Updated on 01.31.10

Reader Mailbag: Boycotts, Baseball, and New Beginnings

Trent Hamm

This is Reader Mailbag #100. With this mailbag, I’ve decided to start naming the mailbags based on an interesting question or two answered within the mailbags, making it easier to find such mailbags (in theory).

I refuse to buy gas from BP [due to various political reasons]. In my town, however, the BP station almost always has gas prices that are a nickel per gallon lower than the prices at other stations.

As a frugal person, I’m constantly torn about whether or not to go back on my stance and save a dollar or two on each of my fill-ups. At the same time, I really don’t want to buy gas from BP. Do you have any thoughts or guidance here?
– Shane

(I excised Shane’s political reasons because they’re not really germane to the discussion and they would cause a long political sidebar that doesn’t really need to be brought up.)

To put it simply, Shane, you’ve reached the very point where you’re putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to political beliefs. Are you directly willing to put your dollars on the table due to your political beliefs or do your more direct needs (saving money) supercede it?

This is pretty much entirely an internal issue. Do you believe in these political causes deeply enough to literally start putting your dollars on the table for it? I can’t answer that for you, but I can say that it’s never a cut and dried issue for anyone because everyone has different experiences, different values, and different ideas.

There are certain stores and businesses that I will not give my business to for various reasons, political and otherwise. Usually, the reasons have to do with atrocious customer service or poor products, but I can think of at least one case where I made the decision to stop using a particular company’s service because I didn’t like their overt sponsorship of certain political activities. I don’t really care whether or not it costs me a few dollars because it’s tied to a belief I hold quite dearly.

You need to ask yourself how deeply you truly hold these views – it’s not a question I can answer for you. I’ll just say that I think it’s perfectly reasonable to not spend your money at a business that engages in practices you don’t believe in.

What do you think of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft as a frugal gaming option?
– Emily

Games like these require a monthly fee to play – in the case of World of Warcraft, it’s between ten and fifteen dollars – which is a bad thing. However, the good aspect of such games is that the amount of gameplay available is enormous, plus such games also develop a strong social pull because of the interactions with real people.

If you assume that playing such a game slows a person’s other gaming purchases down significantly – from, say, a new $50 game a month to one per quarter – then it’s obviously a good way to save on a hobby that a person enjoys.

The danger with any such game, though, is overplaying. The social connection – the fact that you’re playing with friends and people you know – often adds a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality, which means that people can often get absorbed into playing such games excessively. You play and play and play in order to socialize and also to one-up your friends with various in-game achievements.

If MMORPGs like World of Warcraft are played a reasonable amount and result in decreases in the overall entertainment budget of a person or a family, I say they’re a good thing. However, if they are overplayed and cause disruptive behaviors or simply beocme another bill tacked onto spending that isn’t cut in other ways, they’re a problem.

I’m a fifty four year old widow with four adult children. A year ago, my husband suddenly died in a vehicle accident. He left behind enough life insurance money to pay off everything and to give me some time to figure out what’s next in my life, which was a blessing. I decided to sell our house and move closer to my sisters and our children.

Now, though, it’s time for me to start over with things. I haven’t worked at all in thirty years and I simply don’t know how I’ll ever find a job in the working world without any experience at all. Do you have any suggestions?
– Lily

Your best approach as you re-enter the workplace is to be very clear and straightforward about your experience. Don’t hide it. When you’re asked to provide an employment history, tell your situation clearly. Don’t try to hide it or anything like that.

It sounds like your financial situation doesn’t require you to immediately work, but that you’re going to need to work in the coming years and you find yourself in a psychological position to be ready to go back to the workplace. What you choose to do likely depends both on your financial needs and also on what your interests and talents are.

If you’re seeking entry-level work to fill the hours, you likely already have everything you need to find work. If you’re seeking a position with higher financial rewards, however, you may need to go back to school in some regard.

The real question is what do you want to do? How would you ideally like to fill those working hours in the coming years? Spend some time thinking about it and come up with an answer that’s true to you and your skills and talents and interests. Once you know what that is, go for it – it certainly sounds like you have the resources you need to make what you want out of this situation.

One of my family members actually found herself in a very similar situation. She found an entry-level job and spends her spare time pursuing freelancing opportunities that relate to her hobby, which is a form of art. She’s absolutely happy with the way she fills her hours.

