Updated on 10.09.09

Reader Mailbag #86

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.

Can you tell me a little more about how banks like ING work? If they don’t have a physical branch how do I get my money? Do I need to keep my current bank and just transfer the money around? I generally have several different saving account that I use for saving for specific purchases or vacations. Once I meet my savings goal I simply switch to whatever I’d like to save for next. My current problem is this: my bank has recently switched from a $100 minimum for penalty to $250. This means I now need to save $250 over my goal or close my account each time I reach a goal to avoid a service fee. I feel like I never actually have all of my money. I’m under the impression that online banks such as ING have much smaller fees. Any advice?
– Dana

ING Direct – and other such online banks – basically provide all of the services of a typical bank without a brick-and-mortar location. Typically, at least some of that savings is passed back to the user in the form of better service in other areas and high interest rates.

So how do you bank with them? Most of the interaction with such banks is done online. They all have a very full featured online bill pay service, for starters. Many online banks issue paper checks (not all – ING’s Electric Orange doesn’t) and if they do not, they allow you to fill out a check online and have it sent to a business for free.

When you’re out and about, most such banks have an enormous ATM network that allows you to get at your money without a fee at many, many ATMs.

I found that, for me, I was happy enough with ING’s service that I switched to using it as my primary bank, even without a teller window available to me. We did eventually decide to open a free checking account at a local bank for emergency reasons and so we would have access to a paper checkbook, which made it easier to do things like order a magazine subscription from the neighbor’s kid for a school sale.

would you consider making another blog or on occasion posting a few short stories? I enjoy reading short stories a lot and I’m sure many of your readers would be interested in reading a few of them.
– Alexandra

I’ve been debating whether or not to post some of these stories online or not – I’m actually fairly torn on it. If I did, I would put them on my personal blog.

Why am I torn? A big part of me would like to succeed as a fiction writer on my own merits, without the success of The Simple Dollar influencing it. I feel as though I might be able to “get away” with substandard fiction if publishers believe I can bring a built-in audience to the table.

On the other hand, I know that sharing what I write here on The Simple Dollar has led to a lot of great feedback – both negative and positive – and it’d be great to open up my fiction writing.

I still haven’t made up my mind, to tell the truth.

Can’t Laurenly also build her credit score by having an apartment lease, utilities, internet, etc. in her name? Does paying for those things not factor into a person’s credit score as much as a credit card?
– Chelsea

Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.

Different utilities and rental companies have different practices on how often and how much information they provide to reporting agencies. Many of them – perhaps most of them – only report delinquent accounts and don’t report positive payment. Others do full file reporting, which means they report everything, good or bad.

You can ask your utilities which method they use and they may or may not tell you. Either way, though, I wouldn’t expect a utility payment to be the source of financial recovery.

I know the local library is one of your favorite resources — it’s one of mine, too! However, I live in Philadelphia, where, if the economic situation doesn’t get better *fast*, the libraries and recreation centers will all be closed as of the beginning of October, which means we’ll lose all the great free resources the libraries ofer, as well as the free or cheap resources offered by the rec centers.

Short of personally balancing the state and city budgets (I’m no economist), what can the people in Philadelphia (and any other city or town in this situation) do in the absence of these resources until they re-open (assuming they do!)?
– Laura

Utilize used book stores. Trade the books they have with their neighbors. Use services like PaperBackSwap.

People who want to read can usually find a low cost way of doing just that. A library is a tremendous service, but lack of a library is only a small obstacle in the face of a focused and resourceful reader.

For other community services, just get together with your neighbors that miss those services and co-op them. Start your own basketball league and enroll people in the neighborhood to coach and referee. You don’t need a bureaucracy to make this happen – it’s not like they’re ripping up the basketball courts.

I vaguely remember you answering this question elsewhere, if so, please remind me. If not, will you please tell me the pros and cons and differences between copper, stainless steel, and non-stick cookware? I am at the point where my first purchased pots (purchased in one of those large sets that you abhore) are starting to crack on the handles. Over the past year I have become relatively proficient in the kitchen and want to upgrade some of my cookware as it breaks or needs replacing. I’d like to replace it with something high quality, but is the mark up on copper really worth it?
– Gwen

Most lower-cost nonstick cookware is covered with a nonstick coating – Teflon is a common one. This coating usually lasts for a few years, but begins to peel – and when it begins to peel, you shouldn’t use the pan any more, as Teflon isn’t something you want in your food.

