Reader Mailbag #82

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.

Do you really believe it’s better for the earth to have more children?
– Kelly

I’m a big believer in what I call the “Idiocracy” theory, so dubbed because of the very eloquent and humorous explanation of the idea at the start of the film Idiocracy.

To put it simply, if you believe strongly in a cause to the point of taking action to push your cause forward, the best thing you can possibly do is have children, raise them to think and be independent, and get them involved in the cause, too.

Many people who are driven to success in life or push themselves toward a cause eschew the idea of having children – they don’t have time, or they’ve convinced themselves it’s a moral wrong. Instead, people who are not driven and not committed to a cause tend to have more children – they do have time and they haven’t convinced themselves it’s a moral wrong.

Thus, the next generation has a higher proportion of people who aren’t driven towards causes, towards self-improvement, or towards improving the world.

If smart and driven people want to make the world a better place, they should consider having children, who will often also be smart and driven. The more smart and driven people there are in the world, the better off the world will be.

If you’re smart and driven and have chosen to not have children, you’re much like a candle in the wind that’s not lighting any other ones.

The only way I can stop using credit cards is to not have them at all. I have balances on my cards though. I just want to close the account & pay down the balance. However, I read that will hurt my score. What is going to hurt more – high balances on maxed out cards or closing the account and paying it off? This really is my only option. I would love to hear your opinion!! Thanks!
– Allie

Your best bet is to leave the accounts open for now, destroy the cards, and pay off the debt as quickly as you can without missing a payment.

In terms of your credit score, one big factor is the percentage of your credit limit that you’re utilizing. The way to do that is to leave your total credit limit alone – not canceling anything for now – and simply keep yourself from using it while paying down the debt. Over time, your percent of utilization will go down and your credit rating will go up.

You don’t have to cancel the account – just destroy the cards themselves (and erase the numbers from any online accounts)!

I was wondering if you have looked into “lifetime webhosting” – how do ensure that your content lives on (i.e. your blog keeps being hosted) without your active renewal, for example, 75 years from now?
– chessiq

For one, I don’t believe the web as we know it will exist in seventy five years. And for another, The Simple Dollar is being archived in several ways – archive.org, for starters.

My intent is to maintain The Simple Dollar as is for a long time, but inevitably, the period of the World Wide Web will wane and be supplanted by other forms of media. When that happens, I may move it to another format if it’s still relevant.

I’m considering some other options for maintaining the content, including a print anthology of the best timeless articles from The Simple Dollar.

Do you ever feel that you have many things pulling at you at once, frugality being just one of them? When purchasing food for dinner, I like to eat some protein (meat), as I go to the gym a lot. I like to eat healthy, so that meat should probably chicken or fish. And, I’m not a big fan of fish, so I find myself eating grilled chicken 5+ nights a week. (I’ll vary rice/pasta and veggies on the side). Without limiting the quantity of chicken, I can’t really get the price down, although it’s usually around $2 a meal. I’d like to be more frugal, but I don’t want to sacrifice my health to save $1/lb on meat, or make my effort in the gym worthless, by eating a protein-free dinner. I don’t too much mind the monotony (although I am open to suggestions), but was more curious if you ever feel the same way?
– Dave

Eating the right foods is an investment in your health. I have no objections whatsoever to spending more on food to get higher quality food.

Think of it this way: most foods that enable you to get a very cheap meal aren’t healthy for you. Over the long term, they’ll cost you in the form of lost energy, health care costs, and other effects.

$2 per meal is completely reasonable in my eyes if you’re eating healthy, high quality foods and eating such foods is one of your key values in life (as it clearly is for you).

One note, though: consider eating more beans. Beans have quite a bit of protein, can be prepared tons of different ways, and are incredibly cheap. I’m a big fan of beans.

When the Security and Exchange Commission fines a business or individual for an infraction or violation of the rules, usually the fine is pretty hefty – sometimes in the millions of dollars. What does the commission do with the fines they receive?
– Steven

SEC fines are rolled back into the SEC’s annual budget, but it’s only a small part of their budget. The rest is funded directly with taxpayer money.

If the SEC grew a backbone and started cracking down hard on some of the grey area securities tactics that many companies use, they could bring in a boatload of money and make the market more open to individuals.