You sometimes review books that are pretty far from personal finance. How do you decide whether or not to review a book on here?
– Shawn

I mostly use my gut. If I see a lot of material in the book that I think is in some way connected to what I talk about on The Simple Dollar, I’ll consider reviewing the book, no matter what it is.

So, for example, I consider time management to be a very relevant area, because the more effective you are at managing your time, the more time you have to earn more money or to simply enjoy what life has to offer for you. I feel similarly about books on psychology issues, particularly common issues among the people I know. We all seek happiness, after all, and money is just one tool to help us get there (or keep us from it).

There are many books that I pick up and think, “There might be something in here relevant to The Simple Dollar.” When I read books like that, I usually consider them personal reading and don’t read them during my work times. I save my reading during that time for books I’m much more confident about in terms of their focus on personal finance and career issues.

Basically, if I find something interesting in a book or think it’s relevant in some way to the things I talk about on The Simple Dollar, I’m likely to at least consider reviewing it, no matter what the book is.

My brother believes strongly that the U.S. dollar is about to collapse. He is buying lots of gold coins and other such things. I bacially think the entire thing is ridiculous, but I’m curious as to how you would prepare if you believed the dollar was going to be worthless in a year.
– Ann

I wouldn’t buy gold, for starters. If the dollar suddenly enters hyperinflation or something, gold won’t suddenly become the currency du jour on the street.

What do I think will be the currency you need? Food and skills. I would focus my money and energy on stocking up on non-perishable food items as well as useful skills. I’d probably practice my home repair skills and carpentry skills by fixing my home up as well as I could.

I would also focus on as much self-sustainability as I could, setting up a backbone for it. I’d buy a generator – but that’s something I intend to buy for myself anyway. I’d probably buy a wind turbine, especially if I lived in a rural environment.

I’d start growing a lot of vegetables and items that were very easy to replicate and sustain on my own – potatoes immediately come to mind. I wouldn’t worry that much about non-hybridized seeds because, frankly, it takes a lot of skill to not have them go to waste.

In short, I’d make sure that my family had the things they needed to make it through rough years – food, shelter, water, clothing, and so on. Gold might help, but I tend to trust actually having the food on my shelf a lot more than I trust having an investment.

Of course, I already do a lot of these things. We have a lot of food in the pantry. I know how to garden and produce plenty of food. I have quite a few tradeable skills that would pop up in that situation.

Would The Simple Dollar ever endorse a candidate for political office?
– Willie

Unless Amy Dacyczyn decides to make a run for the Senate, no, I wouldn’t endorse a candidate.

Here’s the flat out truth: I don’t believe that either major political party actually has my interests at heart, nor the interests of most of you reading this. The current political climate doesn’t do much at all to reward people who are truly careful and thoughtful with their money.

A person who is debt free with a lot of cash on hand would want things that would be political suicide today. They would want the Federal Reserve to jack up interest rates – this would make the most secure investments, like CDs and treasury notes, return a lot more. Of course, that would also make all debts have a much higher interest rate, which would be devastating to people who spend money like water (and the businesses that rely on such spending). I’d want the elimination of the capital gains tax (which I guess would be more like the Republicans in theory) but I’d also want more security for my cash investments, like better FDIC insurance (which I guess would be more like the Democrats in theory).

In truth, neither party speaks to the financially responsible and frugal among us. If a candidate arose that truly spoke along those lines, it would be political suicide for them. However, that candidate might actually get an endorsement from me. Good luck with that, though – I don’t believe a lucrative Simple Dollar endorsement would really help against a wave of negative ads funded by big banks and large manufacturing companies.

What do you consider to be an excessive emergency fund? My husband and I have more than a year’s worth of living expenses in cash savings. We don’t have any children living at home with us any more. We have no debt and we both have solid jobs in careers that are at least somewhat in demand.
– Andrea

In your shoes, I would consider an emergency fund that large to be a bit of an overkill.

However, there’s another really important factor in play here. Does the emergency fund make you feel more secure? Does it help you or your husband to sleep better at night knowing your money is safe?

I don’t see any problem for risk-averse people to keep a lot of their money in cash. It might simply be that your husband is very risk averse and he does not relish the idea of putting the money at risk in the stock market or the real estate market. To me, that’s thoroughly understandable.