Alternately, high-cost nonstick items are covered in a baked enamel or porcelain finish. These are usually quite expensive, but they won’t peel and can last for a very, very long time if cared for.

Now, about copper versus stainless steel. Copper has much better heat conduction and heats more evenly, which means that things will cook a bit faster with it and the stuff cooked inside will heat evenly. However, stainless steel is cheaper and looks pretty – it’s all shiny! Many pots and pans can be found that are made of copper with a stainless steel lining, which kind of gives the best of both worlds. Some cooking mavens will grumble about tin-iined pans, but they’re hard to clean and they occasionally have to be re-tinned, which is a real pain.

The best thing you could get, in my opinion, is copper with a stainless steel lining – but these can be breathtakingly expensive. From there, you can kind of go down the scale. I’m not sure what you’re looking to spend, but that’s my thumbnail guide.

Also, if you’re used to cooking with nonstick, cooking on stainless steel is very different – you have to heat it first with nothing in it, then add the oil and other ingredients.

What percentage of your readers are from outside U.S? When you write a blog, have you ever stopped to consider whether certain US centric references that you make may not be familiar for readers outside US?
– Prasanth

My readership is roughly 85% within the United States.

I typically don’t worry too much about focusing on issues that are strictly within the United States. I believe I talk about universal concerns often enough that when I do dig into U.S.-specific issues, it’s appropriate for my audience.

To put it simply, I really don’t worry about it too much. I just focus on being me.

I have a firm grasp on my finances and would like to start helping other people get their finances in order. Do you have any suggestions on how to get a personal finance consulting gig going?
– Austin

If you actually want to get into a career of financial planning, be very, very careful. Such industries are incredibly highly regulated and you should have proper certifications and such before embarking in it.

Sometimes people think, “Well, he can do this website, so why can’t I throw out my shingle and consult?” Well, on every single page of The Simple Dollar, I make it clear that this site is for entertainment purposes only and any information or suggestions taken should be followed up with one’s own research. On top of that, this is a free website – I’m not charging for services as a consultant would be.

If the idea of being a planner interests you, look into proper education for it. Start off by digging deep into what it means to be a certified financial planner.

Is it worthwhile to invest in art?
– Shanya

If you’re investing in art because you believe it will return aesthetic appeal and enjoyment to you over a long period of time, by all means, invest.

If you’re investing in art for a financial return, don’t waste your time unless you’re treating it as tantamount to gambling. The art world is fickle – and an art purchase for investment assumes that someone will want to buy the art in the future, which is far, far from guaranteed.

Yes, by all means, if you have art that appeals to you and you can easily afford it, buy it. It will add true enrichment to your life.

But if you’re looking to turn a buck, stay away from the art world unless you’re working for Sotheby’s.

You mentioned attending SXSW recently. I also know you’re really into playing board games with your family and friends. Have you ever gone to GenCon? It’s not that far from Iowa.
– Ron

I confess – I am strongly considering a trip to GenCon in 2010. My wife is planning a short trip next spring or summer to visit her sisters, leaving me with the kids – and also with a ticket to have my own fun solo trip. GenCon is likely that destination.

I have several friends in the area that are considering going, so I will likely pool up with them at least for the trip.

If I do decide to go, I’ll let people know on The Simple Dollar so we can meet up if readers wish to.

How do you discover the personal finance books and other books you write about?
– Gil

I usually carefully follow the new releases and sales rankings on Amazon to see what’s new in the genres I follow.

If a major release is coming down the line, I’ll try to request it at my library. if that doesn’t work, I’ll attempt to request a review copy, but I don’t particularly like doing that as I feel slightly obligated to give a positive review.

I also listen carefully to reader recommendations. Sometimes – more than once, actually – I’ve suspected that an author of a book is posing as a reader and trying to pitch me on reviewing their book. If I get that vibe, I’ll usually blacklist it. I don’t like those games.

