Updated on 03.11.12

Reader Mailbag: Basic Manners

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. Bills in collection
2. First steps toward reading
3. Freelance work and being assertive
4. Network marketing thoughts
5. Bedtime reading
6. Finances, style, and a relationship
7. Premarital money to-dos
8. Cloud security and personal information
9. Certified pre-owned car question
10. Retirement or house?

The other day, I watched a person drop a bunch of their items on the street while talking on a cell phone. Another person stopped and gathered up the items while the cell phone talker just kept talking, and when the cell phone talker got her items back, she just walked away. No thank you, no nothing.

The person who helped had a bit of a stunned look on their face. When I approached, I said thank you to the helper, and she said, “At least someone is a human being around here.”

It doesn’t take much to say “please” or “thank you” when someone does something for you or when you’re making a request of someone, but it can often make a difference between someone walking away feeling good about themselves versus someone walking away thinking you’re a self-absorbed jerk.

Q1: Bills in collection
I am working part-time (less than 20 hours a week) and currently seeking more gainful employment. I don’t make enough to get by and rely on help from others to pay my bills right now. I’m truly broke (like using coffee filters for toilet paper broke). I have debts that are in collections, and I can’t make payments on them. Is there something specific I need to do in regards to those accounts? Should I call the agencies and tell them there is no way I can make payments right now, or will that just encourage them to begin harassing me again (at the moment they seem to have given up on getting anything out of me)?

– Tanya

If you can’t afford to make payments on a debt that is in collections, then you’re either going to have to declare bankruptcy, negotiate with that debt collector, or avoid it until the debt goes away. If you truly cannot pay the debt, I don’t see how contacting them really improves your situation.

Most likely, if they’re not harassing you, they’ve assumed that you can’t pay the debt. They may try to sell your debt to a different debt collection agency who then may try to contact you again, they may just try again in the future, or they may just give up on you.

What you need to decide is what your approach will be if you are contacted about the debt. If I were in your shoes, I would simply tell them that I cannot pay this debt and that they should no longer contact me except in writing.

Q2: First steps toward reading
I know you’re an avid reader and you have children of an age where they’re learning how to read. What did you do to get the ball rolling? I have a three year old and I’m starting to look for some basic things to do to start the process of learning how to read.

– Megan

The first step is to just read to them a lot, particularly from books that are constructed with simple words. Books by Dr. Seuss are a good starting point, but there are a lot of great books for young children and very early readers out there. As you read, point to the words on the page as you’re reading them.

Another tactic we’ve found a lot of success with is flash cards for simple “sight words.” All we did is take a common list of sight words and make a flash card for each one. We just made them on card stock, making about eight cards to a page. Then, we’d run through this stack of flash cards with them a few times a day. We started with a small stack of simple words, gradually added harder words to the stack, and eventually began removing the ones that they knew every time instantaneously.

A final thing you can do is show your own passion for reading. Read something that interests you when your child is in the room. Instead of flipping on the television when everyone’s in the family room, pick up a book and read it. Your children will pick up on those cues more than you think.

Q3: Freelance work and being assertive
I’m a trained copy editor and article-writer with lots of professional experience, both full-time and freelance. I’ve written brochures and resumes, previews and reviews for arts/entertainment events, and MANY interview-type articles where I speak to artists, business owners, chefs, and other interesting people on assignment for various small publications in my area (and a few prestigious regional magazines). I have lots of copy-editing experience for small publications and book publishers (I proofread their book catalogs) and more.

I’m not very confident or assertive. How can I ask someone to provide a reference for me when I’m not sure they would, and when our work relationship ended on terms that I’m not sure were excellent? The editor of one state tourism magazine loved my monthly column and communicated with me a lot for about 2 years. Then she shifted things so that I reported to an art director instead of her (the editor), but never told me that — she just stopped being at all friendly or conversational in her e-mails to me, and started to say “why don’t you ask the art director about that” until I figured it out. It felt awkward, and after another 6 months or so I had enough work on my plate that this job made the most sense to let go of, so I sent this editor a nice 1-paragraph e-mail stating how wonderful it had been & that I was grateful for the opportunity, hoped to work together in the future, was giving her 2 months’ notice so she could fine someone, etc, and her only response was: “I’m fine with that.” I got very insecure about that being her only reply, and I’m still afraid to approach her for a reference. Another of my most prestigious former employers, owner of a small free monthly publication, loved my work and I did great copy-editing & writing for them, but our work relationship ended due to them ceasing to pay me. They still owe me for my last 2 months of work, and expressed indignation that I politely refused to extend them any more “credit” and copy edit a 3rd issue for them once they had stopped paying me. I don’t feel great about using them as a reference. What does a person do to get good references when maybe the endings were awkward?
– Sylvia

The general rule is to simply avoid getting references from those situations. It’s hard to tell what they’ll say about you, so it’s not even certain that the reference would be a good one anyway.

Often in those situations, there are other things going on that you’re not aware of. In the first example, there may have been a shake-up in the organization that your original contact was unhappy with and they bundled you in with their negative feelings on the shake-up. With the second one, it looks like a company was treading water and were bothered that you wouldn’t throw them a small life preserver (I’ve been in situations like that, actually).

