Updated on 06.05.14

Reader Mailbag: Ankle Twist

Trent Hamm

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Retirement savings on smaller income
2. Focusing on health
3. Digging through debts
4. Getting started in book publishing
5. Trading board games by mail
6. Repeat material
7. A cavalcade of problems
8. Inexpensive DIY projects
9. Building a side business
10. Creating a podcast “station”

Two days ago, I badly twisted my ankle while playing Frisbee at dusk with my son. I took off after a Frisbee, didn’t see an obstacle in the yard, and suddenly I’m on my hands and knees and my ankle is throbbing.

It’s not been bad enough that I’ve been unable to do anything, but I have been keeping it a bit elevated and taking it easy the last two days.

Things like this remind me of how fragile we really are. If I had tripped a bit differently, I could have broken my ankle. If it had been a different obstacle, I could really be in a pickle.

Q1: Retirement savings on smaller income
I am a 35 year old woman wanting to start saving for retirement. I only make $900 a month where do i start.

– Maggie

It depends entirely on what your monthly expenses are. With the level of income you have, you might be in a situation where you really don’t have any extra money to spare, in which case your focus shouldn’t be on retirement savings, but on increasing your income.

If you do have some money to spare each month, the best solution for you is to open a Roth IRA account. If you feel confident doing this yourself, I recommend opening such an account with Vanguard, which is what I use.

What you’ll end up doing is setting up the account to withdraw a small amount from your checking account each month. This money will grow in that account until you reach retirement age, at which point you’ll be able to withdraw it tax free.

Q2: Focus on health
My husband is 32 and has been gaining weight progressively over the past few years and his current BMI is 27. He is a very caring person but I he doesn’t take care of himself. I have tried to get him to exercise and eat healthily but he is always making excuses and postponing it. He has a pretty sedentary lifestyle with 8+ hours in front of the computer. How do I motivate/convince him to start getting fit without sounding too preachy? Do you have any websites that you can suggest which might help motivate him or make him see the importance of being fit?

– Linda

Significant change almost always has to come from within. He has to want to change or else he won’t change. External motivators usually end up resulting in a rebound and resentment toward the motivator.

The best thing you can do is simply be a good example yourself. Start exercising. Make a conscious effort to eat better. Most importantly, do it without preaching or telling him to do things.

You can, of course, tell him that you’d like it if he focused more on his health, but if you make it a mandate, you’re going to create relationship problems.

Q3: Digging through debts
I know you got to a point a little while ago where all your debts were clear except for your mortgage. I am wondering how you tackled it. I have looked around your previous articles, but don’t seem to be finding what I am looking for. I live with my husband in Australia and we were debt free just over 12 months ago (totally debt free). We had been living interstate for a couple of years, did some travelling and came home to a trashed house. Between everything that happened in the past 12 months, we ended up around $80,000 in debt. Since May we have paid off $20,000, but it really feels like a long hard slog.

What I am wondering is whether to just take our time and pay it off whilst having a really decent, not so tight, but still fairly frugal life, or just continue on the extremely tight budget for the next 18 months and just get it over with. After working so hard in the past few years to become debt free, it feels like agony this time round.
– Shari

It depends on what you want. Do you want financial freedom sooner or do you want a more pleasant life from a consumerist standpoint right now?

It seems like you’re asking for “permission” to not live tightly. You certainly don’t need that permission. You just have to be okay with the benefits and the drawbacks of making that choice.

As for me, I remember what it felt like to have a debt load and I don’t want to go back. I’d be perfectly happy to live on ramen and beans for a while to ensure that.

Q4: Getting started in book publishing
I have a small website that I run that enabled me to quit my job. It makes just enough money for me to live simply for now, so that I can build on it and work on it for it to hopefully reach it’s potential. I have over a years salary saved up to do this. As a side project, I have (at least what I think) a very marketable book idea. It should take me about a year to write this an make it happen.

My question is, as someone who’s written a book, and an ebook, is this. I believe you went with a traditional publisher. How has this helped you? Did they seem to help market your book in a way to make it worth their while? Or would you have gone with the self publishing route?
– Jeff

To be honest, I had basically decided not to publish until a book publisher came along and made me a wonderful offer that I couldn’t ignore. They made the entire process quite simple and worked with me the whole way through it.

Having said that, I don’t think a book was worth it from a financial standpoint. It was more worthwhile in the sense that I could now say I was “Trent Hamm, author of 365 Ways to Live Cheap and The Simple Dollar.”

If I were doing it strictly for revenue, I would go the e-book route.

Q5: Trading board games by mail
You mentioned the other day that you somehow trade board games by mail. How is that even possible? How do you get it set up?

– Evan

The website BoardGameGeek, which I frequent, is one where you can swap games by mail. They offer a lot of mechanisms for doing it, too, including tools for verifying that the other trader is trustworthy and so on.

It’s somewhat turned into a hobby of mine over the past year, especially since I often look at the board games available at thrift stores and yard sales and the like. I used to just pick up ones that I knew I would like. Now, I’ll also pick up ones that I know will have trade value.

It’s a great little thing that enables me to routinely have new games to play with my friends (my wife and I have several meetups a month with friends to play board and card games).

Q6: Repeat material
Do you ever start writing a post only to realize that you’ve already covered the subject?

– Shannon

Yes, it happens quite a lot.

Sometimes, I still go ahead with it, but I look for a new angle on the idea. Usually, this is because it’s what I would call a “core” idea, one that I think bears repeating and can really be of use to a new reader to the site.

At other times, I’ll just discard the half-written post and go on to something else.

Naturally, there are times I do repeat the content of older posts. After all, there’s an archive of several thousand Simple Dollar articles and I don’t always exactly recall what all I’ve written. I do try to stick to new ideas – or at least new angles.

Q7: A cavalcade of problems
I am 24 years old and have a pretty stable job in Texas. I purchased a house in May 2010. I contribute 8% of my income to my 401K and my employer matches up to 8% (yes, I know it is way awesome!). Right now I make $56600/year before taxes but in 2 weeks, I am receiving a 13% raise for a promotion which should put me up to about $63900/year before taxes. I also receive about $500 a month from a roommate.