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

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  1. Snowy Heron says:

    Re: what to do when your libraries may be closing. I live in Montgomery County, MD and the public libraries here take donations of books, CDs, and other media and then re-sell them at a modest price (paperbacks are usually about 50 cents, hardbacks $1). All it takes is a vacant room in the library and a few retirees to staff it and you are in business. It helps support the library system and it is a great deal for those of us who are frugal and who love to read.

  2. Leslee says:

    I was sad to see there was no mention of cast iron in your suggestions to Gwen. I have a cast iron skillet that is my go to pan for eggs, potatoes, steaks, chops and stove top chicken. I have a beautiful AlClad saute pan that goes neglected because I like the way the cast iron cooks food so much more. It is inexpensive, goes from stove top to oven and will last a life time. Now that they are available pre-seasoned they are even easy to care for.

  3. gerald says:

    another thing to consider when picking pans is that copper (and aluminum) are considered reactive and there are certain things that you should not cook in them (like tomatoes and other acidic ingredients — to name a few). As such, I feel like copper is a complete waste of money, since I cannot use it for everything I would like to.

    Perhaps the best deal that you can get is cast iron. It is cheap, will last forever, and if taken care of properly will become non-stick. Granted, it does not look at cool as stainless steel, but if you are serious about cooking, then it is worth a look.

    In general, I feel like people tend to over-buy in the kitchen. I feel like the vast majority of food could be made with a dutch oven, a large stockpot, a small sauce-pot and a griddle. In my opinion, skillets are completely useless items. But that is just me I suppose.

  4. Kate says:

    RE:Stainless steel with copper bottom pans
    We rec’d a starter set for our wedding 24 years ago and they’re still going strong. I highly recommend these pans.

  5. Lorrie says:

    I inherited my mother’s copper-bottom, stainless steel Revere Ware pots and pans (4 saucepans in 3 sizes, a pasta pot, and a small fry pan) when I got married – in 1979. I’m still using them daily.

    As remarkable as that is, it should be noted that Mom inherited them from my grandmother some time in the 1960’s. How long my grandmother used them, I couldn’t say.

    I fully intend that my daughter should use them when I’m gone. They are still in excellent condition, heat evenly, and clean easily.

  6. Sara A. says:

    Question re: online banks – How do you put paper money and checks INTO the account?

  7. Sara A. says:

    PS, RE: Gencon – It is fun, but I recommend figuring out the events you want early on, and trying to get them as soon as registration opens. Don’t wait until you get there to try to get events. We try to pack an almost full schedule with a few odd chunks left open to see the vendor room.

  8. Jessica says:

    RE; Philly Libraries

    I’m actually pretty sure we are out of the woods for this budget cycle, but just because we have paperback swap doesn’t mean we need to stop fighting. Philadelphians, our underpriveledged children need safe, educational spaces in their communities. Write your council-person!

  9. reulte says:

    I love baked enamel (Le Creuset – mmmh!) but don’t find much use for copper cookware. I think cooking with copper is more useful once you have truly mastered (and I do mean cordon blu mastered) cooking. If copper is your desire and you don’t mind the requirements to keep it shining then I would suggest starting slowly; perhaps with a copper lined bowl for whipping eggs or cream and a small sauce pan for sauces that require delicate temperature control. I have a copper sauce pan and haven’t use it in ages, prefering my favorite Calphalon.

  10. AnnJo says:

    Re: Philly libraries and @Jessica –

    Write your council-person and say what? Raise already high and job-killing taxes during an economic crisis?

    My community has a library levy on the ballot Nov. 3rd. I love my library, but if this levy passes, I’ll be paying $160 a year for the library. I have a right to question whether that money is being spent with due consideration to the taxpayer.

    As I looked into the issue, I learned that library employees, who are already paid substantially higher wages than private sector employees and enjoy much better retirement and insurance benefits as well as much greater job security protections, also get 47 paid days off per year, between holidays, sick days and vacation days.

    That’s almost 9-1/2 weeks paid time off per year! Almost one-fifth of the year! And that’s not to mention the weeks of paid family leave that may be available to care for a new child, a sick relative, or even a sick pet.

    Sorry. At some point, the public sector needs to learn that the taxpayers’ wallets can be closed.