Your best bet if those situations come about is to actually address them when you feel the situation changing. Just simply tell the person that you’re getting a sense that something’s changing and you want to know if you can help, even if it’s just listening. You’d be surprised how many things can be defused with contact like that. I can certainly say I wish I knew that trick earlier on in my career.

Q4: Network marketing thoughts
Have you researched or reviewed LIFE Business and their 8 f’s? I have family members who have gotten involved in this program which seems to have its roots in Amway and similar sales models. It seems like a repackaging of the pyramid model for making money. Guy on top makes lots and as you get others below you you make more and more, but they say it is not like that at all. It is supposed to be a way to make a good income and have financial independence.

– Wilson

From their FAQ: “LIFE offers members the opportunity to profit from the sale of LIFE’s materials through a competitive compensation plan. LIFE’s goal is to flow the money typically spent on marketing and advertising to the leaders who help build the customer base for LIFE materials. Further, the founders of LIFE are dedicated to serving in the field alongside LIFE members – a unique situation that enables the compensation structure to maintain as its chief consideration the flowing of profits to the field and not to corporate shareholders, investors, or other interested parties, as is true with most companies. What this means is the LIFE compensation plan can offer one of the highest margins in the industry, with a pay plan that provides 50% of sales on a graduated bonus chart, and additional bonuses (upwards of 15% at the time of this writing, with plans for more depending upon profitability) in additional bonuses for developing leaders in the field, all while keeping prices competitively low.”

In other words, it’s pretty much a typical network marketing plan, like Amway, Pampered Chef, and so on. In each case, you make a little bit of money through the hard work of selling a product (in this case, leadership materials), but you make a lot more money by recruiting lots of people to sell that product and put you down as their referral.

I don’t like these businesses because eventually the people selling the product come knocking on my door and I don’t like to be sold products I’m not interested in, particularly when friends are trying to do the selling. It feels like they’re cashing in on my friendship with them, and most of the time a lot of the money from that sale is going to whoever that “friend’s” referral is, not to my friend.

Q5: Bedtime reading
How long do you read to your kids before bedtime? What do you read to them? Do you focus on picture books and use the pictures as a visual guide or do you just read the text to them? Does it change based on age? I’m trying to get a feel for reading to my twin sons who are 1.

– Randy

A typical bedtime involves me reading three short books, one selected by each of our children, that are roughly age appropriate. Our oldest, for example, chooses from books that are far more advanced than the ones our youngest chooses from. We also read a chapter from a longer, ongoing book. The book reading process takes from twenty minutes to half an hour each night.

The first three books are heavily picture-oriented and we certainly do use the pictures as part of the reading process. I hold the book so that all three kids can see the pictures and I point at the words on the page as I read them. We also talk about what’s going on in the picture and (if the book is new) guess what’s going to happen next.

With the chapter book, I take a more passive approach. I usually dim the lights and use a small light to read that one by while the kids are each nestled in their individual beds. The focus here is on the story and using imagination a little bit more. If I use a word they’re unfamiliar with, they know they can stop me and I’ll explain what I mean.

Q6: Finances, style, and a relationship
I am in a committed relationship since a year and we are planning to get married sometime by the end of this year. I had a two fold question regarding my gf. Before I start, I love her dearly and I know she is the best, most innocent and pure person I’ve ever met.

My gf, for some strange reason has this strong perception that unless something is bought from an expensive store it is cheap stuff. She is a big fan of Yankee candles and buys a lot of $25 candles. I am confident that neither she nor I can make out the difference if a yankee candle or any other *decent* candle has been burning in the room for an hour. I beg for her to buy stuff like this at discount stores. I try to get her to buy the very same yankee candles at TJX/Marshalls that cost 1/3rd the price. But she believes those are *all* inferior candles and dont smell the same. Of course, candles is just one example, this goes on with almost any product. Now I am not cheap, I believe in good quality and buy mostly good branded clothes, but I don’t see any difference in a Calvin Klein pant at Filenes or at Macys, she does.

I know I might get a lot of dirt for this but my gf has a really bad sense of style. She insists on wearing clothes that a lot of people have told her that they wouldn’t wear it if people paid them to wear it. She does not appreciate me pointing out if something she’s put together is not looking good. There are multiple times when I am embarrassed by the things she wears. Please dont get me wrong, I truly understand each one has their own style but somethings are just flat out no-no. One example, she uses pink, italics, font size 13, font: Curly as her office signature. I’ve tried to make her understand, sent her numerous articles to show how this is not acceptable in an official email. But she refuses to make a more subtle signature. She loves my dressing sense and allows me to show her what to put together time and again. She has been stopped by absolute strangers on the street and told that she looks stunning (true story). Almost everytime she wears something I buy for her she has received loads of compliments. She insists on making me pick all her clothes from now, but she will not throw some of the things that will make people from 1990s cringe. We almost broke up because she wanted to use her 100% polyester blanket over using one of my 100% cotton blanket – because I don’t like anything she owns.