I also have the following debts:
an auto loan ($22212 @ 2.99%)
2 student loans ($6794 @ 6.55% and 8930 @ 6.104%)
the mortgage ($110800 @ 5.00%)
About $4874 in credit card debt ($3379 @ 0% (until July 2012) and $1495 @ 13.9%).

Before this year, I had not been carrying a balance on the 13.9% interest credit card (and didn’t even have the second one) and had about $5000 in an emergency fund… which is now completely gone.

Since the beginning of the year, I have:
1) replaced a fence (it fell down in January and I had a new one built in March after receiving a pretty sizable bonus)
2) dealt with a slab leak where more than 80 ft of pipe was rerouted through my attic (luckily the insurance covered a good amount of this one)
3) replaced my sewer line (all me – See 0% interest credit card above)
4) replaced a vehicle after learning that I needed $3000 + worth of repairs on a car that was only worth about $1200 – I probably should have gotten something a little less expensive but I LOVE my new truck (2009 Toyota Tacoma)

And now, my air conditioner is having issues. Since I live in Texas, an air conditioner is EXTREMELY important. There is a leak in my coil so they will have to keep adding freon periodically as it leaks out, if I dont replace the system. I have gotten bids from a couple different companies ranging from $5600 to $9700.

My questions for you include:
1) should I bother replacing the system now or just hope that the freon only needs to be refilled after a long amount of time?
2) how important is a super energy efficient air conditioner? At this point in time, I have no intention of moving.
3) Do you have any suggestions on how to finance such a purchase, if your suggestion is to go ahead and replace it?
4) I have been trying really hard to get financially fit but keep running into major issues. Do you have any suggestions for overcoming the issues in order to recover financially?

– Kate

I would get the opinions of multiple air conditioner repairpeople before making the call as to what to do here. I’m not an air conditioner expert, so I’d just trust the most common opinion among the repairpeople.

In a hot climate, the energy efficiency of your air conditioning unit is pretty important, on the order of hundreds of dollars a month on your energy bill. If you’re going to be there for a long time, energy efficiency is a pretty important concern.

As for financing it, I would probably consider a home equity loan of some kind for the express purpose of a home improvement. When you’re recovering from that, focus on living lean and use a debt snowball method to get rid of all of your debts (pay them off in order of interest rate and make all extra payments on the one with the highest rate).

You can do this. It’ll just take time and diligence.

Q8: Inexpensive DIY projects
Recently I have gotten the Do It Yourself Bug. DO you have project ideas on the cheap. Landscaping, Home improvements, Decorating, etc? I have looked at tons of blogs but very few give you inexpensive ideas.

– Cherie

Many do-it-yourself projects are inherently expensive. If I were you, I would focus on do-it-yourself projects that will clearly save you money over the long run.

For example, one project you can take on is air sealing your home. What you’re doing is going through your home, finding places where air is leaking out or leaking in, and sealing those areas with caulk, strips, or other materials. This has a fairly low up-front cost, but will save you a lot over the long haul on your heating and cooling bills.

There are quite a few projects along these lines: check and improve your attic insulation, check any potential areas of water leaking in the basement and repair them, focus on areas that might be leaking on your roof, and so on.

Essentially, look for the things that will reduce costs in the future and the investment you make in the do-it-yourself project will be repaid no matter what you do.

Q9: Building a side business
I’m 25 and currently work as a project manager for an HR software company. I’ve gotten pretty darn good with the software and I’ve been doing some moonlighting for a consultant, advising her and doing some report building. I enjoy the work and have been wanting to expand on my client base but my concern is that the software is a fairly niche product with only a few major players in the industry. The extent of my industry knowledge is with the software itself so my potential client base in this respect is limited to my company’s current client load. I’d like to keep my activities quiet so I’m uncomfortable sharing this interest with my fellow employees (I fear retribution from the company).

Knowing the above, what do you think would be a good way for me to use my current knowledge to expand my side business? What would you do if you were in a similar situation?
– Frank

My advice to you would be to expand what you can do. Is there anything at all about what you do that’s analogous to what goes on in other industries? Almost always, there’s something similar going on in a parallel field.

Once you can figure out that parallel, learn it. Take what you know and use it as a huge boost toward acquiring the new skill or set of skills.

Suddenly, you’ve opened up a window to something new. It’s something that makes you more versatile as a consultant and it makes the potential for you to walk away and do your own thing with much more viability.

Skills pay the bills, every time.

Q10: Creating a podcast “station”
I followed your suggestions in downloading iTunes and checking out some podcasts. My problem is that I would like to just listen to a bunch of podcasts throughout the day without interruption like a radio station in the background that I control. How do you do this?

– Ed

What I usually do is create a new playlist each morning within iTunes. Then, I literally move each episode that I want to listen to that day to my new playlist and order them in the way I want. After that, I double-click on the first one and they all play in order seamlessly.

I’m able to keep up with about twenty podcasts this way, some of which are daily and others of which are weekly (or less frequent).

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Adam P says:

    Q1 – If her income is only $900 a month, I’d put building up a small amount of emergency savings cushions and investing in her skills (eg a night class) WAY ahead of saving for retirement. She is well below the poverty line at that income and her retirement income from social assistance alone would likely be as high as her income now.

    I’m not sure at what income level this changes (maybe $20-25k/ year?) but below the poverty line I’d worry about increasing my income rather than retirement funds.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Q9 – If you get caught directly competing with your employer, you’ll be fired so quickly it’ll make your head spin, and they’ll be completely justified in doing it.

    It’s one thing to work in an analogous business serving unrelated clients. It’s quite another to steal business from your company by agreeing to do it on the side. I’m surprised if you’re in a management position of any sort that you don’t have a non-compete agreement in a contract. If you do, a lot more than your job is on the line.