    I have no idea what the situation is in Philly, but maybe what needs to happen is to tell your councilperson that employee contracts need to be renegotiated to provide pay scales, benefits and job security more in line with the private sector employees in that community. Our public servants deserve fair pay for what they do, but not the status of a privileged elite.

  11. -hilde says:

    @Prasanth and re: non-US readers
    As a non-US reader I find that even US-specific content (e.g. some investment products) give me food for thought. For example, I’m investigating Norway’s retirement savings options right now. This is because I’ve read about investing for retirement on US PF blogs, but things work differently here.

  12. Rick says:

    Regarding art, it is possible to make money buying and selling. But you have to really know your art, and you have to be willing to wait patiently until the right deals come along. You have to be able to buy the art at a significant discount from its true worth, and then you can sell it for its true worth.

    Estate sales and the like are good places to find this. Often, the people running estate sales just want to liquidate the items; therefore, they won’t take the time to discover what a piece of art is truly worth, and will sell it for much less that its worth.

    Art is definitely one area where there is not an “efficient market.”

  13. Nate "The Great" says:


    Where do you stand on the ‘local’ movement?

    Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to your community to move your money to a lcoal credit union or bank?


  14. Outdoorseaguy says:

    RE: Cookware – I spend a lot of time cooking and I’ve found All-Clad to be the best choice for me. The pots and pans, while pricey, are high-quality and extremely durable. I’ve bought them individually as I replace my old non-stick aluminum cookware. With a few versatile pots and pans you can make just about anything. I also have a 5qt Le Creuset, which was a gift. That thing is a tank and will likely outlast me. I use it for everything from making soup, stew, steaks and pasta sauce to boiling water for a lot of pasta. You can find dutch ovens that are nearly as good for a lot less. I highly recommend checking out Cook’s Illustrated for ratings on cooking equipment as well as some darn good recipes.

    Re: ING – Thanks to Trent’s suggestions, I opened up an Electric Orange account and a few savings accounts and will be making that my primary bank. I will keep my BOA checking account, just to have access to my paper checks and in case of emergency, although I will only keep a small amount of money in that account.

  15. Rick says:

    On sharing fiction writing:

    Trent, I think you should post some of your fiction and see how it does on its own merit.

    Yes, you can get an audience for free from your readership but that doesn’t mean they will like your fiction!

    I’m sure a lot of people succeed in writing because they have some talent coupled with some luck, or knowing the right person. I’m sure that even greater works have languished because of they were never discovered.

    If your fiction isn’t that good it won’t gather a following. If it is it could easily dwarf your Simple Dollar audience. You’ll never really know unless you try though, right?

    -Rick Francis

  16. Nicole says:

    Another vote for one big Le Crueset. (Actually, we have two– I really like the way Le Crueset pots make rice, so we have a smaller one just for that.) Totally worth it, and they last decades. (ALWAYS make sure to put something in before turning the stove on… don’t put it on the stove wet without something else in there… after ~4 decades, the ceramic will pop off if you’re not careful.)

    One cast iron skillet, if you use it frequently enough not to have to worry about reseasoning it is also really worth it. It is wonderful to have a pan that can easily go from stove-top to oven, and makes beautiful crusts. At under $15, you can’t really go wrong. Just make sure to season it the first time you use it.

    We also enjoy our one Caphelon pan. We no longer deal with teflon… it just isn’t worth it. I’ve never really thought the copper bottom pans were worth it– balance seems more important for even heating with them. We do have a medium copper bottom pot though.

  17. Noadi says:

    I love my stainless steel cookware. Copper or stainless lined copper is really nice but honestly I don’t know that it’s really worth the money and maintenance for everyday cooking. You can find good quality heavy stainless steel for a reasonable price. Feel the pans before you buy them, they should be heavy and sturdy.

    I only have a single non-stick pan for cooking stuff like eggs and pancakes. My other pans work better for everything else.

  18. Tommy says:

    RE: libraries

    If you need something to read, you can head over to project gutenberg – they have all the old classics free to download, typed by volunteers.

  19. Johanna says:

    AnnJo complains that library employees get too much time off. The logical implication of this is that the municipality should give the employees less time off, then lay off some of the newly-unnecessary employees, and save money.