However, they have no real incentive to do that, especially since many people at the SEC are heavily connected in the securities industry. So much for regulation.

My son-in-law has all but given up on his favorite sport, golfing, because of the cost. What is the best place to look for golfing coupons?
– Barbie

My best source for golfing coupons has always been the Entertaiment Book, which is often sold as a fundraiser for community organizations. Most of them offer quite a few pretty nice discounts at area golf courses, as well as discounts and free buckets of balls at local driving ranges.

Since I rarely golf any more, that pretty much takes care of my needs. The only thing the Des Moines-area Entertainment Book doesn’t cover for me is a once-a-year (at most) golfing outing in my hometown with my in-laws.

I haven’t found any other really reliable solutions. Perhaps the readers have some ideas.

We had a company wide re-structuring and everyone got to know their new job title. would it be an acceptable code of conduct to ask people what their new job title is? (Just to know where we stand in the company).
– RU

I think that’s completely appropriate. In fact, I think if such a thing happens in a company, they should require name tags with everyone’s new job description on it and have everyone wear them for a month or so just so everyone can figure things out and get on the same page.

Perhaps you can suggest this. It would be useful for everyone in the company as they become used to the new corporate structure.

One big thing: you need to be completely willing to answer the question if you’re going to ask it. If you ask someone and then don’t respond to their query (or to the query of someone else), it will NOT reflect well on you.

I am a college student, just starting my final year. I was lucky enough to be able to pay for college with scholarships and the help of my parents, so I have absolutely no student debt. I’ve had a checking account for several years, but I have never opened any kind of credit card account as the idea of that much financial room has always intimidated me.

I was wondering what I could be doing to responsibly build my credit/ credit score so that it will be at the optimum point when I look into making significant purchases (house, car) in the future. I am worried about going down the wrong path if I’m not even sure where to start.
– laurenly

Your best bet – the simplest way to start – is to get a credit card. Use that credit card for ONLY one kind of purchase, one you make regularly. For example, if you commute, get a BP card and use it only for buying gas at the BP. If you’re in college, get an Amazon Visa and use it only for buying textbooks. Then, pay off the full balance each month and don’t use the card for anything else.

Doing this will help your credit score immensely. The trick is to not decide that using a credit card is “easy” and start using the card for other purchases – that’s where people get into trouble.

Get a card, use it for one type of purchase, and pay it off in full each month. Not only will it help your credit, but you’ll likely get a bit of a reward out of the card, too.

How can you make phone calls with Skype on your iPod Touch? I’ve heard you can’t use it on there because it doesn’t have an internal mic. Do you only use the messaging feature on your iPod touch?
– ema002

When I first got my iPod Touch, I didn’t realize it was possible to use a mic for it. Then I damaged my ear buds (I cut the cord, actually) and had to go get a replacement pair.

That’s when I discovered the Apple earphones with remote and mic. These plug into the headphone jack on an iPod Touch and function as a microphone on any apps that require it. I can sit there with my headphones on and use my iPod Touch as a Skype client.

I can also use the Voice Recorder and add voice notes to Evernote as well using these things. They’re great.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
– Larry

First of all, I’m going to exclude any places I’ve never actually visited. It’s completely unfair to fetishize some place I’ve never been to and claim I want to live there. Instead, those are places I’d love to visit some day. On that list: rural France, Turkey, and Norway.

But what about living? I’ve visited two places that have really sung to me in a certain way, making me wish I lived there.

One was northeastern Iowa/southeastern Minnesota/southwestern Wisconsin, along the southern edge of where the glaciers reached during the last ice age. It’s very hilly there, with lots of old forests. The people are mostly Norwegian and Swedish, which means lots of calm and friendly temperaments. The weather rotates wonderfully through the seasons, having very nice and distinct summers, winters, falls, and springs. It’s just wonderful.

The other place is Washington state, out near the coast. Here, the temperature and weather is pretty stable throughout the year and the people seem to be very libertarian – in other words, they let you do your own thing without much snooping or prying. Mostly, though, it was the weather and vegetation – the large forests, the great access to Olympia National Forest, and so on.

The only large city I’ve visited that I would consider living in is San Diego. Again, the people are a big factor – it often felt like the sleepiest large city I’ve ever been in, which is a good thing, and the weather was beautiful during almost every season.

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

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