I’ve tried being subtle, I’ve tried having her ask any of my/her friends for second opinions, I’ve tried to tell her indirectly – but it always falls on deaf ears. I am worried that this is slowly starting to build up in our relationship and might cause problems in the future. I do accept that I personally love constructive criticism a little too much, I believe it is what helps one improve themselves. I just wish she was the tinniest bit more open to constructive “suggestions”.
– Mark

It might be that you love her dearly, but this doesn’t feel like compatibility. If you don’t feel like you can sit down and talk to her straight out about these issues, then you’re going to have a disastrous time when major issues like a sudden unemployment or an unexpected pregnancy happen later on, particularly when those issues bring up deeply mixed feelings for you.

A relationship works when both people can really put everything they’re feeling on the table at any time. The further you are from that, the more strain your relationship is facing.

It sounds like she has personality traits that bother you. If you can talk about them with her, you can get past them as a couple. If you can’t talk about them with her, they are going to fester and drive you apart. It’s the communication that makes the difference, and that’s what is lacking here.

Q7: Premarital money to-dos
My fiance and I are engaged to be married in the fall of 2012. We’re both 40, and we’ve spent the last couple of years digging out of pretty deep financial holes — mine, from a two-year stint of full-time elder care of a parent followed by unemployment; his, from a previous marriage that involved profligate spending and enormous consumer debt. Using You Need A Budget software individually, we have finally found a budgeting system that really works for us, and for the most part are doing well: I have paid off all of my credit card debt, and I’m close to paying off just about $1500 of other old medical bills and collection items. I’m employed full time, make $70K annually, and have a $22K car loan at 0% for 4 more years and a $52K mortgage at 7.5% on a condo worth about $100K with 20 more years on the mortgage. I’m in the process of refinancing the mortgage, not so much to lower the payment but to reduce it to a 15 year mortgage with no PMI. He makes about $100K annually, has $10K in remaining credit card debt, and no other debt, and he rents a small house that is over an hour in traffic away from his job. Neither of us has much retirement savings at all, though we both work in jobs that will provide modest pensions assuming our pension system doesn’t collapse. He has 20 years of pension credit, while I only have 7. His son, who lives with him half time, is a high school senior and may attend college in the fall.

It’s difficult to prioritize from among our financial goals, but in short, they are:
Short term: fund our wedding, find a home for the 3 of us closer to his job after his son graduates high school, fund 1/2 of his son’s college tuition/room/board, get out of debt
Long term: save for retirement, buy investment real estate properties, travel both before and during retirement.

We have banked and budgeted separately until now, but we just opened our first joint checking and savings account for our joint wedding savings, and we both share and talk about each other’s YNAB budgets. Aside from writing down our financial goals more specifically, building a joint budget that points us toward our goals, and supporting each other in sticking to a joint budget, what else should we be planning before the wedding? Where can we find more about how to budget for our changing tax situation, since we’ll be taxed for the whole 2012 year as married rather than just the months after the wedding? Should we adjust tax withholding now, and if so, in what direction? Should I add him to my existing deed and/or mortgage, or would we need to take out a whole new mortgage jointly? We agree that we want transparency and joint decisionmaking regarding money, but are there any downsides to joint banking? (I’ve read in two different places online that “separate bank accounts are a good idea if one partner entering marriage has credit card debt that the other does not want to absorb”…but I don’t see how joint vs. individual accounts makes any difference in that equation!) Do you recommend any books or blogs that focus specifically on finances for couples?
– Jennifer

The best book for couples I’ve read is Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach. It’s really a solid book for the financial issues that a couple will have as they come together and as they stay together.

Be aware that much of the financial advice pertaining to couples that you read operates under the assumption that there’s a better than 50/50 chance you’ll wind up in divorce. That’s a painful reality to hear about when you’re moving toward your first marriage, but that’s the truth of it. Advice pointing people toward maintaining separate accounts is great advice if you’re assuming that the marriage will likely end in divorce.

While that may be great financial advice, it does run contrary to the elements that make a marriage work: openness, honesty, and communication. Shared banking pretty much goes hand in hand with these traits. It requires you to be honest and open with each other about your finances and to communicate about them. Separate banking doesn’t preclude them, but it makes it much easier to back away from such openness when it becomes challenging or inconvenient.

Q8: Cloud security and personal information
How secure do you think it is to save information about yourself online? For example, let’s say I wanted to create a draft of my will using Google Docs. Would this kind of thing be secure there?

– Andrew

Google Docs works great for creative collaboration or sharing. That is what it is designed for. If a security breach happens with a short story you’re working on, it’s really not a significant deal.

However, if a security breach happens with your social security number, your bank account information, and so on, it’s a gigantic deal.

Thus, you should always minimize the access and availabilty that others have to such information. I’m wary about having such information on my own computer, for example, let alone on Google’s servers or anywhere else like that.

Q9: Certified pre-owned car question
My husband was recently in an a car accident. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt, however, my husband’s car was totaled. We expect to get about $5,000 from the insurance company for his car. We also have $1,500 saved for a car so far and about $1,200 from a work bonus. That leaves us about $$7,700 to buy a “new” car. We were planning on/looking at buying a certified used car. What is your opinion of the whole certified pre-owned car process & value…is it worth it, or is it just a way for dealerships to make more money? What advice do you have for first time car buyers?