    Now, that’s a legitimate opinion to have. It is not, however, consistent with an honest concern about the “job-killing” properties of taxes.

  20. Shevy says:

    Re library employees being paid “substantially higher wages than private sector employees”. Is AnnJo talking about the majority of library employees (who are clerical workers) or about librarians (who have a minimum of a masters degree)?

    If she’s talking about clerical workers, then one can obviously compare their wages to private sector workers with equivalent experience quite easily. Who would you compare the librarian to in a private company?

  21. Chaf says:

    Regarding cookware, I’m surprised you didn’t mention cast iron. Especially for e.g. skillets, I find that cast iron cookware can be purchased used for next to nothing, and lasts very literally forever. Properly seasoned and cared-for, it’s nearly as non-stick as the modern coatings, and it has fantastic heat retention which is very nice for even cooking and good browning. And personally, I like the way the stuff looks: Honest and no-BS.

  22. Dave says:

    For cookware, a good everyday cookware is Revere Ware, stainless with copper clad bottoms, I have a set going on 20 years, my only non stick is a 10″ square frypan and have to replace it every few years, I do have a Royal Prestige pot I and I like it but not worth the extra $ , some cast iron is good to, just more upkeep to it.

  23. Beth says:

    On the notion of cookware, for those that don’t know, nonstick coating can be very dangerous for those of you that have pet birds.

    My mom bought me a set of Revere Ware for my wedding 9 years ago….she’s been using hers since her wedding 41 years ago!

  24. Colleen says:

    Copper requires a good deal of maintenance to stay looking pretty, and if you’re not a gourmet chef, will you really notice a difference over stainless? Even those gourmet chefs seem to rely a lot on stainless steel pans in restaurant kitchens.

    Keep in mind that pans without a Teflon coating are more challenging to cook with. You’ll need a good deal more fat in the pan to keep food from sticking. Most meats and veggies are fine cooked in some oil in stainless, but eggs, fish, and potatoes will stick something fierce without either oil deep enough for frying or ample butter. Some people recommend seasoned cast iron for those sticky foods, but an inexpensive Teflon pan that you treat with respect (no metal utensils, no dishwasher) and replace every few years when it inevitably chips is much easier to maintain and use.

    Enameled cast iron does eventually chip, too, by the way. I’m quite frustrated with my Dutch oven that keeps leaving bits of enamel in my food. Yuck. Some manufacturers will fix it, though.

    Plain anodized aluminum is another option. Aluminum conducts heat very well, and being anodized keeps the pans from reacting with acidic foods like tomatoes.

    My ideal arsenal would be either heavy stainless or anodized aluminum pots and pans combined with a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, a Teflon-coated omelet pan, and a Teflon-coated deep skillet or sauté pan for special uses.

  25. Shelly says:

    RE: GenCon
    I always loved the Rio Grande tables for trying out great Euro board games. They’re my top recommendation.

    If you like RPGs, I’d recommend looking out for the Kobold Quarterly/Open Design booth and my game designing husband Wolfgang Baur at the next GenCon.

  26. Kathryn says:

    Teflon has a lot of problems. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2004/10/23/teflon-part-three.aspx The Mercola website has a ton of articles about this. Of course, he uses this info to try to sell you his stuff.

    A few years ago i started using Corning ware. I purchased it a little at a time at Ebay. (I didn’t buy any with a non-stick/teflon coating.) I love it! It cooks well, & cleans up with just a little baking soda in water. Best choice ever.

  27. Michelle says:

    For cookware, I would recommend stainless steel pans with a layer of a more conductive metal. I have stainless steel cookware with an aluminum core, which heats more evenly than plain stainless steel but is less expensive than copper. I am not a gourmet chef but I use my cookware regularly and I’m happy with it.

    Things I would avoid because they aren’t durable: plastic handles and Teflon. I’m not a big fan of cooking with Teflon anyway because you have to be careful not to use metal utensils with them, and they shouldn’t be used above medium heat. I find that it’s still nice to have one Teflon-coated pan, but it’s not what I use most of the time.

    My cookware is Calphalon Tri-Ply Stainless. I like that it’s dishwasher safe, and it has glass lids so I can check on food without opening it. The Contemporary line is very similar but much more expensive for no adequately explained reason.

