Updated on 10.11.09

Reader Mailbag #88

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 your take on the cost and necessity of supplemental insurance (disability, cancer, et al) from companies such as AFLAC?

I purchased cancer insurance through AFLAC when I first started at my job because cancer is very prevalent in my family’s medical history, but today I realized that I’m spending $358.80/year on it and wondered if it’s actually worth it. That’s $358.80/year I could be putting towards my debt and/or emergency fund.
– Joshua

In situations like these, I think the real question to ask yourself is what the insurance is actually buying you. Insurance buys you two things.

First, it buys you financial protection against a certain situation – in this case, cancer. The odds of such situations are known to the insurance company and calculated into an actuarial table. That basically means that they believe, on the whole, if thousands upon thousands of people exactly like you paid $358 per year for the insurance, the company would expect to make a profit. You can use that information (and the approximate value of your payout) to make a reasonable guess as to the odds they have calculated for your likelihood of the condition. That’s what you’re protecting against.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it buys you peace of mind. This has more power than you realize. People with certain psychological profiles are very open to worrying – perhaps excessively – about potential bad scenarios, and knowing that a scenario is protected against can be an enormous peace of mind and stress reducer to those folks.

For me personally, part of the equation revolves around one’s financial state. If you’re very secure and have a lifestyle well below your means, insurance becomes substantially less important.

What I’m trying to say is I can’t give you an answer to your question. That answer comes from you – what kind of person you are, what the real odds are of cancer, and so on.

Foods prices fluctuate so rapidly these days. What are your suggestions for keeping a pricebook for when store prices change so much?
– McKella

I’ve largely given up, to tell the truth.

What I do is about once a year or so, I’ll spend an afternoon in the grocery stores. I just mark down the regular prices on 25 or so of the staples we buy most frequently. Whichever store has the cheapest total for those staples is the one I shop at. The only exception to that is if I notice an enormous sale in a flyer or something to that effect.

For us, that means we do almost all of our food shopping at Fareway, with occasional stops for specialty items at other stores. Jumping from store to store based on price book entries that are outdated in a month just isn’t worth it to me.

Trent’s comments were less than PC but they don’t bother me. Very few people are really PC all the time and at least a large minority are not PC at all any of the time! We just don’t talk about those people any more because it’s not PC to do so!
– Shevy

You know what, I’ll say it.

People are different. People who grew up in different parts of the world see the world in a completely different way. They have different cultures, different behavioral norms, different thoughts, and different ideas. They’re treated differently due to their physical appearance (as much as you might want to wish it away, it’s still true).

There are good traits and bad traits in everyone. There are prevalent traits – both good and bad – in almost every possible slice of the demographic pie.

And that’s awesome. The world benefits from this kind of diversity. I want to get to know everyone I meet because we all see the world so differently. It’s beautiful.

But it’s different when I consider where I want to live – the place where I put my head down on a pillow. I want an environment where I’m not afraid to leave my door unlocked for a half an hour while I go to the hardware store. I want an environment where people will simply leave me alone to do my own things and think my own thoughts. I want an environment where I’m not concerned about random acts of violence beyond an occasional playground fight. I want an environment where I can breathe clean, fresh air. I want to live in an area where politeness and courtesy towards others is a cultural norm. I want to live in a place where neighbors bake each other loaves of bread and don’t mind if they erect a compost bin. I want an environment that has strong winters and hot summers, as I love weather variety. I want to live in a state that has a high standard of education and funds its schools well. This is what I want – it may or may not reflect what you want and, in fact, it probably does not.

Whether you like it or not, that pretty much prescribes that I live in parts of the world that are dominated by certain demographics and underrepresented by other demographics. In the United States, the only place where I’ve found this environment is the rural upper Midwest – a part of the nation that’s pretty accurately described by “A Prairie Home Companion.” Some other regions have come close – the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state is nice, as are some rural areas in New England, but nothing captures it quite like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Guess what? The rural upper Midwest tends to have a lot of people of Scandinavian descent. Immigrants from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark chose this part of the country to settle in because it reminded them of their home country. I’m not of Scandinavian descent at all – I’m part German, part English, part French, and part American Indian – but the places where I most want to live tend to have a large Scandinavian demographic. I recognize that and I’m not afraid to say so. The area near Decorah, Iowa is where I would most want to live – for the reasons described above – and Decorah prides itself on having an event called “Nordic Fest.”

I’ve alluded to this in a variety of ways over the years and been called racist for it. If that is racism, then I’m racist.

If you want someone to be perfectly PC all the time, go to another blog. I speak my mind and my heart here and I don’t waste time mincing words and worrying about whether some group of people will be mildly offended by some comment. Political correctness hurts diversity because it suppresses raw, fresh thoughts and encourages people to filter what they say and think, spitting out milquetoast that destroys the diversity that political correctness is supposed to preserve in the first place.

If you had the option to get a refund on your social security taxes, in exchange for not recieveing SS benifits when you retire, would you take that deal?
– John

Absolutely. I’m already assuming I won’t get a dime from Social Security when I retire, so if I could get a refund of the money I’ve paid in, I’d happily take it.

In fact, I think that’s a good policy for anyone planning for retirement, especially when they’re young. Ignore Social Security. If you do end up getting it, view it as a pure bonus.

Why do I feel that way? Given the skyrocketing budget deficit since 1980 and the huge flood of people Social Security will get in the next twenty years or so, there will come a point when the math doesn’t add up. When that happens, there will have to be major changes. I see that point happening well before I’m old enough to even sniff benefits.

My Wife and I bought a home recently and have determined that we do qualify for the $8K tax rebate on our 2009 taxes. This will likely mean a significant tax refund this year, we’re thinking in the neighborhood of $10K as we always overpay to get a refund (I know, blastphemy to some), and are wondering if you think it is best to put it on the mortgage (5%) or pay off our credit cards completely (11 to 19%)? This seems a no-brainer to me, but it has started a healthy debate at my house and I was curious as to what you had to say on the subject.
– Paul

Credit cards, without a doubt. It comes down to the interest rates above all else, and the interest rates in this case aren’t even comparable.

I can’t think of a case in which someone would think it was better to put the money into the mortgage. Is the logic that one could then borrow from it – via a HELOC – much more cheaply? Or maybe it’s a lock-and-key philosophy – they believe if you pay off cards, you’ll just charge ’em up again.

Whatever the reason, you’ll be much better off if you just pay off some cards and, if you’re having control issues, cut them up.

Do you have any books you’d recommend on motivation? Particularly on motivating others?
– Kellie

I think perhaps you’re looking too specifically for a solution.

From what I’ve seen, people tend to fall into one of two camps when it comes to personal motivation. Either they have a major well of self-motivation that they can draw from, or they’re motivated by the presence of a great leader or someone else in a position of authority who can tell them what to do.

There’s not a whole lot you can do to help the self-motivated except give them the tools they need and some encouragement. The real value in motivation comes from the other group, and the best way to do that … is to be the best leader you can be. Almost all jobs where you help others revolve around these two roles – giving the self-motivated space and tools, and giving everyone else leadership, direction, and inspiration.

So, I’d look for books on leadership. The one book that’s been recommended to me over and over again on leadership is On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis. This is a book I’ve strongly considered reviewing on The Simple Dollar and may yet do so. Why? The skills described in that book are universally helpful in improving your career and your position in society.

What movies and television shows do you allow your children to watch?
– Ellen

Unless there’s a major news event, we pretty much never watch live TV. Instead, we have a DVR and use it to record programs so that we have a large selection of quality stuff on demand instead of having to channel surf.

Most of the stuff we record comes from PBS – Sesame Street, Sid the Science Kid, Caillou, and a few others. I really wish Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was still showing – that would be an auto-add. So, when we decide to watch television, we choose one of those.

Our DVD collection is mostly Pixar and Miyazaki, with a few of the older Disney films mixed in.