If we do decide to go the certified used car route, most of those cars start at about $10,000. We have a large emergency fund ($12,500 + growing) which we can pay from. However, my husband is trying to build his credit history so we can eventually get approved for a mortgage. I have a great credit history & score (764), however, I am a SAHM with no income, and my husband has only had a credit card for a few months. We were thinking about making up the difference by getting a car loan from USAA, however, I’m hesitant since we can “borrow” money from our emergency fund with no interest. If we can get a good interest rate on a car loan through USAA, do you think that it is worth it to take one in order to help build my husband’s credit history/score? If so, at what interest rate do you think would it be worth it?
– Kelly

What’s your priority? If your priority is price above all else, then avoid the premium that comes with the certified pre-owned label and shop around carefully for cars without it. You’ll find lower price points on cars without that label, and if you can find some warranties and guarantees pertaining to the vehicle, so much the better. If your priority is avoiding a lemon, however, then the certification process is worth it.

I basically view it as gambling. If you buy a used car, you have some chance of getting a bad used car with a lot of problems. It’s a relatively small chance, but it’s still there. The certified pre-owned label basically says, “Pay a little more and drastically reduce the chances of getting a lemon.” Is that worth it to you? It’s not something you can really run the numbers on, not even on the aggregate. It really comes down more to what you personally value.

In your situation, I would probably avoid debt when buying this car. I’d buy a car that actually costs significantly less – say, $5,000 or so – and then start saving seriously for the replacement for that car. The $5,000 car won’t last as long, but it also won’t depreciate quickly and the insurance should be really low, making it easy to save up for the next car. In three or four years, you’ll get $500 or $1,000 in trade value for that car toward your next one, you’ll have the $2,500 you saved from the first purchase, and you’ll have the money you saved up along the way, which should be more than enough to get you to the point where you can pay cash for that certified pre-owned.

Q10: Retirement or house?
Here is a question I have about prioritizing between a house and retirement. In working on my our next budget my wife and I had in mind that two priorities were we would increase our contributions 1) retirement savings and 2) buying a house. We had a 3-5 year plan of moving from our current townhouse (owned) into a single family. After talking to a few people we realized it might be advantageous to take advantage of the current interest rates and move that time line up to 1 year. We will have about enough to make a 5% down payment with our current plan. We are considering not increasing retirement contributions (currently at about 7%) and instead increasing the down payment. This would give us closer to 7% down payment thus reducing PMI.

Second option, this one I know I saw in the reader mailbag the other day but I did really feel like there was an exact answer. Given the above situation would you recommend using some money from our emergency fund to have a larger down payment and avoid PMI. Current emergency fund is about 4 months. We both work (different companies and industries) so the chance of both of us loosing our jobs at the same time is slim.
– John

Are you going to sell the townhome when you move? If so, how much are you expecting to raise from that sale?

If you’re planning to sell it, you may be able to avoid PMI entirely when you make this move. After all, the value of the townhouse is likely more than 20% of the value of the home you wish to buy. This would be an issue to talk over with a potential lender, simply to find out if a bridge loan (which is what it’s called when you borrow money against your first home to help buy the second) would work for you. If this is the case, I would increase retirement savings right away.

If you’re going to try to keep the townhouse while also buying the new home, I would keep saving for a while. I’d wait until I could avoid PMI without stripping my emergency fund, but I would leave my retirement contributions as-is.

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. Jackowick says:

    Once, I took a call on my cel in front of a cashier at a store. ONCE. My girlfriend pointed out how rude it was and, no fighting or arguing, I said “wow, you’re right”. I changed my habits. The example in the summary story shows how warped cels have made us. I can remember being 20 in college, 25 at my first job, and nothing was so important that I had to yap on the phone/text/update status with the exception of a death in the family. People need to re-prioritize. Instant access does not mean instant priority!!!!!!!

    (People have been planning dinners and picking up kids after work/school for decades before cell phones; I give no quarter to those arguments when people can’t plan ahead of time. You may be angered by that, but facts are facts; people have done this for DECADES without cell phones…)

  2. Tammy says:

    @Q6 Controlling much? If you almost ended your relationship over a polyester blanket I seriously doubt it will last. This woman is an adult. You will have to accept that she will buy and wear things that you (gasp) do not like. Live with it or move on.

  3. Andrew says:

    Q6 may be one of the strangest letters you’ve ever published. Are you sure it wasn’t meant as a joke?

  4. Misha says:

    Q1: I’ve seen this question before – the coffee filters part gives it away – but I’m glad to see Trent attempt to address the actual question this time instead of questioning the frugality of coffee filters as TP.

    Q6: A couple things here. Frankly, if anyone not my employer tried to hound me about the format of my email signature, I’d leave it the same just to spite them.

    Further: “We almost broke up because she wanted to use her 100% polyester blanket over using one of my 100% cotton blanket – because I don’t like anything she owns.”

    The phrasing here (“because I don’t like”) suggests that you are the one who almost initiated a break-up. I really don’t think you should marry a person you feel driven to criticize this much. I was kind of with you on the candles thing, but then things got crazy, by which I mean your apparent relish for giving out constructive criticism went beyond the usual internet snark and into some weirdly controlling territory.