  28. Sarah in Alaska says:

    Like Snowey Heron, we have a Friends of the Library organization.

    This group runs the Friends Amazing (used) Bookstore in my town. All of the staff is volunteers, all of their books are donated, and I’m betting they get reduced rent at the local strip mall. They started as a tiny hole in the wall and have expanded to about the size of one of our smaller library locations (we have three city library branches + state and university branches for 33k people). New(ish) books are 25% – 50% of list. Older fiction is $1, nonfiction is $.25.

    While the majority of the library budget comes from the city budget, the Friends provide funds for remodeling/expansion of existing libraries, computer upgrades, new book purchases, new seating/desks, and library sponsored community programs (summer reading, youth pizza/book jam, family game night, etc.)

    If you’ve got a friends organization, join, or support them. If you don’t have one, consider starting one.

  29. Berdette says:

    I can’t believe that no one mentioned cast iron cookware. It is by far my favorite. Although, I have to admit that I haven’t used copper or even good quality stainless much. Can’t stand Teflon. Cast iron lasts forever, is virtually nonstick, heats evenly, can go in the oven or on the stove top. It is just wonderful. Plus you get a little work out every time you pick it up.

  30. Leah says:

    On the cookware, two words: ALL CLAD! It is amazing. I do keep one Calphalon 10-inch nonstick around for eggs & fish; I can’t bring myself to put enough fat in the stainless pan to keep it from sticking.

    I have the traditional All-Clad stainless cookware series, and it’s great. And like Outdoorseaguy, I also have a 5-qt Le Creuset dutch oven, in which a pot of chili is simmering this very second. It’s extremely versatile.

    Re: Cook’s Illustrated — a few issues ago, the Cook’s Illustrated folks put together a list of essential cookware they’d buy if they were starting from scratch. I’m not sure if this is accurate, but there’s a link to these pieces on Amazon located here: http://www.amazon.com/Cooks-Illustrated-List-Essential-Cookware/lm/2VSFX9CFRU5V4

    Gwen, I hope you’re reading these comments!

  31. jc says:

    I think it’s pretty silly to ignore a built-in audience and hope that one’s writing (or songs, or other sort of artistic work) succeeds “on its own merits.” You have a sort of quasi-fame here, and it’s even directly relevant–it’s not like you’re a movie star opening a restaurant, you’re a non-fiction writer hoping to share some fiction.

    It probably doesn’t make sense to post fiction directly to this blog, but why not promote oneself gently through all the channels available to you? Would you hold back your fiction from your friends and family, hoping it will “succeed on its own merits”? Other authors? Literary agents? Include a link when you feel it’s ready for public consumption and be prepared for feedback of all sorts.

  32. Amy From Canada says:

    Re: Philadelphia Libraries

    Another option for free books is to look online. Gutenberg.org is one of the largest collections of free online books in the world. It’s fun to just go on the site and browse…you never know what you’ll find! Some other sites are Fullbooks.com and Authorama.com.

    I’m sorry to hear about your libraries closing. I love books so much they’re almost sacred…to lose the local library would be a tragedy.

  33. Shannon says:

    Not too long back, The Simple Dollar, Get Rich Slowly and Zen Habits all had around 40-50K readers. Now The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly have approximately 70K readers whereas Zen Habits has close to 140K readers. What do you think explains the tremendous growth of Zen Habits as compared to your and JD’s blog?

  34. house9 says:

    for frying pans – cast iron all the way
    easy to cook with, easy to clean, very durable and inexpensive

    clean with hot water (a little soap if needed) and dry immediately to avoid rust, ‘season’ with olive oil
    don’t cook fish on it repeatedly as the pan can get ‘fishy’, go stainless for that

  35. Rose DeShaw says:

    Like the fact that you are upfront with your uncertainties, like whether or not to post short stories separate from the Simple Dollar. As a writer myself, there is nothing like the feeling that you were published simply as a result of your work – not because your name was known. John Steinbeck tried this after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He says that for a brief time, he thought it must mean whatever he wrote was perfectly wonderful. So he dashed off a story, attached a pseudonym and sent it off. It was promptly rejected, which he says, taught him that just as before, everything he published would have to be using the same sweat he had before. This account, I think, was in comments he made prefacting The Collectible Steinbeck. Also – while I don’t think your writing is at all US centric, PAPERBACKSWAP which I was really looking forward to joining, is not available to Canadians even though we share the same continent and I am just barely over the New York border, here in Ontario. Wish they’d consider expanding. Rose

  36. littlepitcher says:

    Flea markets have books, good escapist stuff for under .50 per book, as a rule.
    If you have smartphones or iPod Touches/iPhones, download free e-books for each phone/child/individual. Or download audiobooks and have a “read-in” an hour a night for the full family.