Our one “splurge” outside of this realm is for our older son, who is a huge fan of Spider-Man. We DVR The Spectacular Spider-Man – which is actually quite good, as it focuses a lot on Peter Parker’s internal struggles with right and wrong – and let him watch an episode as a treat every once in a while.

Along those same lines…

What kinds of educational games do you play with your kids?
– Eldon

We play a lot of Memory – that’s the most played game with the children around here.

My daughter just turned two and has a difficult time comprehending games with any level of complexity. With her, we focus on games that are mostly about mastering the idea of a bit of patience and taking turns, with maybe just a touch of cooperation. The big hits with her are Go Away, Monster and hide and seek with highly restricted hiding rules if she’s seeking.

Our son, who is almost four, plays a lot of games and even participates in the games that adults play, at least a little. His favorites seem to be The Kids of Carcassonne, Blokus, and Ingenious.

Do you ever feel like you’re running out of ideas?
– SueB

Not really, and I don’t think I will unless I stop changing as a person and my family stops changing around me.

Most of my ideas come from the things I do in my own life, and those things change over time. I’m becoming better and better in the kitchen. My kids are getting older. My parents are getting older. I’m getting older. I read new things. I push myself into better habits. People come and go in the context of my life. I join different groups. All of these are fodder for ideas.

Beyond that, readers are constantly sending me ideas and suggestions for posts, many of which are angles that I’ve never considered.

Plus, I’m often anxious to tackle topics I’ve already covered in a new way to help out a different group of people – retirees, twentysomethings, parents, teenagers, college students, mid-career professionals, stay at home moms, and so on.

Add that all together and I have mountains of ideas. The trick is often filtering them and figuring out which is the wheat and which is the chaff.

Do you feel guilty when you give erroneous advice?
– Shane

I strive to write accurate stuff, but I don’t feel strongly guilty when I make a mistake. I get called out enough on the tiniest things by commenters on here that it serves as a constant reminder that I’m far, far from perfect – or even good.

If I got bogged down in that, I would pretty much just quit writing – and that wouldn’t do anyone any good.

So, no, I don’t really feel guilty about it. I just try to learn something from my mistakes and move on.

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

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  1. Johanna says:

    Again, I’m not offended – I just think you’re wrong.

    It is not racist to observe that a particular community has a particular ethnic makeup. Nor is it racist to observe that that community has certain cultural characteristics that you’re looking for. Where you’re edging toward racism is in asserting that the one is the cause of the other.

    For example, if people of Scandinavian descent are inherently less inclined to crime and violence, that implies that people of certain other ethnicities are inherently more inclined to crime and violence. Which ethnicities are those? Actually, don’t answer that.

    It is worth noting that the Vikings were also of Scandinavian descent. And from what I’ve read, they were not exactly known for being “Minnesota nice.”

  2. E.D. says:

    I’m with you on the SS benefits. If the feds came and offered me $0.25 on the dollar that I have paid in exchange for not receiving the hypothetical future benefit, I would take it in a heartbeat.

    DH and I are 33 and under no illusion that we’ll see any of that money.

  3. Daniel says:

    @ E.D.

    25 cents on the dollar seems a little low. I read a little while ago that even if nothing changes, we’ll still receive about 75% of Social Security. I was talking to my parents recently and asked a similar question. They laughed and said that since they can remember, people have been saying that Social Security will run out, but there’s always a solution.

    Still, I find it comical that recently, people have started to realize that the government is running a GIANT ponzi scheme.

  4. Jason says:

    I’m sorry but the whole “don’t read this blog if you don’t like it” is the BIGGEST cop-out in the world. When you are wrong/offensive, you have to admit it and move along, you can’t justify your being wrong and/or offensive by saying that “don’t read this blog if you don’t like it.” This is basic decency, not unlike those that which you value in people residing in the Midwest.

  5. Sue says:

    Except for the weather, I think you have described many parts of the US. That environment is not just in the Midwest. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh, York, PA and central MD. Each area has all the benefits you mentioned. I think what you are really against is the big city/downtown environment. Many suburbs or small cities are great places to live.

  6. Bravo Trent for speaking up about your thoughts on culture. It is true, people are different & for all of the reasons you’ve mentioned. I’ve done quite a bit of travelling around the United States and am branching out to foreign travel. Doing this has made me realize how different the world is from my own small surroundings. We have different cultures, different belief systems, different attitudes. That is what makes this such a great world, we are all different. It doesn’t make you a racist to note these difference, in my opinion. The United States is a huge country and there is bound to be many flucuations in culture as a result of sheer size alone. Can someone honestly say that the deep south possesses the same characteristics as say, New England or that New York is the same as LA? I don’t think so. Different latitudes, different attitudes.

    I’m Scandanavian, Norwegian to be specific, and have lived in, hey! the Driftless Region of Southwestern Wisconsin for my entire life, and guess what…you’re right! There ARE a lot of people of Norwegian and Scandanavian decent that live there. We’re a bunch of Seversons, Olsons, Emersons, Nelsons, Ericksons, Piersons, Hansens and Hansons. As a person whom you directly referrenced, I’m not offended by you taking notice of our local demeanor in any way.

    And kudos for speaking your mind.

  7. Carey says:

    The point of Social Security (and other government services like libraries, public education, police and fire service, roads… basically everything the government does) is not to get equal value out that you put in. If it was, what would be the point of having taxes at all? We could just buy these services individually for ourselves, right?

    But that’s not the point of these government programs. The point is to make sure everyone can get basic services even when they can’t afford it. That’s why the fire fighters come to your house even if you live in a poor neighborhood. That’s why extra money is given to schools where a majority of the students can’t afford to buy lunch. That’s why there aren’t lanes on the highways that only wealthy people are allowed to drive on (though there’s been a push to change that, astonishingly).

    The whole point of government is to provide us with services and protections that we couldn’t otherwise afford as individuals. People these days don’t seem to get that, or they get it only selectively. They think it’s fine to spend trillions of dollars to protect us from a negligible threat (terrorism), but when it comes to providing everyone with basic health care for a few hundred billion dollars, with millions of people suffering from lack of adequate healthcare (in other words, a real problem), they balk. Why? Because they don’t want to pay into a system that they’re not going to get equivalent value out of? Government is not supposed to be an investment for personal gain. Some people are going to get out more than they put in, and some are going to get less than they put in. This isn’t some radical new idea. It’s basic human decency. It’s called civilization. If you’re only concerned with looking out for yourself, why have government at all? Why not move to an anarchy somewhere?

    And that brings us to Trent’s point about Iowa being a great place to live, for reasons that I agree with. But would it be such a great place to live if there were no safety net for people who lost their jobs? No medical care for the elderly and the indigent? No libraries or schools?

    If I got a refund of the money I’d put into Social Security, yeah maybe my retirement would be a little easier, but I’d be taking that money away from someone who needs it more than I do. Sorry, I’m not looking out for just my own well-being here. I live in a society. You know, with other people.

  8. Craig says:

    I don’t know where I’d come down if I were offered a Social Security “buyout,” because that comes down to a dollars and cents calculation that there’s really no point in trying to make in the real world. But I do disagree with your reasoning. The odds that you are “not going to get a penny” from Social Security are as close to zero as can be calculated.

    Will you get the full benefits SSA estimates in your yearly statement? Probably not. But is the government going to stop collecting payroll taxes? No. And those payroll taxes are going to fund benefits for retirees, just as they do now. In fact, you’ll get more, in both nominal and real terms, than today’s retirees do–you just won’t get _as much more_ as SSA would like to send you based on their formulas (the current figures are between 74 and 78 percent, based on whose numbers you like). That’s without changing the tax basis at all, and we won’t even discuss the “trust fund,” which, one way or another, won’t be an issue when you and I retire.

    It may be taxable. There may even be some “means testing,” but there is a limit to how much of this the system can tolerate. All workers pay in, all workers get benefits–that’s the compact that makes the whole thing work. (Also, you see how powerful the Senior voting bloc is today–just imagine how much fun you’ll be able to have when _you’re_ part of it.)