Sit down and talk about it. If it’s the risk that you’re worried about, consider putting some of the money into inflation-protected treasury notes from the U.S. Treasury Department or buying some CDs with some of that money. You maintain the security you have – owning things that are fully backed by the federal government – but you at least earn a bit more than you would in your typical savings account.

My brother makes amazing homemade wine in his basement. He’s won several tasting contests with his wines and I think he should get into the business of selling it and producing larger quantities of it. Every time I bring it up, though, he really doesn’t seem interested in it, but he’s obviously deeply passionate about the wine making. Do you have any suggestions on how I could convince him to turn this into what would be a surefire business?
– Donald

First of all, it may be that he simply doesn’t want to turn something that is a fun hobby for him into something that is his life’s work. Another issue might be that he has zero interest in the business side of winemaking – things like cataloguing inventory, selling the wine, paperwork, and so on.

Sit down with your brother and see if you can figure out what he wants to do with it. If he does have some interest in expanding but he’s held back by a lack of interest in handling the business side of things (something that many hobbyists feel), perhaps you could help him to find a business partner for the endeavor.

Work through what his concerns are before you do anything else. If he simply loves it as a hobby, let it be. If he does have true interest in making something happen but is held back by some specific fear or concern, do what you can to make that concern go away.

You obviously believe in this wine that your brother makes – if nothing else, just make that really clear to him, because even if the business doesn’t happen, such genuine care will really mean a lot.

My twenty seven year old son still lives at home. He was laid off from his job in early 2008 and moved back into our home for what was supposed to be a short period while he looked for work. He’s no longer bothering to even look for work. Most days, he just sits down in the basement in his pajamas, surfing the web. I don’t know what to do.
– Chloe

Obviously, something needs to change about the current situation or else it will continue for a very long time. That change might come from within him, but that could take a long time and is wholly unreliable. Most likely, you’re going to have to provide the change in the situation.

One common method is to simply lay down an ultimatum – make him move out. Many parents are loathe to do this because it would likely mean that their child would go through a very rough period, potentially even including homelessness. Alternately, you can allow him to stay provided he meets certain criteria – he looks for a job a certain number of hours a day, he sends out so many resumes a week, or he gets involved in something that pushes him toward career progress (perhaps going back to school or something along those lines).

This situation needs a wake-up call, but that wake-up call can take a lot of different forms. If you want something to change now, you’re going to have to be the one to provide the wake-up call. If you “can’t” do it because you’re too worried about the consequences of it, then you don’t truly want change now.

Really, the decision is up to you far more than it’s up to your child at this point.

Spring training in baseball is about to begin. What are your predictions for the coming season? Let’s see how good of a prognosticator you are.
– Jimmy

OK, here goes.

AL playoff teams: New York, Boston, Minnesota, Oakland
NL playoff temas: Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Saint Louis, Chicago
World Series champions: New York
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
AL MVP: Joe Maueer
NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum
AL Cy Young: Ben Sheets (seriously)
Stories of the year: a big turnaround in Oakland thanks to Sheets’ veteran leadership of a bunch of talented young guys, Pujols chasing 61 home runs, and a current Hall of Famer confessing to steroid use (I have three possible names in mind)

Let’s make fun of these predictions in November, shall we?

Got any questions? Ask them in the comments and I may address them in a future reader mailbag.

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  1. Paul says:

    Curiosity is killing the cat here. Tell us Trent, who are the three HOF’ers that you suspect of steroid use?

  2. John says:

    True story about how the government promotes bad money choices: My parents and I saved $10,100 for my college fund. When we applied for financial aid, the FAFSA asked how much we had in our college savings fund. When we were finished, guess what our expected family contribution was? $10,100 exactly.

    The next year, we didn’t have any more savings left. For this reason, the FAFSA decided to give us a generous financial aid package. Talk about an assbackwards policy: penalize families who choose to save up for college.