    Also, what WAS your two-fold question? I didn’t see a question in your entire letter – just a long public rant that I hope your girlfriend sees.

  5. Andrew says:

    Seriously, is there anyone on earth who insists upon buying full-price decorative candles (or even cares about brand-name candles), thinks that Calvin Klein pants are different if bought in a more “upscale” store, and yet uses a 100% polyester blanket? And what’s with the “innocent and pure” bit?

    This has got to be a put-on. Either that or the writer is a control freak with a serious personality disorder. Maybe both?

    This letter belongs more in a general interest advice column, such as “Dear Prudence” on Slate–boy, would she tell him off!

  6. Andrew says:

    Q8. Any vital documents that you want to keep absolutely secure should be created and stored on a secondary computer that is never connected to the Internet.

    Go buy a used computer and some sort of backup storage unit (like a flash drive). You don’t have to spend much money, and you can always copy the document over later to your principal computer if necessary.

  7. Steve says:

    Q8 Asking Trent this sort of question is like asking Turkeys if they think Thanksgiving is a good idea.

  8. Adam P says:

    Q6 is awesome. I laughed like 3 times reading it. I think it is genuine, and I think this couple is seriously dysfunctional. If you’re reading this, “Mark”, seek couples counselling before you walk down the aisle. Also, buy your Yankee Candles at the YC outlet, you get the same prices as Marshalls/TJ Maxx but they are the real labels/jars. Or wait for B1G1 coupons, they have them every month. No one should pay full price for a candle.

    Also, this is a PF website, not a relationship advice column, so not sure why it’s here?

  9. Johanna says:

    @Adam P: But Mark isn’t the one buying the candles – his girlfriend is. If she were the one asking for advice, your advice would be right on target. But if she’s happy with paying full price for the candles, and if he’s already talked to her about it and she isn’t willing to change her habits, there’s really not much he can do. She’s a gainfully employed grown woman, and she can spend her money how she likes.

  10. Jayme says:

    Q6: Your girlfriend isn’t ever going to be perfect. I think you’ve made your point with her dress and email signature. Now you need to let it go and decide if you can accept that. No one likes a nag, even if it’s a well intentioned for one.

    For the budget issue where she wants to spend more on expensive items. I don’t see a problem with this as long as she spends what you guys agree on. Who cares if she gets 1 $25 candle instead of 4 $6.00. As long as she sticks to whatever you guys agree to for personal spending, you’re fine. (Assuming you’ve combined finances or plan to.) Some women want a $500 purse instead of 5 $100 purses. Not my thing, but whatever.

  11. josh says:

    I would have knocked the papers out of that persons hands again.

  12. Jayme says:

    I’d work really hard to not pay PMI. When I had PMI, it wasn’t easy to get it off. But I don’t think I’d rush a 3-5 year plan into 1 year plan just because of interest rates. Will they go higher in 2 years than in 1 year? Maybe, but I don’t think it will be radically different. That’s just me though. I think if you took that extra year or two to save up cash, that will more than make up for the small difference in interest rates.

    I wouldn’t dig into your emergency fund either. Particularly to take money to pour into a house, which (I suspect) will mean that 4 months of emergency fund NOW will be closer to 2 months of emergency fund. So depleting that further could be dangerous. In my opinion…of course, yours means more.

    For us, we spent a year paying down our mortgage aggressively. But just getting the full match on our 401(k)s and not investing in an IRA for one year, we were able to pay it down hugely. Long term, would we have more money for retirement if we put that extra money into 401(k)s and a IRA? Yes. But not having a big mortgage payment gave us flexibility and peace of mind that is well worth it. That’s just us though. So, my recommendation is to just contribute to get a full match on your 401(k)s – in case that’s less than 7% – then go gang busters on your savings account to get a bigger down payment and be okay with doing that for 2-3 years.

  13. Adam P says:

    Johanna – You’re 100% right. I was focusing on the PF aspects, eg, how to get your luxury candles on the cheap. But the gf can pay full price if that is her wont and she shouldn’t have to answer for it as long as she’s spending her own money (or her own credit). I still think Mark and his fiancee need some serious counselling if they are gonna get married tho :)

  14. Tamara says:

    I had a boyfriend like Mark, once…highly critical of the stupidest little things…needless to say he’s now my ex. Mark’s GF, I hope you’re reading this – DTMFA. Seriously. It’s not worth it.

    @#5 Andrew, I’m right there with you! Prudie rocks. :)

    @#4 Misha, I noticed Q1 was a repost too…more evidence that Trent has left the building!

  15. Kai says:

    I think she has to answer to a potential husband. If she’s a nutty spender, and they can agree to a budget with a certain amount of discretionary money for each, and she stays within that – just getting much less than she would without her insistance on fancy stores. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a person who spends like that also spends a whole pile of money – in which case I wouldn’t marry her.
    Perhaps she is silly, unprofessional, and a poor dresser. But the guy has moved far beyond ‘wanting to help’ to ‘wanting to control’, and it’s not working.
    These guys should really give it up and find someone more suitable..