    The rate of return is not very good at all, when viewed solely as a retirement investment. I could probably do a lot better with ~10% of my income, invested over my working life. But then again, I’m me: I think about this stuff, I care about this stuff, and I’m fairly good at it. Most people aren’t, which is why the average figures for retirement saving are so abysmal.

    There is the value of diversification (the SS cushion lets me invest more heavily in stocks than I otherwise would) and also the disability and survivor benefits to consider. My mother died well before my youngest brother turned 18, for instance, and the survivor benefit paid for his primary education. So those kinds of things have to be factored in, too–if you wen’t off the Social Security grid, you’d want to make sure you Blindness Insurance was up to date.

    My framework is to aim for 100% income replacement in retirement, _including_ Social Security_, stocks, bonds, and my defined benefit pension. So even if Social Security tanks, or my pension defaults, or we have Japan’s stock market for the next 30 years, I’m still looking at 70-80% of pre-retirement income. I believe that’s a fairly cozy arrangement. And if _everything_ goes to hell at once? I guess there will still be pencils for me to sell under the overpass.

  9. Daniel says:

    @Carey – What you’re talking about sounds a lot like taxes. Social Security is supposed to ensure that the government doesn’t need to support us as we age. Unlike taking from the rich and giving to the poor, people who pay more social security get more out of it later.

    If you’d like to give money to people who need it, by all means, go ahead.

  10. kat says:

    aboout culture and the Nordic Fest, why would that be different than the Juneteenth festival or Cinco de Mayo festivals that we have in Denver. I am pretty much Caucasian and not a Latina, but I go to both and enjoy the fantastic ethnic foods and music. On St Patrick’s Day, no one complains about it being racist. I think the fear is that much of the Nordic traditions have been unfortunately coopted by white supremisists and that has tainted the Nordic in some peoples eyes. The Swastika was co opted the same way be Hitler. It originally came from India and was a symbol of protection and good luck.
    For me it has never been about race, it has been about money and common ground. I have more in common with single moms trying to raise goods kids on a limited income no matter what color they are as opposed to other caucasian women who fall into the “ladies who lunch” income bracket and lifestyle.

  11. Jon says:

    Perhaps the vast fluctuations in food prices are a regional thing, I haven’t particularly noticed them here in the Northwest. I have a pricebook built on an Excel spreadsheet. I recorded the prices of everything that I regularly buy in weekly columns, then I set up a column to produce an average, and a column to show me the lowest price paid. Those are the only two columns I printed out. Whenever I have a question as to whether some sale item is really a good deal, I just check those figures and if the sale price falls between the average and the low, it’s worth buying, and if it’s equal to or lower than the lowest price, I’ll stock up the pantry with that item.

  12. Minerva says:

    “I want to live in an area where politeness and courtesy towards others is a cultural norm” –

    I know you are speaking from personal experience, but as a non-white person who has been to Iowa a few times, I didn’t experience this at all. I think you are making a correlation between geography and race, but it does not necessarily indicate cause.

  13. Jonathan says:

    I don’t see a desire to live in a particular region or type of environment as being in any way racist. If someone were to choose to live in a certain area BECAUSE it had less racial diversity, that might be racist. It does not sound like that is the case in your situation. It doesn’t sound like that is a factor in your decision of where to live. If there are people who believe that everyone who lives in the rural Midwest, then I think they need to reconsider their definition of the term.

  14. Jeremy says:

    “If you’re very secure and have a lifestyle well below your means, insurance becomes substantially less important.”

    Unless you are able to self-insure (which takes a LOT of money), this isn’t true.

    Insurance is less important to those who are living paycheck to paycheck. If they get hit with a $2 million medical bill, they declare bankruptcy and it doesn’t take long for them to get back to where they started. They have less to lose.

    The person who has assets that can be taken away is at the most risk. Again, unless you can self-insure, which means you have enough money that a $2 million medical bill wouldn’t feel like a big deal.

  15. Minerva says:

    “Whether you like it or not, that pretty much prescribes that I live in parts of the world that are dominated by certain demographics and underrepresented by other demographics”

    Can you elaborate on what these underrepresented demographics are?

  16. Jane says:

    I agree with Johanna. It’s nonsense to say that there’s any connection between the Nordic population of the upper Midwest and its low crime rate. Crime statistics are tied to population density and socio-economic status. If you live in a rural or semi-rural area, the odds of someone breaking into your home while running to the store are pretty low. Honestly, I live in a much larger city known for crime (St. Louis – we routinely rank in the top five for most dangerous city), and I could leave my door unlocked for a time and probably have no one steal my things. I choose not to, because the odds are certainly higher where I live, but none of this has anything to do with race. It’s just ignorant to make any sort of claim that certain races are more prone to be violent. I know you didn’t directly say that, but like Johanna said, you can infer that from your generalizations.

  17. Minerva says:

    Aside from the weather, what you describe is what most people the world over aspire to.

    Being Caucasian, perhaps you’ve found your Eden in the mid west. If a bunch of non European folks settle in that area, will it alter your vision? Will it water down the predominantly Scandinavian stock?
    As you’ve noted, “They’re treated differently due to their physical appearance (as much as you might want to wish it away, it’s still true)” so it’s unlikely you’ll suddenly get an influx of non-whites.

  18. It’s nice that you answer questions on the blog like this. It helps others to know that you accept questions and provide sincere, and helful answers. Thanks for doing this, Trent.

    John DeFlumeri Jr.

  19. Minerva says:

    Okay, how about this, what if we reverse it?
    What if you say, “I don’t want to live in the Bronx because there is a lot of violence. Many people who live in the Bronx are from Jamaica.”

    There is inference that Jamaicans are violent. Many people who lack critical thinking skills think exactly that – it’s called ignorance. As Jane mentioned, socio-economic indicators and pop. density are much better guidelines than race.

    Btw, celebrations of culture are not racist and I don’t think anyone is saying they are.

  20. George says:

    Question time: it’s a year after the big market meltdown, so how do you feel about predictions you made a year ago about the economy? What I see is that the stimulus monies ended the recession, at least temporarily, but unemployment is still rising.

  21. susan schnitzler says:

    Hi Trent,
    this is for you personally, not for the simple dollar. Larry & I were at Grandpa Stoen’s this week end and saw a place for sale. It is a newer home on 63 acres. Has a barn. think they are asking $369,000. If you want any other information, call grandpa.
    Hope you are all doing well and staying healthy.

  22. kristine says:

    I agree with Jane. Other factors than cultural traits are far more determinate than race when it comes to crime. Over-crowded, disenfranchised, impoverished Scandanavians might not be quite as nice!

  23. Aaron says:

    “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
    -Bill Cosby

    100% PC can be dangerous, because we refuse to acknowledge reality. Also, constantly having to “walk on eggshells”, can be rather distressful. That aside, it appears that Trent is saying that a particular region has a low crime rate, and is also primarily made up of a particular demographic. It does not appear that he is claiming that the demographic is the absolute cause of the low crime rate.

  24. Erik says:

    I agree with Jane that it’s incredibly shortsighted to make connection between Nordic population and crime rates. Correlation does not imply causation, as they say. Otherwise I could infer some surprising things regarding Nordic people and their love of crystal meth. “Iowa broke up 1,472 meth labs last year alone” according to a 2005 article in the Christian Science Monitor. Also: “Meth is not a ghetto drug. Its users are over 90 percent white. And while the epidemic is spreading, it remains concentrated in America’s heartland.”

    As a Scandinavian myself, I could wonder why we love that drug so much. Or I could investigate and realize it’s more likely tied to the fact that the drug can be made in the privacy of your own home, so it’s easier to obtain when you don’t have a street corner on which to buy crack, cocaine, or heroin like major cities.

    I’d also like to point out the irony of you chastising political correctness for “hurting diversity” while you’re championing the midwest as pocket of Scandinavian people.