    If you’re already worried about retribution from the company, that tells me you know what you’re doing isn’t ethical. No matter how much this other consultant is paying you, it’s not worth it!

  3. Steven says:

    Q2 – I think it should also be mentioned that the person who wrote the question will probably eventually find themselves resenting her husband if he does not change. If she’s physically active, and her husband isn’t, that will tear a rift in the relationship. Active people tend to want to be active, and “sedentary” people (politically correct for lazy) want to be lazy. If it comes to the point where the wife and husband no longer have any common interests, or hobbies, I can see that causing a big problem, especially if she notices (or gets noticed) by someone who actually *does* enjoy the same active lifestyle.

    If I were the husband, and my wife were trying to get me to be active, I’d pay attention. And if I were the wife, and I thought the relationship were worth fighting for, I’d be brutally honest about my feelings. While it might seem nice, love isn’t the only thing that keeps a relationship together. And if she is no longer physically attracted to her husband (yes, I’m reading *a lot* into this) it will create other, bigger problems.

    That’s my 2 cents.

  4. kristine says:

    Q2- What it took to get her, it takes to keep her. Weight gain after childbirth, or some kind of loss, or a high stress situation, life change, or medical issue is expected, and understandable. Excessive weight gain due to just letting yourslef go can cause serious problems in a relationship. It is near impossible to be attracted to somebody who does not care about him/herself. If she is writing for advice, then clearly it has become a relationship problem, not just his problem. Be honest- as in “I love you, I will always love you…but I cannot promise I will remain attraced to you if do not take care of yourself.” And once you have kids, you have a repsponsibity to take care of yourslef- you set the example, and everyone is affected emotionally and financially if you keel over or start having weight related maladies. Perhaps depression is a factor.

  5. valleycat1 says:

    Q3 – You could find a mid-point between ‘extremely frugal’ and what you’re calling ‘not so tight’ and that Trent labeled ‘consumerist.’

    There’s nothing wrong with a more moderate approach to debt repayment (& I hope you’re also putting $ toward an emergency fund). For many people, if they buckle down with extreme frugality, once things are paid off they feel entitled to splurge, which starts the cycle all over again. Even if you decide to stick with extreme frugality, find some way to do some small splurges or reward yourself occasionally so you don’t feel totally deprived for the duration.

  6. Johanna says:

    Q2: If you did manage to get your husband to “take care of himself” healthwise, but he continued to gain weight regardless, would you be happy with that? Because, despite what some people want to believe, that’s a real possibility.

    If it’s his weight, not his health, that’s the issue (and it sounds like it is, since it’s the first thing you mentioned), then either get over it or get a divorce. People’s bodies change in various ways as they get older, and if you’re going to make a lifelong commitment to someone, you need to be able to deal with that.

  7. Hannah says:

    Q9 – This is shady. You’re not building a side business based on your own skills. You’re taking the trade secrets of the company you work for and trying to replicate their business on your own, with clients taken from their client base. No wonder you want to keep this quiet– it’s not only going to get you fired, it’s going to get you into legal trouble. If you can’t apply the skills you have learned at the company to your own idea with your own clients, then freelancing isn’t the right course. You should be thankful for the job you have, but land look for new skills that are better suited to freelancing.

  8. Adam P says:

    Johanna, she is saying she wants him fit (twice) and makes specific reference to BMI. He’s fat and didn’t used to be. I disagree that if he starts getting excersize and eats healthy he will continue to gain weight as you surmise. That’s certainly a possibility, but I think it’s remote.

    I do agree with what Trent says tho, that he has to want to change and the best way to do it is by example. Presuming they eat together for breakfast and dinner, just making sure those meals are healthy is a good start. I’d also suggest going for a walk together nightly or “date nights” that have some kind of phyiscal activity (heck even bowling).

    I’d be worried about depression or medical issues if someone I married started gaining weight steadily and refused to do anything about it, as well.

  9. kristine says:

    Q9 is talking about cannibalizing his employer’s client base. It’s unethical, and yes, likely illegal. I agree that he needs to “find another niche”. If not, then it is out and out undermining your employer, stealing clients, and likely illegal. If you are offering a specific type of consulting that your employer does not offer- then you are “only” stealing their client list for your own ends. Anyway you slice it- what you are currently doing is wrong. Yay for skills. Boo for ethics.

  10. Johanna says:

    @Adam P: “I disagree that if he starts getting excersize and eats healthy he will continue to gain weight as you surmise. That’s certainly a possibility, but I think it’s remote.”

    If you acknowledge that it’s a possibility, then you actually don’t disagree with me, because all I said was that it’s a possibility, not a certainty. Based on the number of fat, fit people that I know, I don’t think it’s all that remote a possibility, but that’s just a detail.

    If she’s not attracted to him at his current weight, that’s OK. (Although a BMI of 27 is not actually all that fat.) You can’t control what types of bodies you’re attracted to. But as the years go by, his body’s going to change in other ways, too, that she might also find unattractive. What’s she going to do then?

  11. prodgod says:

    Q2: Unfortunately, it often takes a major health scare for someone to change their lifestyle habits. Meanwhile, I’m not sure the advice to forsake your vows is the best course of action.

  12. Sonja says:

    Q2 – If you want your husband to get more exercise plan outings with this built in. Bike rides, kayaking, golf, tennis, etc. on the weekends. Plan your vacations around a sport you both like or want to try like whitewater rafting or rock climbing. If you enjoy being active and make it a fun thing to do together maybe he will come around.

  13. Cam says:

    Q7: Check with your energy provider for energy efficiency upgrade rebates. I know Austin Energy has them, I assume it is statewide. Some programs also offer 0% financing. You should also be able to find good deals towards the end of the year. You definitely don’t want to postpone this decision to the start of summer.

    If you aren’t too upside down, you might want to consider selling your truck and buying something cheaper. It’s not urgent – you have a good interest rate on it, but it’s about half of your debt.