  16. Evaluise says:

    Mark, if your GF does not read what you wrote and leaves you, you should leave. It won’t get better. Even if she is willing to dress the way you like it (I’d see no matter whom in youknowwhere first) – just imagine the way she will decorate your future home and dress your future children. The two of you are going to drive each other crazy. Taste shouldn’t be that important, but to many people and obviously to you (and I’m afraid to me, too) it is.

  17. Misha says:

    No, Kai, the neat thing about being a gainfully employed unmarried adult is that she doesn’t have to answer to anyone but herself.

    His need for control is a much better reason not to get married than her spending is (remember, we don’t know that it’s actually out of control).

  18. jim says:

    Q1 : The first question is a rerun from Feb 2nd. I guess the author had a sex change and decided to ask again cause last time the question was from a man.

    Q4 : Wilson, yes it is basically a pyramid scheme. Stay away.

    Q6 : This question seems too strange to be real. If its not a joke : You need to relax and let your girlfriend be who she is. Sounds like you’re the one doing all the criticizing. THe choice of sheets should not break up any healthy relationship. You should probably back off and stop trying to change her so much. Couples counseling might be a good idea.

    Q7 : Jennifer, First I wouldn’t recommend making any major financial changes until after you’re married. You aren’t married yet so no need to buy housing together or get joint accounts. Do that after marriage. You never know what will happen before marriage (break up, death, etc). Your tax bill situation probably won’t change drastically after marriage in your given situation. If you want you could use a copy of Turbotax or similar software to do a pretend 2011 tax return for you as a married couple and find the bottom line tax bill. Then compare that tax bill to what each of you paid as single. That will show you roughly how your taxes much it will change after a marriage. Lastly, you do not need to change your mortage post marriage. The bank does not need to add you to a mortgage, that won’t improve anything. Getting a new mortgage would cost money to refinance and that shouldn’t be done just to get his name on the note. Are you keeping the condo or selling it? If you plan to sell it then you may not want to refinance. You won’t keep it long enough to justify spending the closing cost of refinancing. After you’re married you can add both names to any home deeds. That can be a good tactic to avoid probate in case one of you dies.

    Q10 : John, with 5% down the PMI will cost you about 1% more on the loan. That is worth getting a loan now rather than waiting 3-5 years. I wouldn’t empty the emergency fund to avoid PMI. You are running the risk that the market goes down further and you end up under water. Keep that in mind and don’t buy a house with low down payment if you really want to be safe. But if you want to take the risk then buying now with lower down payment could work out well for you.

  19. jim says:

    While I think Q6 all seems to add up to Mark being far too critical and controlling, I do think he probably has a valid point about the spending on candles. There is no good reason to spend full retail at the most expensive store simply because you think its a better product. Levis jeans for $45 a pair at Macy’s are no better than the same pair of jeans on sale for $30 at Walmart. This woman appears to feel that the products she buys are better simply because they cost more. Its not just candles either, Mark says : “Of course, candles is just one example, this goes on with almost any product.” He is right to try and stop the woman from needlessly squandering money stupidly. If this was the only issue between them then I’d consider Mark in the right and giving logical advice and his GF being irrational. But theres other issues and Mark seems critical in general. So the valid, good advice about not needlessly paying triple for candles gets lost among telling her what color font to use in her email and what fabric the sheets must be.

  20. Johanna says:

    @jim, I don’t think anyone’s saying that Mark was wrong to ever give his girlfriend advice on her spending habits. But when he’s already given her that advice (many times, it sounds like) and she’s chosen not to take it, at some point he needs to stop and accept that she’s going to make spending choices that are not the ones he would have made. And he needs to decide whether that’s a deal-breaker for their relationship or not.

  21. jim says:

    Johanna, Yes I agree with that and I wasn’t disputing it.
    I guess I was just pointing out that I do think he’s right about the overspending topic. My first reply painted him as too critical in general. But I think the overspending is the one thing he really has a valid criticism about. The other stuff seems trivial and just paints him as controlling. But the overspending is much more warranted thing to object to. And I think his valid criticism is lost among the less valid criticism. Kind of a ‘crying wolf’ thing or a ‘pick your battles’ thing.

  22. David says:

    I see no particular evidence that Mark’s girlfriend is “overspending” – if she can afford $25 candles, then she isn’t overspending when she buys them.

  23. Cam says:

    Q6 is frightening.

    I wonder how they got together in the first place. It doesn’t sound like he likes or respects much about her except her “purity and innocence”. Is that code for “too naive to see him as a control freak”?

    In time, will she be “allowed” to have opinions different from his or will he try to wear her down until he controls every aspect of how she presents herself in public? Q6 – your girlfriend is more than a reflection of you.

    Hopefully the girlfriend reads his letter and runs far, far away.

  24. jim says:

    David, I used the term “overspending” in the sense that she is spending “more than necessary” not in the sense that she is spending “more than she can afford”.

    There is no specific evidence that she is or is not spending within her means. If she insists on irrationally spending top dollar for everything then its much more likely she’s not maintaining a good budget. But thats just speculation on my part.