  25. Cindy Brick says:

    A quick comment on the ‘cancer policy’ question. My dad died in February of this year, after a three-year struggle with multiple myeloma. He and my mom had purchased (and paid on) a cancer policy regularly for decades, after a scare in my college years when his shoulder cancer returned. (It was removed, and he stayed cancer-free for a long time.) Up until the mm, I would have said that policy was a waste — but cancer treatments are EXPENSIVE. The worst was approx. $7500 a month. The cancer policy covered nearly all costs — money that would have bankrupted my folks.
    The policy is no longer available, though my mom was grandfathered in (and still pays premiums). Given how many forms of cancer can strike us at any time, you might want to take another look at your family history — my dad’s father, as well as his mom and brother, also died of various cancers.
    Then — and only then — decide if you want to cancel.

  26. Sissy says:

    Whether or not you can leave your door unlocked when you go to the hardware store is pretty much a function of your paranoia level. I lived in the city of Detroit (albeit in one of the nicer areas) for over 30 years and NEVER locked my doors. Does this mean I never had a break in? Nope. OTOH, they never came in thru the (unlocked) door, either. And when my house was broken into, it was while we were at work or on vacation; i.e., absent for long periods of time. Then we put a raspberry bramble in the backyard and that pretty much took care of the break-in problem. Just sayin’

  27. chacha1 says:

    Trent, you KNEW that addressing the “PC” comment would start people off, didn’t you?? Obviously a few readers are conflating “ethnic” with “cultural.” And obviously a few readers are overlooking the plentifully-documented fact that ethnic groups tend to gather together. Why else does every big city have a Chinatown?

    It’s just a matter of where people feel comfortable. Observing that does not require that we then go into deep sociopolitical discussions of why that is. This isn’t a sociopolitical blog.

    That said, race and behavior (culture) have nothing to do with each other. I don’t care what color (or religion) you are as long as you behave in a civil manner. Our neighborhood (an affluent one) has white, black, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European Jewish families living in the same apartment/condo buildings, and everyone gets along because everyone values the same BEHAVIOR – and, it’s fair to note, because everyone has enough of the necessities.

    Poor neighborhoods are more subject to crime than affluent ones for reasons that 1) have nothing to do with race and 2) should be self-evident. Nobody really chooses to move into a poor neighborhood, and those who value civil behavior and social stability work hard to move out.

    Governments that do their best to ensure that everyone has enough of the necessities – notably the Scandinavian governments – are, amazingly enough, less troubled by crime. It’s got nothing to do with the fact that Scandinavian nations are predominantly white, and everything to do with the fact that those nations value social stability and put their money where their values are.

    And frankly, that’s one reason that the U.S. is as safe and stable as it is, despite our ethnic/religious diversity and enormous class divisions. Enough of our governments have chosen to invest heavily in support systems. Everybody’s money gets pooled, as noted above, to provide services available to everyone. Not everyone needs them, but everyone who values this sort of society shouldn’t complain about the fact that they don’t need help!

  28. Jim says:

    People really need to stop whining about political correctness. That got tired about 5 years ago.

  29. Bobby says:

    Great reader responses. With my girls I’ve rediscovered the appeal of game-playing as entertainments. It’s that and NOVA on DVR.

  30. Stella says:

    You get to choose where you want to live and to have your own rationale for that choice.

    I’ve got no issue with that or your choice. It’s all your biz. What I don’t understand however is your rationale. That being around a particular ethnic group in some way reduces your risk factor for “bad” stuff in life.

    Bottom line: Crime exists in all socio-economic and ethnic groups because well PEOPLE/Individuals commit crimes. Regardless of their “tribe” or group.

    I think a lot of people are fooling themselves into believing that 1/ you are “safe” anywhere (you aren’t) and 2/ that the presence of one group and/or the absence of any other reduces risk.

    You can live somewhere where there is only one murder a year, but if you’re that person, well…

    We live in NYC, one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet and we love that. We specifically came here searching for diversity and stayed for that reason. When our friends with children moved to the suburbs they searched for ethnically diverse areas and had huge difficulties when they realized that they lived in very “homogenized” communities despite the presence of families from different ethnic backgrounds.

    When we first moved here, NYC was going thru a tough period and people were like: How can you move there? Aren’t you afraid? The answer: No. No more afraid than might have been had we stayed in our nice suburban neighborhood where people got drunk all the time at the fancy parties, drove drunk and killed others; where burglaries happened, burglaries by people just like the folks who lived in the houses; and cars were stolen regardless of type.

    Statistically our risk might have changed, but the reality is that no matter where you live today, as we’ve seen on the news, you never know what can happen. The only difference between us and others is that we have no illusions about safety (especially in the time of dirty bombs, nuclear war threats and terrorism)and don’t waste time worrying about what we can’t control. If 9/11 taught us nothing else, it was to focus on living and everyday life. This is a city where you never could pretend that life wasn’t without risks. But it’s also a city of great “rewards” in terms of who you can meet, what you can do and what you can achieve–and that includes our lives as everyday people, not rich, famous or notorious.

    I grew up in a very nice, wealthy area that was basically all one “sort” of people. I hated it beyond belief. It was so limiting, so narrow-minded and so stifling, I could not imagine living there no matter how “comfortable” on so many other levels. To each his own.

    I don’t think you’re racist per se. I’m not even sure how one defines that anymore. And the issue of being PC is irrelevant here as it is your blog and you should feel free, as those who comment should also, to say what you think, believe, feel.

    Just don’t expect people to not be upset and to maybe, gasp, not like you, or to question you on other things, once they hear how you feel on some things. That’s life. On and offline.

    Trent writes:
    Political correctness hurts diversity because it suppresses raw, fresh thoughts and encourages people to filter what they say and think, spitting out milquetoast that destroys the diversity that political correctness is supposed to preserve in the first place.

    I’m not sure being tactful or PC suppresses, raw, fresh thoughts. Frankly, sometimes raw, fresh thoughts need to be thought through before being expressed (You’re married, so I’m sure you understand that. We all have to think twice about what we say especially to those we live with! Otherwise, we’re just creating problems.) Just understand, that what you say has an impact and you will be held accountable, as all of us are, for our freedom of speech.

    I do hope your life brings you into contact (in the real world, not just the online one) with people who differ from you in lots of ways. One of the greatest gifts of a global world is meeting those who do not think like us, act like us or believe as we do. And yet…are just like us in the ways that really count.

    More than anything, I hope that your thinking is not frozen in time/space by limited exposure at the local level. Cause it would not matter where you were if that happens.

    And, oh, yes. We have plenty of bigots, racists, narrow-minded folks here in the city. We’re just like everywhere else with a lot more people in each group! Prejudice exists between groups of all kinds but the city forces you to face it and at least not pretend that for some, it does exist, while for others, it matters naught.

    We are happy that our world of relationships includes people from all over the globe. They’ve opened our minds and our hearts in ways we could not even imagine.

  31. Mariusz says:

    It certainty isn’t racist to prefer to live around your own people. Why do African Americans tend to congregate together, even when they have the money to move out of inter-city areas?

    If I could, I would choose to live around other Eastern Europeans, but since that is difficult to find, I choose to live in an area that is mostly White people. I don’t hate anyone, I just like my own people.

  32. Catherine says:

    “I want an environment where I’m not afraid to leave my door unlocked for a half an hour while I go to the hardware store…where people will simply leave me alone to do my own things and think my own thoughts…where I’m not concerned about random acts of violence beyond an occasional playground fight…where I can breathe clean, fresh air…where politeness and courtesy towards others is a cultural norm…where neighbors bake each other loaves of bread and don’t mind if they erect a compost bin…that has strong winters and hot summers…in a state that has a high standard of education and funds its schools well.”

    These criteria almost completely describe a Chicago neighborhood I used to live in. Besides being urban, it was believed to be the second-most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the country.

    Trent, I think it’s wonderful that you like the people where you live. They’re probably wonderful people.