    You could also consider temporarily reducing your 401K contribution to 5% (with the match, you’ll be contributing the recommended 10% to retirement), and make sure all the additional money from the raise and retirement contribution reduction goes towards first building a 1K emergency fund then your debt.

    You are in a really good position, especially for someone your age. It’s been a mixed year for you (10% raise, income from roommate, employee match are enviable bright spots), I’m sure you’ll pull through.

  14. Johanna says:

    Q2 again: Even if this is solely about health, I agree with Trent that you can’t make somebody change if they don’t want to, and furthermore, you can’t make them want to change if they don’t want to want to change. Maybe he likes unhealthy food so much that he’d rather be unhealthy than give it up. That’s his choice to make, because ultimately, what he does with his own body is up to him.

    I realize that this is a fairly radical idea. We’re so surrounded by messages that eating vegetables and going for a run and being thin are objectively “good,” and sitting on the couch and eating potato chips and being fat are objectively “bad,” that it’s not easy to question these ways of thinking. Still, I think they’re worth questioning.

  15. Josh says:

    Simply put, I agree with Steven (post #3)

    Simply put, I disagree with Johanna (post #6), if the husband took care of himself he would not gain weight. His weight and health are intertwined. I know you are going to throw out some rare medical condition in defense, but for 99% of the obese that is just not true.

  16. Johanna says:

    “for 99% of the obese that is just not true”

    84.6% of statistics are made up on the spot.

  17. Johanna says:

    Also, a BMI of 27 is not obese.

  18. getagrip says:

    Q2 Who buys the groceries? Who makes the meals? If you are the one who does the bulk of this, then you have a fair amount of control of what comes into the house and what gets put on the plates. What do you do together on weekends or in the evenings? Are you so active with all your friends and family that your suggestions are along the lines of him doing something on his own or joining you and the pals/family versus the two of you doing something together? Is there something organized he’d be interested in, bowling, golf, softball, tennis, rock climbing, shooting, anything to get up and out of the house regularly that you two could enjoy together? Too little information to base a real idea on but if he was active before you got married and isn’t anymore you may want to consider why that is, not to bemoan the “good ol’ days”, but to see what’s changed and see where to go from where you are now.

  19. Josh says:

    A BMI of 27 is overweight though, and although BMI is now always accurate, in this case I think it is safe to say the weight is fat, not muscle. So yes, this person is fat, maybe just not quite as fat as the average-american.

  20. Katie says:

    Aside from everything else, presumably her husband is an adult – if she’s talked with him about it openly, I’m not really sure what manipulation in the guise of “motivation” will accomplish besides driving the guy away.

  21. valleycat1 says:

    #15 Josh – I’ll admit I’m not as active as I should be (& not due to depression, just not interested), but over the past few years I’ve made sustained efforts (as in a full year or two at a time) to exercise regularly and adhere to weight watchers guidelines for daily intake based on my actual lifestyle, and I don’t lose weight. I used to be one of those people who never gained weight no matter what; with age now I’m one who can’t lose no matter what. I have no medical conditions, rare or otherwise, that I’m blaming.

    You might be interested to check out the junkfoodscience blog (as in food science that’s junk, not the science of junk food), which has some very interesting things to say about the original studies on the impact of weight on health & how the media & medical community skews data.

  22. Josh says:

    For example, my BMI is 23.1, which is in the normal range, but I actually consider myself fat as I have developed quite a gut over the years which I am working on losing. I personally won’t be happy until my BMI is down to the 20-21 range.

  23. Des says:

    “Maybe he likes unhealthy food so much that he’d rather be unhealthy than give it up. That’s his choice to make, because ultimately, what he does with his own body is up to him.”

    While this is technically true, it seems to imply that his choices don’t affect other people, which is incorrect. His decision to prefer unhealthy foods and maintain a high BMI will have negative consequences for his wife and children (if they have them, now or in the future). It is not unlike saying “Maybe he likes watching TV so much that he’d rather be unemployed than give it up. That’s his choice to make, because ultimately, what he does with his own time is up to him.” Technically, yes, it is his decision. But that doesn’t mean he has no responsibility to make a good decision.

    And the idea that she should “get over it or get a divorce” is a false dichotomy. I would venture to say that the majority of spouses have something they would like to change about their SO, and just because they have no control over the change doesn’t mean they give up hope. You can love a person even if you wish they would make better decisions. Perfection is not a prerequisite to a happy relationship.

  24. Steven says:

    But physical attraction is a HUGE issue in marriage. If you’re not attracted to your partner, that’s a problem. A BIG problem. (No puns intended…)

  25. Johanna says:

    @Steven: And yet, there are millions of people in happy, long-term marriages who manage to make those marriages work despite the aging of their and their partners’ bodies.

    If you (this is a generic “you,” not “you, Steven”) are the type of person for whom physical attraction is a huge issue, and for whom physical attraction goes away the minute your partner stops looking like they did when they were 25, then maybe you should rethink whether it’s fair to your partner for you to get married at all.

  26. Riki says:

    Attraction in a long-term relationship is about way more than just physical appearance. Way more.

    I’m not the prettiest girl around and I’ve had my own issues with weight, but my partner tells me every day that he thinks I’m beautiful. I wouldn’t ever give that up for a guy with ripped abs.

  27. Tammy says:

    Well said, Johanna and Riki. I’m not sure when being overweight became a character flaw but I am continually amazed at how “concerned” some people can be about a strangers health.

  28. kristine says:

    Physical attraction is a hugely important to me, but as Dr. Ruth used to say- attraction takes place mostly between the ears, and not the legs :)

    Somebody who does not care about themselves…and who disregards their partner’s honest concerns…well…that’s unattractive.

  29. Katie says:

    Also unattractive – someone who feels the need to continually hector you to change something about yourself.

  30. Josh says:

    There is a big difference between aging and not taking care of yourself. As Kristine is spot in with her comment #28 “Somebody who does not care about themselves…and who disregards their partner’s honest concerns…well…that’s unattractive.”