  25. Adam P says:

    But Jim, if she can afford to overspend on small pleasures like candles and jeans, and it’s her money, what’s the problem? People have different values, and while YC (for example) are expensive, some people get that pleasure out of them and they are worth the full retail price.

    Without knowing her finances, we don’t know that her “overspending” would really harm the future marriage or not. Maybe she makes 6 figures or is frugal with her meals out and vacations? Is it still a problem if she earns more than she spends and saves for emergencies and retirement?

    We don’t even know if it is a valid criticism the boyfriend has.

  26. Johanna says:

    Whether Mark’s girlfriend is “overspending” or not, it does sound like she might have some issues with money, if she really does think that the exact same product is somehow inferior when bought at a discount store rather than at full price. As people have pointed out, that’s not rational, and I don’t fault Mark for being critical of that habit of hers.

    But people *aren’t* rational, and sometimes we have irrationalities that we like to cling to even when they’re pointed out. So even if Mark had nothing but valid criticism of his girlfriend, my advice would be the same: If you’ve already nagged her and hectored her about it, it’s time to drop it. Either accept her as she is and stay, or accept that you’re not right for each other and move on.

  27. jim says:

    Adam P, Theres nothing wrong with spending $25 on candles if you can afford them. The point that Mark made about the candles is that she thinks Yankee candles are ‘better’ if she spends $25 for them at the expensive store and that buying Yankee candles for 1/3 the cost at a cheap store are worse. Yankee candles are a specific brand. So this is like thinking your Levi’s jeans are better cause you spent more on them. If Mark is correct about this then she is categorically false in her belief. Yankee candles don’t get better if you spend more to buy them and don’t become worse if they go on sale. Also Mark says this is just one example and her spending habits are the same for everything. If thats true and she acts like this for every spending choice then it certainly would have a negative financial impact on a married couple. I’m assuming she isn’t a mult-millionaire trust fund baby.

    Its possible Mark is giving us a confused version of the situation. If Mark is confusing Yankee candles for other candles then thats a different issue. If Marks girlfriend just doesn’t want to bother spending her time chasing sale prices to safe a few bucks then thats another point. If Marks girlfriend IS actually a mult-millionaire then thats different. But I’m taking what Mark said on face value that his girlfriend actually believes spending more makes things better and that she spends like this on everything and I’m making a fairly safe assumption that he / she are not stinking rich.

  28. jackie says:

    Perhaps Q6 and his girlfriend are immigrants or are outside the US. His grammar and attitudes toward “innocence” give that impression. If she had previously lived in an area where low-quality counterfeit goods were widely available, that could explain a reluctance to shop at lower-end stores.

  29. jim says:

    From the sound of it Mark may also want to re-evaluate the things he is critical about in the first place. Don’t nitpick her about every little thing. Maybe Mark isn’t really nitpicking but it kind of sounds like it. When you get to the point that you’re critical of someones font choice that seems beyond normal criticism. He ought to learn to take her quirks and oddities in stride and not tell her she’s wrong about such things. He says he likes constructive criticism. But maybe he likes it wayyyy too much. Mark may need to step back and realize that its him thats being far too critical about everything his girlfriend does. Granted we don’t have a lot of detail here but thats kind of the impression the question gives.

  30. Adam P says:

    TJ Maxx and Marshall’s have a discount YC line that is used I think called “Simply Home”. They use different names for the same scents and have different labels and jars. They are cheaper (obviously). Alternatively, sometimes they sell overstock old candles that are the same as the YC but have been discontinued and may be losing their scent from age. The “throw” might not be as good, or they may “tunnel”. There are a million reasons that are valid for others why she would want a retail price version of a candle. If she can afford it, more power to her.

  31. AJ says:

    Jim #18-

    …not only did the reader ask the question again, Trent gave the opposite answer this time! Here’s Trent’s response to this exact same question a month ago:

    “The honest route is to contact the agencies and tell them that you can’t pay right now. Make it clear that you do not have adequate employment.”

  32. Adam P says:

    Also -re the jeans. The Ralph Lauren discount store sells polos for about $39, the retail store sells them for $90+. There is a difference between the two polos, in both fit and fabric (also made in different countries). Maybe the levis are the same way?

  33. lurker carl says:

    In regards to question 6: Toxic relationship going on here.

    It sounds to me like Mark likes to play with dolls and girl friend is the Barbie. Total control. To consider breaking up a relationship because of the bed spread is a sure sign of trouble in paradise. I think the “Yankee Candle/Calvin Klein/WhatEver is better when overpriced” thing is her way of defiance. Same with the cutsie signature block, her supervisor would have handled the situation if it was a problem. Mark needs to back away from being the control freak, girl friend needs wake up and smell the coffee.

  34. Gretchen says:

    What does font in an email have to do with one’s fashion sense?

    Why would you want to marry someone you are embarrassed to be seen in public with? Or, more to the point, why would she want to marry you?

  35. Steve says:

    Wow, that’s pretty awesome about re-using the same question. I find it hard to believe nobody (Trent and the team he sold the blog to) noticed the return of the coffee filter TP.