    But political correctness simply means taking other people’s viewpoints into consideration. It means acknowledging that other groups have a stake in what you say about them. I love the Midwest, too, and I’ve lived in all kinds of communities here, from rural agricultural to inner-city Chicago, from highly diverse to almost entirely homogeneous. In all these places I’ve found some lovely, neighborly people who showed by their words and actions that they cared what I thought about what they said about me and about people like me. That is, they were personally and politically “correct,” if we consider “correct” to mean “kind,” which the people who practice it do. None of these kind, neighborly people would have felt flattered by someone who said he wanted to join their communities based on their cultural and that if that’s racist, then so be it.

    Are you being a good neighbor, Trent?

  33. brad says:

    so is there any chance of your friend jon’s awesomeness going to be repeated by a follow-up post to his campground? im STILL waiting for that.

  34. k2000k says:

    Political Correctness needs to die. It really does, it does nothing but exacerbate tensions by trying to put an oh so nice and proper veneer over everything we say and do. But that isn’t how the real world works, rather, it would do everyone a whole lot more good to become less sensitive. Or as my mom would say, learn to let things roll of your back. Rather than take offense at what someone says, take the ten seconds to think about the possibility that you might just be misconstruing what they said.

    and yes Trent is a good neighbor, I would rather have a neighbor speak his mind than some PC drone any day. We had enough of that malarky in the 90s and it really, really needs to die and go away.

  35. Crystal says:

    I completely agree with you on pc. I have come to realise the world has completely lost respect. If you respect other’s, racism would not be the issue. If you respect other’s thoughts, we would have valid conversations and arguements without downright hatefulness. People do not respect others in way of property (leaving your door unlocked) lives (violence) minds (always saying “I’m right”). All tolerance says is everyone is right. Someone is always going to be wrong. We should just be respectful that others may be different, and have different thoughts. Great post – thanks!

  36. Todd says:

    Thank you, Carey, for a wonderful post about what it means for us to pool our resources in a civilized society. I actually have a neighbor who is furious that he has paid health insurance premiums for the past 10 years and has never once gotten a dime out of it. Does he really WISH to have a serious illness so that he can get his money’s worth?

  37. Andrea says:

    I would like to comment on the issue of PC. I would argue that 1) being offended by racist, sexist, whatever -ist language is not a sign of being thin-skinned or hypersensitive, and that 2) labeling something as being PC is often a way of trivializing the probem as “offence” — as the hearer;s problem, not the speaker’s problem.(No, I am in no way saying that Trent is racist or using racist language or that his choice of where to live indicates such ideas … )

    Political correctness began in left-wing discussions to refer to anyone who was excessively dogmatic. However by the late eighties the term was used predominantly by cultural conservatives who used it as a catch-all derogatory term for most liberal positions. According to C. Newfield, “Unmaking the Public University”, pp. 58-61, “something was politically correct, in this right-wing usage, if it compromised free speech –or allegedly common-sense language–in order to avoid causing offence to a person or group” (Newfield, 58). Gender neutral and non-racist language really generated complaint; recently, requests not to use “that’s so gay/lame” also get labelled PC. Partially complaining about PC was a way to express uncertainty or discomfort over social change in an acceptable way. The term became widely popular after a 1990 Newsweek article about alleged left-wing “thought police.” The staff found almost no incidents to support their claims, so they used widely separated incidents “in which a racial or sexual minority rebelled against a routine slight coming from someone or some group for whom such back talk was “nontraditional.” What to these students were often acts of disputation, remedy, reform, or clarified dialogue were described by Adler [the article’s author] as insidiously totalitarian and part of a widespread popular front falling just short of conspiracy” (Newfield, 60). George Will picked up on the story, lauding Dick and Lynne Cheney, and he and Adler both used the language of 1950’s era anti-communism. In other words, these authors interpreted the language of equality and enfranchisement not as saying that expressions of racism and sexism are just flat wrong and that human beings should treat each other better, but as saying that minorities and women were being uppity for expecting to be treated equally in terms of language as well as in terms of daily life. The complaint became “We can’t say what we think!” opposed to “Ooops, racism does creep into language; let’s not be racist OR sexist … “)

    However, “being PC” has also come to imply “thin skinned” and simply “taking offence”, with the implication being that anyone upset by “mere words” takes themselves too seriously, isn’t tough enough, isn’t competitive enough–in other words, that the problem is the LISTENER, not the speaker and his/her attitudes. In other words, when someone complains about language, that person is often met with a bland asserttion that words don’t matter, and that s/he, the listener, is being just too sensitive. But as readers of the *last* mailbag have pointed out, words DO matter. They frame our thinking, shape what we think is possible, affect behavior. How many polls, after all, get markedly different results when they phrase the *same question* in different ways? People do, and should, have an interest in both what we say and how we say it.

    I agree that there are people who are too sensitive, and I also agree that taking what another says in the best possible light, particularly on the NEt, is a valuable and necessary skill. However, reminding people of the negative implications of words, and paying attention to real life results (remote example: we don’t call black male adults “boy” any more, thankfully, with the implication that they are childish and incompetent), is not “PC”. It is part and parcel of living in a multicultural civilization and learning to live together.

  38. steve says:

    To Paul who is getting the 10K tax refund, I would say this:

    Unless you have about 30K in cash in the bank available to pay for your mortgage payments every month in the event of a job loss, I’d advise you to keep the 10K in cash as a cushion, earmarked for just that occasion. If you do have a significant (30,000 dollars or more) cash reserve, then I’d go with paying off the credit cards.

  39. marta says:

    @Andrea: Very well said, thank you!

    In which regards Social Security: while it can be painful to see that money go (I am a freelancer, so I actually *see* that money), I have to remember that it’s part of living in a society. It’s just not about myself and my own interests. I might see very little of that money whenever I retire, but Social Security isn’t just about retirement here. It’s about the NHS (we have got universal healthcare), unemployment benefits (which I have used for a few months many years ago), maternity/paternity subsides, help with court costs, and so on. I have got some issues with Social Security (freelancers are highly taxed in an unfair way) but I don’t think I would want a full refund. What is the alternative? Do we want everyone to be on their own, without any safety net? That’s not realistic.

    You, Trent, often bring up the advantages of community; isn’t Social Security a part of that? Perhaps on a larger scale, but still…

  40. Courtney says:

    I live in the upper midwest and know exactly what Trent is talking about. You know why people of Nordic descent make such good neighbors? It’s because of the strong emphasis their culture places on hard work, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency.

    Guess I’m a horrible, evil racist for pointing that out :)

  41. E says:

    Re: Aflac and similar, I bought their accident policy when I started riding my bike to work. As far as I’m concerned, it’s been 100% effective: in the almost 4 yrs I’ve had the policy, I have not had an accident which required medical attention. :) I’m happy to let them keep my money as long as I can keep this up.

  42. Des says:

    I don’t know about racist, but Trent is definitely a hypocrite.

    From the comments section of “How to Make a Quadruple Batch of a Tasty Casserole Easily, Quickly, and Cheaply”:

    “#14 Trent @ 9:15 am May 22nd, 2009

    “Why is the inclusion of potato chips in a casserole the absolute giveaway that this recipe comes from the Midwest?”

    Because you’re a regionalist who buys into stereotypes.”

  43. Mo-Town says:

    Post nos. 6, 23 and 26 imply that Social Security is a form of welfare. This is a fairly common misunderstanding. The Social Security Administration oversees several programs. SSI and SSDI are federal welfare programs intended to provide payments to low income individuals who are aged, blind or disabled. A person’s entitlement to benefits under these programs has nothing to do with the amount of social security taxes they’ve paid.

    Social Security is a different form of program. Unlike SSI and SSDI, it is not a welfare program, but rather, is a sort of forced-retirement program under which one’s benefits are directly related to the amount of quarters in which one has worked and the amount of social security taxed paid.

    People who have paid into social security have every right to expect their benefits, regardless of whether or not they “need” them.

  44. maria says:

    #27 Courtney –

    I think that the ethic of a lot of other cultures place emphasis on hardwork, personal responsibility and self-suffiency.