    I know of three cases in two different libraries, of library workers involved in thefts of various kinds, including documents theft and internet identity fraud. If you use library computers, do not post any financial info whatever, and don’t put anything on the computer which could be stolen, including book or document research.

  37. spaces says:

    Shevy — Mid to large law firms, and law departments in some large companies, often employ one librarian plus one to three assistants. The firm librarians I have worked with have informed me that compensation in the private sector tends to be better than in the public libraries. It’s not an option for all librarians, though.

  38. Cindy says:

    Several friends and I are interested in converting to electronic bill paying and on-line banking, but we just don’t know where to start. Can you provide some first steps, tips and advice on how to set up my monthly bills on auto-pay? Thanks, Trent, love the blog.

  39. jgmills says:

    This is a question for your next mailbag Q&A on Mondays.

    What is the effect on my credit rating if I contact credit card companies to negotiate different terms on my account? For example, does my credit score or credit report change if I negotiate for a lower interest rates? What about if I negotiate for a less-than-100% payoff amount? Thanks in advance!

  40. Ellen says:

    I’ve been slowly replacing my older, bought-on-the-cheap, cookware with much better pieces by going to the cookware/kitchenware shops in outlet malls – or judiciously watching for sales in regular retail outlets. Buying one piece at a time, I can get just what we need without too much strain on the monthly budget.

    Re the library – our local city council threatened the same thing several years ago; they finally negotiated reduced hours to get through the crisis. Still not quite back to the original, but close! IMHO this is one of those pseudo-threats to focus attention on the budget problem – like having to fire all the police officers or something. If anything, our recent library crisis focused attention on the library & it is getting heavier use now than before.

  41. Lisa Owens says:

    Re: your fiction. Trent, if your fiction isn’t very good you won’t have a built-in audience. We love you, hon, but I don’t think any of us are going to waste our money buying your fiction if it doesn’t satisfy us. I think the publishers know that, too, don’t they? On the other hand, if your fiction *is* good (and I’m betting it is), then you will have a built-in audience and what’s wrong with that? I’d personally love to read some of your works! And think of it this way – if you published some of your stories you’d have the great advantage of hundreds of editors instead of just one. (Hmm, maybe that’s not a great advantage after all, LOL.)

  42. ko says:

    Cast iron works great for cooking! I tend to use my cast iron more than anything else now. They are a pain to store, but completely worth it. Enameled cast iron would eliminate the storage issues if you don’t plan to use them over actual coals.
    When I don’t use my cast iron, I use stainless steel with some other kind of metal encased in the bottom, and a non-non-stick wok that I have no idea what it is made of. It heats a lot like cast iron, but its not.

  43. Mol says:

    Since it has been a while since your first book came out, what affects (excluding monetary) has it had on your life? Do you ever go back and take a look at it? How do you feel about it now that you are taking on your second one? Hope all is going well with the second book, can’t wait to read it ^^

  44. Georgia says:

    For the past several years I have used the Ultrex pans from HSN. They don’t sell there anymore, but are possibly obtained in some form from Innova, Inc. They have the extra thing bottom and a lining they put a limited warranty on for 75 years. They are wonderful. The owner did not send plastic utensils with his product, he sent steel utensils. He said if it is scratched it is still non-stick.

    My husband used one 8-9″ skillet on too hot of a heat. But, that skillet is still non-stick and I use it several times a week. My daughter actually had one large skillet actually have a fire in it and it is still non-stick. They have tempered glass lids and they have handles that do not get hot. You can also use them in the oven up to 350 degrees. I would not change mine for anything. I actually got 2-3 of the items on the clearance rack at HSN for $10. Best use of my money ever.