  36. Liz says:

    re: Q6. In my email program, I can select certain recipients to get a certain signature. If I were 15 years younger I might just make sure that my controlling boyfriend got to see only my cutesy, little girly signature, while the rest of the world saw a grownup one with no pink curlicues. Of course, I’d probably also have kicked the guy to the curb over my candle-buying choices (or something. Clearly this guy is a saint with no imperfections at all).
    And isn’t fleece considered to be polyester? You’ll pry me out from under my fleece blanket only when I’m dead (although the temp in my house in winter is set to 58 degrees at night, so I might not be the most rational person when it comes to blanket choice…).

  37. jim says:

    Its possible and feasible that Marks girlfriend has good logical reasons to spend money on stuff the way she does that is not getting relayed by Mark or Mark is misunderstanding.

    Mark is saying that his girlfriend thinks “the very same” stuff is better simply when you spend more. That ain’t true as a generalization.

  38. Kai says:

    “#17 Misha @ 11:02 am March 12th, 2012
    No, Kai, the neat thing about being a gainfully employed unmarried adult is that she doesn’t have to answer to anyone but herself.
    His need for control is a much better reason not to get married than her spending is (remember, we don’t know that it’s actually out of control).”

    And that works, until you are contemplating becoming a married adult. So while you can spend to your heart’s content on whatever you want, if you are in a relationship which is looking like it could lead to marriage, then yes, you do need to answer to each other on spending. Once you are married, your spending will affect each other, so you need to get any issues sorted out ahead of time – unless you plan to just marry blindly and divorce when it doesn’t work.
    A *single* person has no-one to answer to. A member of an involved couple looking towards marriage who announces “I don’t have to justify my spending to you as it’s none of your business” is not ready for marriage.

  39. Emma says:

    “purity and innocence” and candles loving girl. I guess much younger than Mark.Mark gathered life experiences and knows where and when. Perhaps she is too young to match that. I don’t think Mark has many choices. How many girls out there would agreed to be dressed by the boyfriend for public acceptance? Better stay with the girl, candles or not. She is a treasure.

  40. Katie says:

    I’m going to take a guess that Mark’s girlfriend was sick of being harassed about going to the mall instead of Mark’s preferred discount store and finally just shouted “The stuff they have at the mall stores is different!” to get him to shut up. In reality, she probably just likes going to the mall, possibly because Mark is not there to nitpick her taste.

  41. sjw says:

    While I don’t get spending that much extra on candles (I’m a fan of the big bag of Ikea tealights – because they burn well for the right amount of time), I do understand the concern that some brands make a lower quality for the outlet stores specifically.

    I’ve heard similar comments about clothing, that it isn’t just over-runs (because there aren’t enough of them for the number of outlet stores), but that there are specific ‘outlet’ runs. Or that is where the ‘dinged’ items that don’t pass quality checks end up.

    And having one’s SO hold on to crappy clothing is something I can completely empathize with. Based on my experience, once it has holes you have a better shot, but even then you might lose. :)

  42. jim says:

    Adam and Sjw have both mentioned outlet stores. Yes the products bought at outlet stores are different and may be inferior to regular retail products. But outlet stores are different than retail stores and the fact they carry factory rejects and such is a known factor. Mark didn’t say anything about outlet stores. TJMaxx and Marshalls do not operate as outlet stores and (to my knowledge) do not carry factory reject items.

  43. Johanna says:

    @jim: Actually, I have seen items at Marshall’s marked as “irregular” or “slight imperfection.”

  44. Steve says:

    @#42 Jim TJMaxx and Marshalls definitely carry both imperfect items and some “outlet store” specific lines.

    I personally don’t get the whole Yankee Candle thing but I’ll tell you what: they seem to be doing just fine. Enough people see the value they provide for the money to keep them in business.

  45. SLCCOM says:

    “She insists on wearing clothes that a lot of people have told her that they wouldn’t wear it if people paid them to wear it.”

    “She insists on making me pick all her clothes from now, but she will not throw some of the things that will make people from 1990s cringe.”

    “I do accept that I personally love constructive criticism a little too much, I believe it is what helps one improve themselves. I just wish she was the tinniest bit more open to constructive “suggestions”.”

    I have a contrary view. I think that this girl, and I say “girl” because she is acting like an immature, attention-demanding twit who is actually the controlling one, rather than an adult woman. Who would continue to wear clothing so bad that a lot of people told her that they wouldn’t wear it if they were PAID TO? And now she insists that he pick out her clothing from now on, but continues to wear ugly and/or inappropriate clothing? And she continues to use a childish font and signature for professional use? I’m very sure that someone at work has told her that this is a bad idea, and I’m equally sure that her failure to act like a grown-up means that she will never get very far in whatever job or profession she is in. I’m equally sure that her clothing choices are holding her back as well.

    So, while she is digging herself into a hole by childish behavior, she is also squandering her money on needlessly expensive gew-gaws. And on top of that, is not interested at all in acting on any constructive suggestions from anyone.

    That is not marriage material in my book. Tweens are just too young.

  46. jim says:

    Johanna, Steve, OK I stand corrected. I didn’t realize TJX stores sold the ‘irregular’ / outlet store kinda stuff. I thought they were just heavy discount on normal retail stuff like selling swimsuits in September or overstock items etc.

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