    You might be a horrible, evil racist if you think that only people of Nordic ancestry are such way.

    Why does PC bother people so much? You know what I think? There is a point of where PC is just too much and it’s dumb. But PC reminds people on the better end of the status quo that the world is not perfect and some people have struggled and fought for things they take for granted. They’d like to keep the status quo that way and shut up everybody from changing the way the world is. That’s fine if you think that. But don’t hind behind some stupid comment.

    Lastly, Trent, I have been a reader for over 2 years. I liked when you posted frugal tips and not your opinions about the number of children one should have and about why Nordics make better neighbors. I will no longer be reading your blog and will not be referring people to it anymore.

    Good Luck.

    -sorry for the spelling errors-

  45. JGF says:

    I apologize if you’ve already a similar question, but here it goes:
    I’m 24 years old. If you combine all my accounts..checking, savings, investments, etc, I have about $20,000 to my name. $25,000 is about what I make in a year. I have absolutely no debt, not even a car payment. I want to buy a house at some point, but due to some other things that need to fall into place, this will be at least a year off. Other than that, no (expected) large expenses.
    Before the rates fell, most of my savings was in CDs. Now that 5% CDs are a thing of the past, I’ve been investing a lot of my savings in Vanguard mutual funds. Here’s the question: right now, literally half my money is in mutual funds. They’re some of the lowest-risk funds they had, but still, is that…insane? How much scratch should I put in a regular ol’ savings account and how much should I invest? I just hate my money sitting there not making interest.

  46. Susan says:

    Trent, as always, I love your posts. And I do say so even if you are an American!

  47. amarikah says:

    Yean well, it’s all fun and games and unlocked doors with those Nordic types until someone ends up in the wood chipper…

    Seriously though, Trent, I thought you were a scientist. You should know the difference between correlation and causation. If you don’t watch out you and your kids could end up with some real small mindedness.

    In a mirroring way, this reminds me of one of my college friends who grew up/lives in NYC. He’s travelled just about everywhere but to him, NYC is hands down the best place on earth and the only place to live. If graduate school necessitates moving away, then he’s not going to grad school. You could not convince him that any other place or lifestyle had any kind of real merit. No matter where he is on the planet, he’d rather be in New York. It’s sad.

  48. Erik says:

    Yes, Courtney, I know you think you’re being funny, but you do sound a little racist to me. Not horrible and evil, just sad and unaware. I’m not sure if you’ve traveled out of the midwest or even the US, but doing so might help you gain some perspective.

  49. triLcat says:

    I don’t know how feasible this is, but with interest rates as they are, I’m wondering how this could work. When I lived in NY, all the charities used to sell scrip for supermarkets, and get 10% from the chain by buying a lot in advance. When my dad lost his job, he started buying scrip himself to save money at the supermarket where we did most of our shopping. The question is what the minimum purchase is for scrip. If it’s $1000, then that’s what? 3-4 months groceries. 10% return in 3-4 months is a pretty amazing return. Worth checking out. (btw, in my local supermarket, in Modiin, Israel, the minimum purchase for scrip is $250 – about 1 month’s shopping. I’m amazed by people who DON’T do it)

  50. Jeroen says:

    Ouch… The whole ‘I speak my mind, I’m not PC’ schtick is really really really getting tired. Just obey the golden rule: ‘don’t be a dick’ and you’re fine.

    A question: how can you be racist toward Scandinavians? They are not a race, as far as I know. I’m not so sure there is anything remotely close to a common Scandinavian culture, especially not when uprooted and moved to the US a number of generations ago.

  51. Kai says:

    There’s no racism against scandanavians. If anything, he’s saying that scandanavians are much better people than others.
    I don’t want PC. I agree with the points you make in this post. But they’re not relevant. It is reasonable to say that the people in your area are largely of nordic descent. That’s a demographic fact (or at least, I’m taking your word on it :)). It’s perfectly acceptable to say that your area has values you support, low crime, and all the rest. It is reaosnable to say that the cultural influence of the nordic population contributes to that.
    When you instead go so far as to say ‘nordic people are x’, you are no longer talking about influences, and you are suggesting genetics. and you are making sweeping generalizations, instead of factual observations. That is when people take issue.

  52. Lisa says:

    “The world benefits from this kind of diversity. I want to get to know everyone I meet because we all see the world so differently. It’s beautiful.

    But it’s different when I consider where I want to live – the place where I put my head down on a pillow …”

    Boy, I’ll say! ROFL!

    Ah yes, diversity benefits the world. It’s beautiful, all right … just not where you put your head down on your pillow at night, Trent… not where you choose to purchase your home and not where your children go to school. Apparently the “beauty” and “benefit” of diversity is easiest to appreciate when it’s far away from home.

    Methinks the emperor hath no clothes. Why not dispense with the “milquetoast”, stop “mincing words” and just Get Honest with some facts?

    As of 2009, according to ‘bestplaces.net’, the demographics of the city in which Trent lives include the following:

    96.16% Caucasian; 0.24% African American; 0.54% Asian; 0.37% Native American; 1.48% Hispanic; 1.83% “Other”

    Trent warns: “If you’re going to criticize the statements of others, supply supporting information that backs up your statement or your comment will be deleted”. Those numbers ARE facts: “supporting information”. I hope Trent will have the #@%&* to post them.

    The truth is that – ethnically speaking – Trent’s children’s experience of “diversity” when it comes to their schoolmates and neighbors really isn’t going to be much different than my husband’s was, when he was raised in rural Iowa (the town of Keystone – close to Cedar Rapids) not far from where Trent lives – in the 1950’s and early ’60s. The demographics prove that.

    For every 100 classmates Trent’s children go to school with, 96 of them will be white. Less than 1 out of every 100 will be black. What kind of “diversity” will they really be able to experience before they become of age and go off to college?

    As I said, my husband grew up in rural Iowa in the 1950s and early ’60s. The fact is that, before he turned 18 and went into the Navy, he only saw African Americans ONCE “in real life” as he called it as a child. His father had taken DH and his siblings to Waterloo (from their hometown in Keystone) for a trip of some sort, when they saw a black family walking down the sidewalk in town. DH said he still remembers being mesmerized by the sight of the black children. He said he couldn’t stop staring. The only African Americans he had EVER seen before that day were ON TELEVISION. How sad.

    I realize that things have changed a bit since the 1950s in rural Iowa. But not much, ethnically speaking. My MIL still lives in the same town. My BIL and family live in nearby Luzerne, and my SIL and family live in West Des Moines – again, all fairly close to where Trent calls home. Of course, Des Moines and other large cities in Iowa are more ethnically diverse. But, luckily for Trent, plenty of rural towns and cities are still very comfortably white.

    I know such comments are not pretty. It’s much more pleasant (PC?) to talk about Scandinavian festivals and how beautiful diversity is in the world (as long as it’s in someone else’s back yard) than to look at the demographics and admit that some of us (myself not included) want to live in white neighborhoods and our children to go to school with white classmates. But THAT is still the unvarnished truth in parts of our country today, and I would expect someone who is REALLY unconcerned with “mincing words” and being PC to just get real, be honest and say so.

  53. deRuiter says:

    #33 “There’s no racism against Scandanavians.” This is simply not true in Sweden. Goodgle “rape Sweden ethnic Swedish women” and learn about “ethnic diversity” in one of the most tolerant societies on earth. “Governments that do their best to ensure that everyone has enough of the necessities – notably the Scandinavian governments – are, amazingly enough, less troubled by crime.” THIS STATEMENT IS NOT TRUE. Sweden insures that ALL citizens have generous government benefits, but this has not stopped the gang rapes of ethnic Swedish women by groups of “disenfranchised youths” who accompany the brutality with comments like “Swedish pig” and “whore” to women who do not cover their faces. Trent, I know you will take this down because it’s not “nicey nice” but it is the truth. You are right to choose to live in a safe place to protect your family and children. It is your RESPONSIBILITY to choose a safe place for your family to live.