  3. Ryan says:

    Hmm…HOF’ers…if you made me guess which three would be most likely, I’d say Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, Jim Rice, or Tony Perez…

  4. divajean says:

    Adding my commentary to the first question posted-

    It is not an easy decision to make your dollars do what is right versus what is less expensive. I have a friend who routinely updates her list of where she and her partner may or may not shop or do business. It seems to be a job in itself. She could probably tell you the name of the guy who picked her fair trade coffee beans on a mountain that has not been razed for harvesting. Then I know of other people (more acquaintances than friends) who wouldn’t care if you told them the clothes they wore were made by children under the age of 3 shackled to a sewing machine 18 hours a day. I tend to fall into the middle ground. And as a lesbian family, it’s a tough row to hoe. How many states would we not honor and purchase goods from due to political beliefs, let alone humanist concepts like fair trade, decreasing carbon footprint, etc? What would be left? Again, my partner and I just aim to be reasonable. The big area our concerns do affect us are in the realm of travel. I get nervous thinking about what could potentially happen to us in several states, many countries, and even just crossing the Canadian border (which is really close to us). Prejudice and ignorance that we have heard of in the media unfortunately make us somewhat prejudiced against going certain places, just for concern of the “what ifs”. And if you think that’s somewhat paranoid on my part, so be it.

  5. Sharon says:

    I’m also boycotting a business (employee treatment, lawsuits, etc.) and feel that it’s important to put my money where my politics are. I could save money by shopping there but that would only convince the retailer that it’s OK with customers that they act as they do and there are no consequences. Any of us could be one of their employees and human dignity is, I believe, worth more than a nickle.
    I can save that dollar or two somewhere else.

  6. Johanna says:

    Hoo boy.

    @Shane: What is it about gas prices in particular that causes people to get all worked up over very small amounts of money? A nickel a gallon is a very small amount of money. If you buy 20 gallons at a time, it’s an extra dollar. If you drive 10,000 miles a year and get 20 miles to the gallon, it’s an extra $25 a year. Unless you’re in really dire financial shape, $25 a year won’t make or break you, and if you really value a political cause, it should be worth at least that much to you.

    @Donald: It’s great that you believe in your brother, but what business is it of yours whether he turns his winemaking into a business? If you’ve already brought it up, and he’s said he’s not interested, it’s time to drop it.

    @Andrea: The big question, to me, is whether your emergency savings are taking away from other financial goals you may have. Are your retirement savings on track? Are you living life to the fullest (rather than avoiding purchases or experiences that you really want)? If so, then there’s no problem at all with a large emergency fund. But if not, then start thinking about how you’re proritizing your risk tolerance versus those other things.

    @Chloe: I assume that you can afford to keep providing for your son, since you don’t mention that you can’t. If that’s the case, then I suggest encouraging him to spend some time each day doing anything productive, whether it’s for pay or not. Volunteer work, community college classes, hobbies, whatever. It’ll help him feel more confident about himself, and it’ll give him something to say when, in the future, employers ask him how he spent 2010. I imagine that “I couldn’t find a job, so I volunteered at a soup kitchen” sounds a whole lot better than “I sat around in my pajamas surfing the web” or “My parents kicked me out, so I lived in a cardboard box.”

    @Lily: I’m sorry for your loss.

  7. Adam says:

    As a former addict of MMORPGs like Everquest and World of Warcraft, I can unequivocably say that they are in fact a very frugal lifestyle choice. Staying home every night playing them (and you don’t find any time to play other games, nevermind buy other games) is much cheaper than going out and socializing with friends.

    At $15/month, its $.50 a day for an entertainment budget looks pretty good.

    That is, until you lose your job for being addicted to it. Or your wife and family. Then its suddenly a very expensive hobby!

  8. Nicole says:

    My professional opinion from having studied what women returning from the labor market should do:

    1. Get additional education, even if it is just a computer course (or especially a computer course). This signals to employers that you’re serious and your skills are up-to-date. Education has also been shown to improve the self-esteem and job-seeking confidence of women re-entrants, as well as to help focus their search.
    2. One of the best fields to start anew in is nursing, if you are up to it. Dental assisting is similar in terms of demand. There are plenty of other fields if you have an aversion to bodily fluids (like I do).
    3. Volunteer! This again shows that you’re serious and you have up-to-date skills.
    4. See a professional about your resume or get whatever the bestselling book on resumes is on Amazon. Resume standards have changed a lot in the past 30 years and an old-fashioned resume signals that you haven’t done the research to know what is appropriate.
    5. Network! This is the same for all job-seekers, not just people re-entering the labor market. The majority of positions are found via personal contacts, even if it is a friend of a friend.
    6. Don’t put your hobbies on the resume unless they are directly relevant to the job.