    I also have 2 waterless pans and lids that I have had for over 25 years.

  45. Missi says:

    I have a question about ING’s mortgages since I know you’re a big fan of ING, I thought you might have some insight. I looked into the three types of mortgages they offer and they seem to be similar to an ARM loan just because they don’t lock in a percentage rate for more than 5 or 7 years at a time. My question is this, would you, personally, consider an ING mortgage over a more conventional, home town bank where you can know exactly what your payment will be for 30 years? Currently I have been pre-approved for a 4.75% but the ING is around 3.9 or 4% but can go up by 6% over the course of 30 years (or it could go down or stay the same). Your thoughts?

  46. christine a says:

    Was really interested to see the percentage breakdown of readers within/outside the US. I’m in the UK, the structure of our economic system is broadly similar and I have no problem at all relating to the items you’re discussing. It’s very useful to have a fresh perspective rather than a narrowly national one.

  47. Shevaun says:

    Hi Trent,
    By the way, thanks for the help you offered a few months ago about reading digital documents. I actually ended up writing a paper on digital reading for school as a result of the whole thing.

    Anyway, I thought you’d be interested in this: Once a year, I go through my house and make a list of all the things we routinely buy (whole wheat pasta, eggs, bananas, toilet paper, etc… the stuff that you buy whenever you run out, as opposed to buy especially for a recipe or project). Then I visit five stores that are nearby (for me, they are Aldi, Wegmans, Walmart, Target, and Big Lots). I bring my daughter, and we write down the unit prices of everything on the list (or the item price and size and we figure the unit price at home). Then we compare prices and make a shopping map that we use for the rest of the year. While this project does take a couple days to complete, I have to be honest with myself that I don’t use coupons and I rrarely have time to comparison shop at the moment that I need an item. I figure with this method, I might miss a sale once in a while, but overall I average out to saving money.

    I’d also like to add that quality totally matters to me. For example, the chicken breasts at Aldi have saline injected before they’re frozen to make them heavier. When they thaw, the chicken breast is much smaller than you expected. Therefore, the chicken breasts at Wegmans, though seemingly more expensive per pound, are actually a better price because they have more edible meat. In addition, we eat whole foods whenever possible (whole wheat pasta instead of white, etc.) which are usually a little more expensive, but worth it.

    Just a thought,

  48. Shevaun says:

    Oh! and I forgot to mention that by involving my 8-year-old daughter in this whole process, we have great teachable moments about quality, health, prices, budgeting, planning, and marketing. She’s quite the savvy consumer.

  49. Sara says:

    I have a question regarding Christmas (holiday) gift giving…

    Our income has taken a major hit this year and that combined with a desire to reduce the number of “things” that we have in our home leads us to want to propose to our families (both sides) a significant scaling back of gift giving this holiday season. Essentially what we’d be proposing is that on each “side” of the family we’d go from giving everyone (siblings, nieces, nephews, parents, etc.) a present that each person get matched with a “giver” and a “givee” and that we set a limit on the $ so. So, for example, my sister Jane would be assigned someone (say, my daughter Ann) as the person she would buy for and another person (say my husband Jim) as the person who would buy for her. So, each person, on each side, gives one present and gets one present. That would dramatically reduce the $$ spent, the stress, the running around, and the STUFF.

    My sister is already on board as her in laws already practice this on their side but we’re wondering how to approach it with the remainder of our family…particularly my husband’s side who a) we’re not particularly close to but b) we spend oodles of $ on every year and c) tend to read into our most innocent comments.

    Thanks, Sara

  50. Sara says:

    I think typos may make my post a bit difficult to understand:

    Essentially what we’d be proposing is that on each “side” of the family we’d go from giving everyone (siblings, nieces, nephews, parents, etc.) a present to a system such that each person get matched with a “giver” and a “givee” and that we set a limit on the $ so.

    EX: sister Jane gets matched with other sister Julie (gets a present from her) and gives to nephew Brian (gives a present to him).

    Julie gives a present to Jane and gets a present from niece Sara.

    Brian gets a present from Jane and gives a present to Uncle Matthew.


    All presents would have a limit of say $35 and the givee could give the giver “hints” of a wish list or not.


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