  31. Johanna says:

    There are plenty of thin people who eat unhealthy diets and don’t exercise. Funny how they’re so rarely scrutinized for “not caring about themselves.”

  32. Adam P says:

    Regardless, the husband’s weight gain could be medical or depression related. I’m surprised that Trent never mentioned talking to his doctor about it. Whenever I see advice columns with people that gain weight they always seem to say check with a doctor.

    Coincidentally, there’s a Globe and Mail article today about weight gain and relationships (written from the male point of view) that I found interesting.

  33. Jules says:

    Q2: get him a standing desk. He will lose so much weight so quickly you might start feeling jealous :-)

  34. Johanna says:

    @Adam P: I’m not a doctor, and this is not a diagnosis, but if the weight gain has been happening for a few years and there are no other symptoms, that does not sound like depression to me. As for other illnesses, I don’t know enough to even begin to say anything, but if they’re going to talk to a doctor, they should take care to find a doctor who will take a genuine interest in finding the underlying cause (if there is one), and not just say “go away until you lose weight.”

    I found what I think is the Globe and Mail article you mentioned, and I found it interesting as well. It sounds like the take-home message is that the best thing for a relationship is not having a body that’s a particular size or shape, but loving your own body and feeling secure in it. That’s not an easy thing for anyone to do in a world where we’re encouraged to compare ourselves to photoshopped pictures of celebrities, but you can try. And your partner can help, by not nagging you about your weight all the time.

  35. JS says:

    Q2: I am in the same position as you are right now, and as you’ve realized, nagging does absolutely no good. I agree with previous suggestions to incorporate healthy eating and exercise into your daily life, especially #12 and #18.

    I would also suggest you find ways to illustrate your point about the importance of a healthy lifestyle that resonate with your husband. My husband is extremely stubborn and hates being told what to do, so I only (gently) point out objective things that he can’t argue with, like how he wants to do a backpacking trip in Peru, but we had to cut our last day hike short because he wasn’t in good enough shape to finish. Your husband might respond better to a different style, but chances are you know best how to get through to him.

    Finally, as others have mentioned, he has to want to change, and if he doesn’t, there’s almost nothing you can do about it. If you want to stay married, you will have to work on accepting that, because it’s hard. I would also add that you shouldn’t jeporadize your own health if he refuses to change- insist that you have access to healthy meals, and make sure you get enough exercise yourself.

    Q7: If it helps psychologically, divide the cost of the repair by the number of years you expect it to last. Think about how long the fence or sewer line will last- the average cost per year is probably pretty reasonable. I have heart palpitations when I think about the $2000 in car repairs we just did, but I feel better when I think about the fact that they should last 4-5 years- $400-500/yr is a less disheartening number.

  36. Jonathan says:

    Q2 – I do think that Linda should have a thorough discussion with her husband regarding his weight gain. I would suggest that she make it clear to him how she feels and what her concerns are. Before doing that, however, I would suggest that Linda be sure she knows what her concerns are (which she may have already done, we don’t know). Is the issue his appearance, is it concern for his health, is it that is doesn’t seem as happy now as before, etc? One other thing I’d suggest Linda consider is how her husband’s lifestyle varies now from in the past. Has he only recently began not taking care of himself? Or did he never take good care of himself, but had a different metabolism when he was younger that allowed him to be thin and look better even with an unhealthy lifestyle?

    Once Linda has clearly communicated her concerns to her husband I’m not sure she should do much else, aside from supporting him if he does decide to make a change. Trying to manipulate him into changing is not, in my opinion, a good idea. I consider a few of the previously suggested approaches as manipulation, such as controlling what he has available to eat or scheduling active outings as manipulation.

    While it is true that failing to care for himself does impact his family he has no inherent obligation to keep himself in good physical condition. Unless part of his marriage vows included keeping physically fit, thin, or attractive it is his right to make his own decisions regarding his health. If Linda is unhappy with his current appearance or lifestyle and he is not interested in changing then she must make a decision to either accept him as he is or leave the relationship. I suppose instead she could choose to stay with him and try to convince him to change, but it seems likely that would just make them both miserable.

    In short, after Linda communicates her concerns to her husband he will have to decide if he wants to change or not. Once that decision is made Linda will have to decide if she wants to live with his decision.

  37. Ryan says:

    Stop using BMI as a gauge to whether you’re fat or not. It’s a crappy metric. The only parameters that number uses is height and weight and then it puts you in some arbitrary zone. It doesn’t take into account lean body mass (ie muscle to fat ratio). As an example, most NFL running backs would be considered obese according to BMI. Are they? No.

    Instead, base whether you’re overweight on how you look in the mirror and your waist size. Weight/fat loss is 80% diet. Get that in check by eating more unprocessed foods and upping your protein intake.

  38. Josh says:

    Ryan, I agree but BMI has exceptions like you noted but is still a decent (although very basic) gauge for the average person, and based on the information provided, it is safe to say the husband in question #2 is fat, not muscular, as it is stated that he does not exercise or eat healthy.

  39. Des says:

    “Once that decision is made Linda will have to decide if she wants to live with his decision.”

    I just don’t think real life is that black and white. It is unlikely that if she presents her concerns he will simply say “I’m fine this way, I prefer being fat, deal with it.” It is more likely that he will agree he should exercise and eat better, but then will fail to do it (as she says in her question he does already). What is she to do then, choose between giving up or laying down an ultimatum with a deadline? I still think that is a false dichotomy (and, frankly, some terrible options). She is asking for ways to encourage and motivate her loved one toward difficult but beneficial actions that he likely wants to take anyway (I would venture that 90% of the people I know *want* to eat better and exercise, but don’t for a variety or reasons). People pay good money to hire personal trainers to motivate them to take actions they want to anyway. Yes, if he says “I’m never going to change so get off my back” then we’re talking about a firm decision that she can choose to accept or not. I doubt that is the case here.