    Good luck!

  9. Molly says:

    @Chloe – These could also be signs of depression. If your son hasn’t been checked out for that, I would recommend it.

    @Donald – Perhaps winemaking is just too much work relative to the money your brother would make. I don’t see anything wrong with a hobby being just a hobby and enjoyable for that alone. If he tries to make a go of a business with it, it’s possible it would turn into less fun. Let it go, and enjoy the fruits of his hobby for fun.

    @Shane – Good for you! Putting your money where your beliefs are! I think it’s completely frugal and inline with frugality to consciously choose not to buy gas at BP. You’ve clearly thought a lot about this, and I think that’s wonderful. If you and others didn’t choose to make this statement with your money, it’s quite possible that the alternatives would shut down – and then you’d have no choice but to support what you DON’T believe in. Keep it up!

  10. Eden Jaeger says:

    For Question #1, I’m not trying to pass judgement on anyone, only telling you how I thought about similar issues recently for myself.

    The only votes that count are votes attached to dollars. If you’re not willing to spend a couple of bucks for what you believe is right, then you probably don’t feel as strongly about the issue as you thought in the first place.

    An example: Just yesterday I went to a Farmer’s Market and spent about triple the price of the ‘beef’ sold in my local grocery store for some grass-fed beef from a local ranch. I absolutely felt the sting in my wallet at the time of purchase, but I’m happy I ‘took a stand’ (in a small way of course).

    Continuing to support the industrial meat machine to save a couple of bucks doesn’t match my belief system so I decided it was time to change my actions or quit complaining.

  11. Doug says:

    Some nits to pick:

    supercede should be supersede
    beocme should be become
    loathe should be loath (loathe means to hate, loath means reluctant)
    temas should be teams
    Maueer should be Mauer

    Typos etc are fine in non-professional emails and I don’t object to Trent’s using unedited questions. Given that Trent is a published author and has an excellent website, I think it’s fair to hold him accountable for grammatical errors. They’re a small distraction for me and could be an indication that he is paying less attention to the blog and more to other endeavors. Just my 2 cents. Or that grammar is less imporant to Trent than getting his blog entries completed in a timely fashion.

    I’m a Red Sox fan and grew up hating (while also admiring) the Yankees. With their lineup, they’re definitely the team to beat. I like the Red Sox team this year but they may end up third in their division unless they can figure out how to beat Tampa Bay.

  12. Joe says:

    For the widow, I would recommend temping to start with. You can work a few different types of jobs for a decent wage to build up a little bit of experience until you find something you want to stick with. It’s a great way to get back into the workforce.

  13. almost there says:

    Regarding buying gold. Having just finished reading Chris Hedges’ book “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle”. I think he sets the stage well for very bad times in store for the world economy. He sees the vast majority in the have-not camp and the wealthy in gated/protected communities. If one is loath to read the entire book, read the last chapter. So, buying gold will not even help much. He does give an out that the power of love can turn things around, but I think it is a long shot. I think we that live in cities without land and water vs those that live in the countryside with the ability to be more self-sustaining are up a creek.

  14. kristine says:

    Doug- I agree. I don’t proof my comments at all, but I am not the one making a living from this blog. What about all those posts on quality at work, and best foot forward professionally?

    Chloe- It would be OK to insist your son be evaluated for depression. You could also decide to move, to a place he would not prefer to live, or in a smaller place that would make it uncomforatble for him. Sounds like he is taking the path of least resistance, and that is mom.

    Adam- “Staying home every night playing them is much cheaper than going out and socializing with friends.” Dude, maybe so, but that just sounds so sad!

  15. kristine says:

    Almost There- Have you read Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency”? Similar vein- you might find it a good read.

  16. Adam says:

    @ kristine – I agree! I haven’t played those games in 5+ years…it is sad! But frugal :-)

  17. Johanna says:

    @Doug: A nit to pick with your nits: The errors you pointed out are errors in spelling, usage, and typing, not grammar.

