists it would be a rip off of the content of Consumer Reports, but he mixed these lists inn with his own thoughts and as such should be considered original material.

    On the other hand, if I remember correctly the deleted articles with summaries only contained page numbers and the name of the article. There was little or no original content in those articles, and to be fair should be deleted if the content owner objected.

    Consumer Reports objected to these summaries, Trent complied and deleted the summaries and all references to content about Consumer Reports. If he felt that was the best choice then that is his choice, although I personally feel that it was a wrong choice.

    Then months go by with little or no reference to Consumer Reports, and then one day a big post about them, and it is then that I start to complain.

    My complaint is that: If he has accepted to do as they say and delete all references to content about Consumer Reports earlier, then in my view he should also not give any references to the contents of Consumer Reports in the future. The article in mention is then a clear violation of that principle.

  52. CathyG says:

    With regard to public transportation, I found something that I think helps a lot in the planning – GoogleMaps!! When you put in your starting and ending address, it now has a feature on it that offers to show your route using public transportation. Once you select that, it shows how far to walk, where the stop is, which bus/train to take, what time it is scheduled to arrive, where to transfer to the next bus/train/etc.

    I love it. I have lived in DFW for the past 20 years and could never figure out the bus/train system to get where I wanted to go. If I used the public transit website, it would tell me that I couldn’t get from A to B using public transit.

    I’ve used public transit in cities all over the world and was able to mostly figure it out in a short time, so maybe this advice won’t be so helpful for everyone, but in Dallas, I couldn’t do it without Google.

  53. Chris says:

    I have a tax question: I work in publishing as an editor. For the last 5 years’ nights and weekends I have freelanced as a copy editor and proofreader. I am wondering what expenses I can write-off. For example, is my Verizon Wireless bill (I use my BlackBerry to check and respond to e-mail), tax deductible?

  54. justin says:

    Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

  55. Melody says:

    I echo the thanks, Trent. Being in the minority of posters thus far Religion-wise, I am happy to know that my Pagan faith would not automatically discourage you from speaking with me. Both my religion and Christianity speak of actions affecting your life and press that you treat others as you would like to be treated. Obviously, we would all like to have our opinions and thoughts seriously considered rather than dismissed out-of-hand. Thanks for sharing with myself and others that you would take that path!

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