  40. jim says:

    Q1: As others have said its likely you need most if not all your income to meet your living expenses. SO I would make sure you have some emergency savings, pay for health insurance and pay off your credit cards first. But if thats all taken care of and if you do have some spare money to put away then at your income level you should qualify for the government Credit for Retirement Savings Contributions Credit. The government will give you a tax credit for up to 50% of the first $2000 that you save. So that means if you put $500 into an account then you get $250 free tax credit. You should contribute to a 401k if you have one with an employer match. The employer match is free money. If theres no 401k employer match then a Roth IRA is your better option.

  41. Jonathan says:

    “I just don’t think real life is that black and white.”

    Real life is that blank and white, if we choose for it to be. We can choose to get stuck in the gray areas and make excuses for why we aren’t happy with a certain situation or why we don’t make a change, or we can choose to take responsibility. The situation could certainly play out the way you describe. If it does Linda is choosing to either accept her husband for who he is, or choosing to stay with him in hopes she can change him. Either way, its her decision to make.

  42. Johanna says:

    @Des: Well, there’s a difference between him saying he’ll change his habits because he genuinely wants to change his habits, and saying he’ll change his habits because he knows it’s what she wants to hear. In the former case, maybe she can help him establish some new routines that work for him. In the latter case, she needs to accept that the answer is really “I’m fine this way, I prefer being fat, deal with it” and go from there.

  43. Steven says:

    Maybe it’s my age (I’m 29) that makes me still believe appearance is important. I want to be with an attractive partner, who not only looks good, but is physically fit. I’m an active person (rock climbing, mountain climbing, runner, cyclist) and I want to be with someone who can keep up. Even the most rail thin girls aren’t capable, not because they’re fat (obviously) but because they’re out of shape. That’s an issue for me. I’d assume the same could be said for the OP who said her husband is overweight and out of shape. It’s maybe less to do with his appearance than his ability to keep pace with her. Being active, I know how irritating and frustrating that can be. You want someone to climb the mountains with you, but they can’t. You want someone to run a marathon with you, but they can’t. THAT aspect of the relationship will hurt things more than physical appearance. Sure, I want a girlfriend who looks like a model, so shoot me, but I also want one who can keep up with me and my lifestyle. It doesn’t make sense for me to be with someone who can’t…and is unwilling to try (maybe the biggest problem of them all.)

  44. Jonathan says:

    “It is more likely that he will agree he should exercise and eat better, but then will fail to do it (as she says in her question he does already).”

    In addition to what Johanna said, if the husband responds agrees to change his habits with no actual intent of doing so then there is a larger issue. If the husband is willing to lie to his wife about this then there are trust, communication, and I’d argue relationship issues that may be of more concern than the weight issue.

  45. MattJ says:

    #44 Jonathan

    Lots of people fail to exercise and eat better. Does that really make them liars if they said they would try?

  46. Des says:

    “If it does Linda is choosing to either accept her husband for who he is, or choosing to stay with him in hopes she can change him. Either way, its her decision to make.”

    Of course it is. It is also not what she asked about. Everyone seems bent on the idea that she should just get over it, either by giving up on what she wants (a healthy weight husband) or by leaving him. If she wanted to leave, she would. Let’s assume, then, that she wants to stay, even if her hubby stays fat (but would prefer he lose the weight). If he is lying to her to get her off his back, yes they have bigger problems. That is possible, but doesn’t seem as likely as that he *wants* to change (or at least knows he should), but finds it difficult (as most people seem to).

    Why is it her job to accept him the way he is or leave? She can try to motivate (or nag, or whine, whatever) and he could then choose to stay with a nag, leave her, or comply. To that end, she is asking about he most effective way to get what she wants – her current husband at a healthy weight. Everyone wants to judge her for wanting that, or dismiss her by saying you can’t make people change. Just because you can’t force someone to change doesn’t mean you can’t influence them – advertisers do it all the time quite effectively. I guess everyone has their right to judge and criticize, but I am curious if anyone has any real suggestions about ways to motivate loved ones to make healthy decisions.

  47. Andrew says:

    Steven–if you fall off that rock you’re climbing, and end up with physical problems that prevent you from maintaing an “active” life, will you understand when your rail-thin model girlfriend follows your selfish pattern and ditches you?

  48. Johanna says:

    “he *wants* to change (or at least knows he should)”

    “Should” in what sense? This gets back to the idea that there’s a moral component to eating and exercise habits (at least for fat people), which I don’t think there is.

    If he does want to change his eating and exercise habits, then by definition he doesn’t need motivation, but maybe he does need support, or help in finding new habits that work for him. She can buy and prepare (or help him buy and prepare) healthy foods that taste good to him and satisfy his appetite. She can help him find a form of exercise that’s fun for both of them, and do it with him.

    She should, however, be prepared for the possibility that she can do all those things, and he still won’t be as thin as she’d like (although he’ll almost certainly be healthier).

  49. Steven says:

    @Andrew: Yes. Yes, I would.

  50. Steven says:

    (And for the record, I don’t see my preferences for a mate as being selfish. I’m simply pointing out the type of person that best fits my personality. I’m not exactly how you find that to be selfish. Wanting someone who shares the same interests, hobbies, and lifestyle isn’t selfish…it’s surely what every person wants in a mate. Just because I happen to be active and physically fit means that I’m not going to be interested in women who are out of shape and not athletic. It wouldn’t make sense. I wouldn’t be attracted to that type of woman. So yes, my kind of woman is one who is active, athletic, and physically fit. Call that selfish if you’d like. I call it being with the person who best suits my personality.)

  51. Jonathan says:

    @MattJ (#45) – “Lots of people fail to exercise and eat better. Does that really make them liars if they said they would try?”

    No, if the person actually wants to change and puts forth the effort then failing is certainly not the same as lying. If this is the situation with Linda’s husband then a Johanna said he doesn’t need motivation as much as support.

    If the person doesn’t actually intend to exercise and eat better, though, and just agrees because that is what the spouse wants to hear then he/she is lying.

  52. Kevin says:

    @Ryan: “Stop using BMI as a gauge to whether you’re fat or not. It’s a crappy metric.”