  54. Courtney says:

    #31 Erik Thanks for the laugh so early in the morning. Your condescension is amusing. Please tell me what gives you the idea that I’m “sad and unaware” and have not “traveled out of the midwest or even the US” (!) Is it because you’re so worldly and knowledgeable that you were able to divine these facts? :)

  55. Hope D says:

    Lisa’s comments made me laugh. I guess Trent should move so his children can be around black people.

  56. Carey says:

    Courtney, let me spell it out for you. You said, “You know why people of Nordic descent make such good neighbors? It’s because of the strong emphasis their culture places on hard work, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency.”

    By implication, you are saying that people without your preferred genetics are not hard working, personally responsible, or self-sufficient. Please know that genetic descent has nothing to do with these characteristics. If you think it does, you are horribly mistaken. That is the very definition of racism.

    Perhaps what you really mean is that a region’s culture, not genetics, plays an important role in whether that region is full of “good neighbors”. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t be using the word “descent”.

  57. Carey says:

    Oops, I hit Submit before I was ready…

    In any case, hard work, personal responsibility, and self-sufficiency are pretty universal values in any culture. If you’re unaware of that simple fact, it does make you look like a clueless rube, so I don’t think Erik was off-base.

  58. Courtney says:

    #38 Carey Ah, the typical lefty arguing style – insults, name-calling and accusations with no facts whatsoever to back it up. Please note that I said absolutely nothing about any other ethnic groups. Any implications that you have arrived at are coming from you, not me.

  59. Carey says:

    Fine Courtney, if that’s not what you were implying, then I’ll take your word for it. However, I think that what I inferred from your statement was a very reasonable interpretation. In fact, it looks to me like the only reasonable interpretation, because without it, your statement is meaningless. Why else would you say “ethnic group X is A” if not to imply that ethnic group Y must therefore be not A?

    If that’s not how you meant it, just be more aware of how you are phrasing things.

    I think it’s hilarious that in the same breath, you use “lefty” as a pejorative to describe me, then condemn me for name-calling.

  60. G says:

    I don’t see why saying one group of people has certain positive attributes is implying that others don’t. She didn’t say “and everyone else is a lazy slob”, she just pointed out a generality.

  61. Courtney says:

    Carey, why would I want to be more aware of how I’m phrasing things? To please the segment of our society that finds offense in everything and whines and cries and plays the victim game? No thanks.

    For the record, I didn’t call you “lefty” as a disparagement. I was just guessing it was an accurate description of your political leanings, judging from your mindset. You can go ahead and call me “righty” and it won’t bother me in the least.

  62. Erik says:

    Courtney: when did Carey insult you, call you a name or make accusations?

  63. Patrick says:

    I was initially taken aback severely upon reading the words Nordic Fest. The reason for this is that the only Nordic Fest I had heard of before today is an annual White National / Neo-Nazi rally in KY – put on by the Klan.

    I did some quick research and I was extremely happy to find no correlation between the one that Trent mentioned in Decorah, Iowa and the despicable white pride rally & concert in KY.

    Trent, I’m not sure if you have heard of the other Nordic Fest – and I sincerely hope that you do not share sympathies with those low-lifes. Could you confirm? Thanks.

  64. graytham says:

    Carey, you’re making a really big leap- all Courtney did was say complimentary things about Scandinavian people. At no time did she say anything UNcomplimentary about any other group of people.

    And I really don’t understand why people are jumping on Trent for living in a good, decent community because it’s “too white.” Are you saying he should go out of his way to look for a house in a racially mixed town even though he and his family are perfectly happy where they are right now?

  65. Carey says:

    Courtney, I’m not offended and I’m not playing the victim. I was merely calling out your comment because it came across as racist, and I don’t think such statements should be left unchallenged.

    That way, if you don’t wish to appear racist, you at least know that your comments are coming across that way, to any reasonable person. If you don’t mind that your comments make you sound racist, by all means, comment away. No skin off my back. But don’t play the victim and get offended when people call you out on it.

    By the way, that “segment of society” that finds racist comments to be inappropriate? We just call it “society”.

  66. Carey says:

    graytham, like I said, the comment is meaningless without the implication. And if that’s not what she meant to imply, then instead of playing the victim and calling me names, she should rethink her phrasing next time.

  67. Courtney says:

    Carey, maybe it came across as racist to you, but I am positive that if you were to go ask the next 500 people you see walking down the street, “Courtney said that people of Scandinavian descent make good neighbors because they are hardworking, personally responsible and self-sufficient – is that racist?”, the majority would say no.

  68. Evita says:

    What have I missed? I sometimes find Trent’s writing and comments a tiny bit irritating, and his advice sometimes questionable, but have I found him “politically incorrect” or “racist”? never in my memory.
    Trent, just continue being yourself!!

  69. almost there says:

    #44, Carey, I am calling you out “…to any reasonable person”. So now you infer her comments and assume that any reasonable person thinks it to be racist. The left is great for trying to control the language, because they know that if they control the language, they control the outcome for society. Cortney did not make any racist statements. You try to make it so. From your comment #6 on you show your stripes. SS is not welfare, it is a ponzi scheme whereby the federal gvt has taken in billions and billions and instead of investing the overage in other central banks it spent it. The country could have had trillions of dollars in surplus if it had don’t that.

  70. Erik says:

    Well, I’m a reasonable person and I found Courtney’s comments to be racist because she made assumptions based up race. I think some of you think racism only comes in the form of negative comments, the simplified version being “Black people are bad!”. Racism is also: “Aren’t white people great? Aren’t they?” You’re still making assumptions about race and you’re implying that other races aren’t so great, otherwise why wouldn’t you just say “Aren’t all people great?”

  71. Calm Neighbor says:

    I am an African American reader of this & other frugality blogs. Raised by Southern parents in a frugal household, I’ve been investing since age 19. I vote, work and have a side business, volunteer, attend church weekly, and have a master’s degree. I love board games, bike rides, chatting over potluck dinners or a cup of tea, library visits, and I compost vegetable peelings and scraps not fit for soups. I also prefer to live in safe neighborhoods and am fortunate enough to live in one now; it’s fairly diverse & I help neighbors out when I can (emergency babysitting — I’m female — garden ideas, etc.).It’s been a good experience for me. I’m a pretty average African American person; I think that I make a decent neighbor, because I do make an effort. I am well aware that some people would look at me and hope that I would not live near them. Some recent arrivals to the neighborhood (I’ve been here for a few years) have declined to make eye contact or return greetings; I guess they’re assuming that I don’t live here or hoping that I’ll disappear if they pretend hard enough. That’s their loss. I continue to try to keep an eye out for the neighbors’ kids and homes and keep the sidewalk clear of leaves or snow because that is how I was raised, in a fairly traditional African American household. Black people are not imbued with innate criminality; we want to be safe and have stable homes too. My family & circle of friends includes strivers — MDs, teachers, techies,stable and employed people who are proud of accomplishing something and doing a good job because that’s how we were raised. People like us aren’t on TV or in the news; maybe we’re a little boring. But people who make assumptions, or turn away when I pause in my leaf raking to say hello, will never know who we are.

  72. Minerva says:

    “the strong emphasis their culture places on hard work, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency”

    Doesn’t that describe many cultures?

    No one is required to police their words so as not to be misconstrued or offensive, but it makes for nice company and good society.

  73. Minerva says:

    “I am positive that if you were to go ask the next 500 people you see walking down the street, “Courtney said that people of Scandinavian descent make good neighbors because they are hardworking, personally responsible and self-sufficient – is that racist?”, the majority would say no.”

    You may be right there Courtney – people don’t tend to see attribution of positive qualities as racist. Sort of like saying Chinese people are good at math – it isn’t meant to be offensive.

    However, if you say something similar such as, “People of Jamaican descent make poor neighbors because they are lazy, irresponsible and dependent” it can a bit more easily be labelled as racist.

  74. graytham says:

    #44: “That way, if you don’t wish to appear racist, you at least know that your comments are coming across that way, to any reasonable person.”

