Reader Mailbag: Ankle Twist

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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