    It’s actually a really good metric. That’s why virtually all doctors use it.

    Unless you’re saying all doctors are idiots?

  53. Johanna says:

    @Steven: You can have whatever preferences you want in a girlfriend. But if you want your girlfriend to become your wife, you need to realize that she’s probably not always going to look like a model, or be a skilled rock climber, or whatever. If that’s a deal breaker, then maybe marriage isn’t for you.

    I’m not married and never have been, but this is just common sense.

  54. Johanna says:

    @Jonathan: “If the person doesn’t actually intend to exercise and eat better, though, and just agrees because that is what the spouse wants to hear then he/she is lying.”

    He may be lying to himself, though, too, not just to his spouse. He may think he wants to change his habits, because he’s been told over and over again that that’s what he *should* want, but deep down it’s just not a priority for him, and so it’s never going to actually happen. I’d put at least as much blame on all the people who beat him over the head with the idea that “not wanting to lose weight” is not an option, as I’d put on him for lying.

  55. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: When it comes to the relationship between weight and health, from the stories I’ve heard, a great many doctors are…maybe not “idiots,” but pretty seriously misguided.

  56. Kevin says:

    @Johanna: Well, all they have to base their opinion on is a decade of schooling, years of experience, peer-reviewed medical journals, and knowledge of the links between obesity and the litany of health complications it brings.

    We, of course, have the Internet and Wikipedia. So maybe you’re right, maybe they could learn a lot from us.

    BMI isn’t perfect. It doesn’t work for pro wrestlers. We know this. But guess what? Doctors know this too. When a 220-pound, 6-foot-5 built-like-a-tank pro wrestler goes to the doctor and clearly has almost no bodyfat, the doctor is NOT going to just run the numbers and say, “Gee, your BMI shows you as overweight. I’m recommending a diet.” Doctors aren’t idiots.

  57. Cam says:

    Q2, you have my sympathies. Some people get it – there’s a difference between losing your looks to aging or tragic accidents versus losing your looks due to apathy. For better or worse shouldn’t include your mate hitting the self-destruct button.

    It could be depression, it could be passive aggression, it could be he’s letting it all hang out. I wish more people would make an effort to stay attractive for their partners instead of pretending it doesn’t matter or that it’s a character defect to care what your partner looks like after the rings are exchanged.

    If, with no obvious trauma or illness, you stopped caring if your partner was physically attracted to you, isn’t that a sign that something is wrong? Is it really something that is expected to die in a relationship?

  58. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: Fat hatred in the medical profession is a widespread and widely documented phenomenon. You don’t have to dig too deeply to find more anecdotes than you care to read about (for example) people who go to the doctor for things completely unrelated to their weight – like an ear infection – and the doctor says “the solution is for you to lose weight.”

    As someone who’s spent more time in school than the average medical doctor, I can tell you that there’s nothing magical about education that makes you immune to the prejudices that affect everybody else.

  59. Steven says:

    @Johanna: I have no intentions of ever getting married, simply because I don’t see a point. And there are plenty of examples of women who’ve taken care of themselves who are just as beautiful when they get older as they’ve ever been.

    If I’m going to take care of myself, stay active and fit, and just generally care about my appearance, yes, I’d like to be with someone who does the same. It’s not about whether or not their body changes, of course it will. But to believe that just because someone gets older, their bodies fall apart is just rubbish (and I know you didn’t say that, but I do feel it’s somewhat implied.)

    If one person in a relationship takes care of themselves, and the other doesn’t…well, they write to Trent for answers. Clearly it’s an issue. And it’d be an issue for me as well. At least I’m being honest.

  60. Johanna says:

    It’s also rubbish to believe that someone’s body has “fallen apart” when all you know about him is that his BMI is 27. I know you didn’t say that, but I do feel it’s somewhat implied. :)

  61. Steven says:

    I guess you understand my point. (And you obviously know I wasn’t referencing the OP…and obviously I know you’re being sarcastic.)

  62. Katie says:

    Steven, nobody is going to tell you that you can’t set whatever standards you want for your partners. I think all we’re saying is that life is surprising, people are complicated, and the best laid plans of mice and men, etc. If you want to be in a permanent or very long-term relationship, it behooves you to recognize those things. If you don’t, which sounds like your situation, it doesn’t really matter.

  63. Ryan says:

    @Kevin, BMI was created by a mathaematician, not a doctor, so the government could determine obesity. As I said before, it doesn’t take into account muscle mass, bone density, or fat…just height and weight. It’s generalized in the sense that it’s based on a sedantary lifestyle. It doesn’t account for activity. Insurance companies want to keep BMI as an indicator so they can charge higher premiums since healthy and fit people even have a overweight/obese BMI.

  64. Jonathan says:


    I’ll jump in and say that I can’t see any issue with the preferences for a partner that you’ve described. You clearly know what you’re looking for and are prepared to take action if/when your current partner changes in a way that no longer fits that idea.

    Of course if your partner is not aware of your views then a problem could arise. Someone might consider it unfair that they weren’t told that they had to remain fit and active their entire life in order to stay with you. From what you’ve said here, however, it seems unlikely that this would happen. I suspect that your expectations for a partner are pretty clear.

  65. Steven says:

    Well, I’ve been a relationship for 5 years now, so I suppose that qualifies as long-term. And I’m actually less interested in someone who looks a certain way than I am with someone who lives a certain way. Yes, I want someone who cares about their appearances, and is easy on the eyes, but it’s not my primary motivation for being with someone (despite what might have been conveyed here.)

    @Jonathan: Thank you. I do have high expectations in a partner, but I also have equally high expectations for myself. I’m very open with my expectations for every aspect of my life with my girlfriend, and there aren’t any secrets.

    I think it’s like anything else, really. Certain personalities are drawn to each other. And sometimes people change (could be that both partners were originally lazy, and that worked for them until one decided to get active, and now their partner no longer “works” for the direction they want their life to progress.) If the change reaches a point where it is hurting the relationship, or the person is no longer happy being with that person, why should they stay? I know that sounds really harsh, and goes against a lot of people’s “til death” beliefs with marriage, but I don’t believe people should be unsatisfied with their life just because they decided to get married.