    Pardon me, I’m a very reasonable person, if I do say so myself, and I found nothing racist about her comments. I guess that makes me a racist, too, huh? *sigh*

    #49: “Racism is also: “Aren’t white people great? Aren’t they?”

    She didn’t say that!!! Gee whiz, some people are just itching for a fight- looking for hidden meanings in the most innocuous of statements. You are trying to twist a nice comment into something ugly. Why, I don’t know.

  75. Christine T. says:

    I would say many many people want to live in a place like Trent described. I don’t know if Trent realizes that the choice to live like that in his town is only a choice for him because he is white. If a POC moved in the area they probably would not have the same lovely experience. Not Trent’s fault but to get rid of racism one of the first things that has to happen is to realize the priveledges you have if you are white (due to the racism in our culture).

  76. Julie says:

    Hi All,

    Interesting discussion~ Christine T. just curious-what data/info do you have to back up the statement that only white people have the option of living in safe neighborhoods? Maybe that wasn’t what you meant to imply? I’m honestly not trying to pick a fight- just trying to see the logic.

  77. Erik says:

    graytham: So why did she specify “Nordic descent” if for no other reason to exclude other descents?

    Your “*sigh*” is obviously a way to marginalize the point and make it seem silly, but it’s a reasonable question.

  78. Courtney says:

    Erik, you haven’t answered my question in comment #36 yet.

    Also, is it racist when the ultra-liberal Garrison Keillor extols the virtues of Scandinavians? Or is it only racist when the person who says it is not in liberal lockstep with you?

    Of course, Garrison Keillor lives in the midwest, like I do – so he’s probably just as unaware and unworldly as I am (see your comment #31) :)

  79. graytham says:

    #52: Erik, she specified “Nordic descent” because Trent was talking about a part of the country that has a large population of people from Scandinavian countries.

    Courtney also lives in an area with this same population and has noticed the same good qualities in her neighbors that Trent has noticed in his. That’s all! Nothing nefarious going on here.

  80. Johanna says:

    Courtney, Garrison Keillor is a comedian, so it’s clear that he’s not being entirely serious. And I haven’t listened to his show for a while, but doesn’t he make fun of Scandinavians (or rather, stereotypes of Scandinavians) at least as often as he praises them?

  81. Erik says:

    Courtney, I grew up in the midwest. I’m also of “Nordic descent” (Swedish). And I’m a Republican, so I’m not really in “liberal lockstep” with anyone. I’m sorry, I haven’t listened to Garrison Keillor, so I can’t comment on him.

    I apologize that I assumed you haven’t traveled. I’ve been lucky enough to travel a great deal, and cultures that place a “strong emphasis on hard work, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency” pretty much describes every country I’ve ever visited. I’ve also moved around a lot and I’ve found the values you describe in neighbors of every “descent”.

  82. Mel says:

    “the places where I most want to live tend to have a large Scandinavian demographic” is not the same as saying “I want to live in places that have a large Scandinavian demographic”. There doesn’t seem to me to be any causality implied in Trent’s statement.

    Where I live, PCness hasn’t remotely got a hold yet – but I wish it would. Instead, we have ‘nationalists’ throwing fire bombs into houses of gypsies/roma. With implicit support of the mayor and community. And national politicians who say things like that ‘companies shouldn’t employ foreigners because then they’ll stay and have children and we’ll have cultural problems’ – that was a former prime minister. And the *hatred* that is detectible even in otherwise reasonable people, towards specific races and cultures! Still, it’s only been 20 years since foreigners have been common here (a friend of mine was almost 20 before he saw a black person) – there’s maybe hope yet in a generation or 2.

  83. Lisa says:

    For the record, I never called Trent racist, nor even politically incorrect. And no, I don’t feel he should move his family “so his children can be around black people”. (#37)

    I did suggest that waxing poetic about the beauty and benefit of diversity and then actually saying “But it’s different when I consider where I want to live” is so transparent, it’s laughable. And less than honest. Or rather, less than completely honest. If anyone wants to take his words at face value, that’s certainly their right. It’s also my right to say that something’s rotten in “Little Denmark”, and I can smell it clear out here in SoCal.

    I don’t blame anyone for wanting to live in a safe neighborhood and wanting their children to attend safe schools. I just believe that, in many cases, it’s more than that – much more. And that, in Trent’s case, he didn’t even disguise it all that well.

    *Please note that the term “Little Denmark” was used – tongue-in-cheek – to refer to the area Trent describes – not any specific Danish community or tourist area, such as Solvang, CA

  84. erin says:

    #51 Christine T. @ 1:33 pm November 10th, 2009

    I would say many many people want to live in a place like Trent described. I don’t know if Trent realizes that the choice to live like that in his town is only a choice for him because he is white. If a POC moved in the area they probably would not have the same lovely experience.

    oh my god…

  85. Courtney says:

    Erik, I appreciate the apology. Our backgrounds sound similar. I have traveled all over the world and lived in cities in several areas of the US. My husband and I chose to return to our midwestern small-town roots because we love the way of life here.

  86. Courtney says:

    #51 Christine T., you are making a very sweeping generalization. Believe it or not, we small-town midwesterners are not bound and determined to chase people with a different skin color out of town. The majority of residents in my small town are white, but in the past decade we’ve had a large number of families from Mexico move in, as well as some black families. All have been welcomed and are now just as much a part of the community as those who have lived here their whole lives. The only people who are frowned on are those who have unkempt houses and yards full of trash, and those are all whites.

  87. Rosa says:

    Courtney, you should google your town’s name and the phrase “Sundown town” before you make that statement. Or check out the book Sundown Towns, or check out this brief article: http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/051001/1sundown.htm

    P.S. I grew up in Iowa, and we got robbed multiple times by white people because that’s basically the only people there. I worked in a pawn shop in Northwest Iowa and the area is full of people pawning mom’s wedding ring for weed and stealing power tools from the neighbors who kindly don’t lock their doors. Trent’s feeling of safety is just that – a feeling.

  88. Al says:

    @ Joshua – when my brother had cancer, his treatment and hospitalization cost at least half a million dollars (we had great insurance luckily). This was only over 7 months, too – the treatment was very aggressive and rather quick (successful, too!) but MANY people have to be treated over a much longer period of time, so it could easily be much higher. $350 or so a year seems like a small price to pay for financial peace of mind if you think you are at a real risk for cancer.

    Stay healthy! -Al

  89. Al says:

    @ Eldon (and anyone who has kids old enough to read letters and form words – or anyone that just likes word games) I can’t recommend BANANAGRAMS highly enough! my family (no “kids” anymore) loves it and my younger cousins have really started to get into it. It’s like an informal version of scrabble with no points, and you can rearrange your crossword at any time to fit in new letter tiles. It’s helping my cousins think about their vocabulary and spelling and be creative at the same time. It’s a fantastic game!

  90. Nate "The Great" says:


    What is your opinion on the ‘no gifts at Christmas’ idea?


  91. Christine says:

    @#60 Courtney -“Chasing people out of town” is not the only kind of racism and if those families did experience racism there’s no reason to assume they would share those experiences with white people they know. It’s interesting that you feel like you can speak for them regarding their experience.

  92. jreed says:

    Any one see the movie Fargo?

  93. Todd says:

    I don’t want to add fuel to a (finally) dying fire, but I am a little disturbed by the implication of comments like “What do you want him to do, move his children to a place where there are people of color?”

    I moved to South Texas from the Midwest shortly after my children were born specifically for the purpose of raising them in a place where they were not the ethnic majority. They have a completely different view of race and of issues like immigration when they actually live these issues in their day-to-day lives.

    Do I think everyone should make the same choice? No. Do I deny the priviliges I still enjoy, even here where I’m a minority, because of being white? No. Do I appreciate being made to feel like my choice was preposterous with phrases like “What do you want Trent to do, move to a place with black people?” No. It’s not an absurd idea. It is a potential option.

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