    Divorce is justified in so many other instances, why not in situations where the people just don’t “work” together? If their personalities diverge. If what originally brought them together no longer exists? Is marriage reason enough to stay together even if you’re unhappy?

    In my opinion, it’s not. Of course, people will disagree. But, I just think life is too short to be unhappy. And you shouldn’t have to force a person to change into what you want them to be. Either they are, or they aren’t. They want to be, or they don’t. If they aren’t willing to make a change, should you just accept that? I guess it’s up to the individual…

  66. Katie says:

    I don’t think that there’s any situation where you “should” stay in a marriage you don’t want to be in. However, some people either (a) truly feel like they want their commitments to be for life and want to figure out how to be happiest in that framework, or (b) find that changing their expectations to stay in an otherwise good relationship is better than keeping their expectations the same and leaving it. Again, doesn’t matter if you’re not one of those people but I still hold that if you plan to be with someone for a matter of decades, you’re going to have to accept that some of the ways they change probably won’t be to your liking.

  67. Bill in NC says:


    I was the same BMI as your husband when I was his age.

    BUT, now that I’m older (about a decade) my BMI is 33.

    Keep in mind I was _never_ heavy as a child or young adult – only started gaining weight in my late 20s.

    I am starting to have some joint/muscle issues with all this excess weight, which has limited my mobility.

    Please show him this reply and remind him it is far easier to lose weight and keep it off at his age and BMI than at mine.

    I agree with the other posters who say cut out refined carbs and boost protein (for satiety).

    I have radically changed my diet but even still it will be awhile before I can drop back below a BMI of 30.

  68. Beth says:

    You can not tell your husband to exercise. You can ask him to come on a romantic walk with you after dinner every night.

  69. PawPrint says:

    I feel sorry for Steven’s girlfriend if she becomes disabled for some reason. Sounds like he’d dump her in a heartbeat. That’s pretty sad. I hope that he has told her in advance that if she has a disabling accident, is diagnosed with MS or another debilitating disease, or has to take medication that makes her gain weight, he’s gone.

  70. SLCCOM says:

    Re: publishing. I recommend booklockerdotcom. Angela Hoy is an honest, ethical lady who will not publish junk. Nor does she steal your copyright, or rip you off.

    Re: Medical “science” and “knowledge.” Most studies involving diet are 1) association studies, not cause-and-effect and 2) based on what people say they eat. Or what they think they remember they ate. Or what they think you want to hear. Or what they think they should say. Not what you call particularly reliable studies to base medical judgments on.

    Not exercising may not be “laziness.” Many cancers, autoimmune diseases and other long-term illnesses first manifest in fatigue, which is often very subtle. It isn’t the same thing as “letting yourself go.”

  71. Steven says:

    @PawPrint: That’s a pretty big assumption to make. I think it says more about you than it does me, really. Just because I know what I want in a partner (and have high expectations) doesn’t mean I’m a shallow, cold-hearted jerk.

  72. PawPrint says:

    Here’s what you said, Steven:

    “I want to be with an attractive partner, who not only looks good, but is physically fit. I’m an active person (rock climbing, mountain climbing, runner, cyclist) and I want to be with someone who can keep up. I want to be with an attractive partner, who not only looks good, but is physically fit. I’m an active person (rock climbing, mountain climbing, runner, cyclist) and I want to be with someone who can keep up. . . . That’s an issue for me. . . You want someone to climb the mountains with you, but they can’t. You want someone to run a marathon with you, but they can’t. THAT aspect of the relationship will hurt things more than physical appearance. Sure, I want a girlfriend who looks like a model, so shoot me, but I also want one who can keep up with me and my lifestyle. It doesn’t make sense for me to be with someone who can’t. . .”

    Did you mention intelligence in your partner? Did you mention kindness and compassion? You mentioned looks like a model and keeps up with you. So, yeah, IMHO you’re pretty shallow, and from what I read, if something happened to your model girlfriend to make her unattractive and unable to keep up physically, you’d find someone else who meets your standards (“It doesn’t make sense for me to be with someone who can’t. . .”). From what I read in your responses, I see no commitment to someone if they eventually do not or cannot meet your high standards. On the other hand, if you find a person exactly like you and something happens to your attractiveness or physical ability, I guess you’d know where you stand.

  73. Steven says:

    Seems to me that you’ve got an axe to grind. The premise of this conversation has nothing whatsoever to do with anything besides weight issues, which boil down to 1) phyical ability/health, and 2) appearance. Those are the areas which I’ve discussed because they’re the ones which are relevent. If we want to delve into every detail of what I desire in a mate, we’d probably be here quite some time.

    And what I’m talking about above isn’t if something horrible happens to my partner, but rather if they quit taking care of themselves, or their personality changes to the point where we no longer have anything in common. In that case, then yes, I don’t see a reason to continue to be with that person. I never said that I’d abandon the relationship if some my girlfriend was injured, or experienced some type of debilitating disease.

    Is it really so horrible that a guy (me) who takes care of himself physically, and who prides himself in his appearance also expect the same in a partner? I don’t think it is. I happen to think I’m a relatively attractive person, and I want to be with a relatively attractive partner. I’m not sure what the problem with that is. And I’m also an active person, who likes to be outdoors engaged in activities that require strength and endurance. I’m not going to be rock climbing in Yosemite with a girlfriend who is out of shape and overweight. So, explain to me why I should want to be with someone who can’t keep up.

    But those are only two aspects of what I’m looking for in a partner, and if you want to judge me because I haven’t written a laundry list of character traits that I look for in a partner, that’s quite okay with me. But I’d caution you not to rush to judgement about a person based on what you read in the comments of a blog. You’re only getting a one-dimensional view of that person. Had this been a conversation about intelligence, or kindness, or compassion, the conversation would have been starkly different.

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