  18. Erika says:

    @Chloe-My guess is your son’s behavior is annoying you, as well as worrying you. My recommendation is to start giving him chores around the house. Any adult (or child for that matter) should be contributing to a household in someway. Inform him that he will now be in charge of dinner every night, you expect the garage to be organized by the end of the month, whatever. Keep his time busy. If he feels productive, it will help allieviate any depression that might be there. At very least, it will make your life easier and get him out of his robe.

  19. Carey says:

    I don’t get the gold-as-currency-replacement thing. Sure, gold is more valuable than paper with pretty pictures on it, but it’s still just a soft metal. In what apocalyptic fantasy, where paper money has lost all value, does gold somehow fill that niche? It doesn’t put food on your table any better than paper does, so it’s just as much a fiat currency as the dollar. We’d be using a barter system in that case, not currency. People who invest in gold are just buying into the hype and fantasy.

    Regarding the wine-maker, that’s awesome! I just started brewing my own beer (first batch isn’t ready yet, so I don’t know how good I am yet). I make really good fudge (and some other baked goods), and people always say I should do it as a business. But as much as I love fooling around in the kitchen and making up my crazy fudge recipes, I would never want to do it as a “job”. It wouldn’t hold the same joy. So Donald, I’d lay off your brother and just be glad that you get to enjoy his wine as much as he enjoys making it.

  20. Ali says:

    Trent, I’d like your thoughts on my situation. I have 3 kids, ages 5 through 10, for whom I purchased Gerber Grow-Up life insurance plans when they were born. They were supposed to be a great way to save and the cash value would double around age 21. Since purchasing these plans two things have happened 1) I learned about whole life plans and what a rip off they are, and 2) my oldest son was diagnosed with a chronic illness-type 1 diabetes. I’d like to cancel these policies, perhaps get a little bit of cash out of them, then start putting that same money in a long-term savings account. Here’s my question: would it be a mistake to cancel the policy for my oldest? The company promises to convert the plans when the kids are adults, but I have my doubts whether they would consider my oldest son insurable. I guess the real question is should I trust the insurance company to keep their promise. Any thoughts?

  21. Bill says:

    Hey Donald, Wine making is easy. Get your brother to show you how to do it. Give him a small piece of the action when you hit the big time :)

  22. NMPatricia says:

    Hmm, I am thinking that adding my two cents worth might be superfluous right now. But when has that ever stopped me – LOL

    I did have the exact situation with my son. He had returned home because he thought he had a job lined up (and I believe that) which did not come through. He worked for awhile until he just couldn’t stand the work. And then quit. And then it seemed he stalled in life. As much as I hated doing it (and I really enjoyed having him at home), I thought that it wasn’t in his best interest to let him stay. So I gave him three months to find a job and/or move out. He was gone in a week. He just needed a nudge. And it was the best thing that could happen for him. Was it easy for the next year? Nope. Did he meet the girl of his dreams. Yes.

    I also have had multiple conversations recently about the most ethical way to spend my money – local vs helping other people rise out of poverty, local food vs organically grown, frugal vs green, etc. For my life, there are daily choices to be made. And it has come down to exactly that – a choice. What is most important to me. Actually, I have developed an informal hierarchy for my decisions. And know that I do the best I can and that is all anyone can ask. After all, we are not perfect. And I don’t think there is a perfect in this instance.

    (And now I am paranoid about my spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.)

  23. Doug says:


    Mea culpa.

  24. CB says:

    What I don’t get is the discrepancy between the interest paid for savings v. the interest on credit card debt. Under 1.5% v. as much as 33%?

    Supposedly, we as an economy need low interest rates to keep mortgage costs lower, but the truth is that the bubble in housing costs is what made houses more expensive and paying three times as much for the same house at under 6% doesn’t make sense either.

  25. Steffie says:

    for Lily, try your local community college for help with resumes etc, they often have programs for people re-entering the work force. And have you thought about ‘baby-sitting’? Not little ones but possibly after-school for a few hours a day ? I personally would love for some nice lady to watch my kids get off the bus and keep them for 2-3 hours till I get off work. Unless you are adverse to children it leaves free time in the am for job hunting etc and you get the summer off !

  26. Another Dave says:

    In response to the Shane’s BP-Gas post… I believe that working to keep your finances in order has a direct coorelation to using your money for this very purpose. When you are financially sound, you can choose where/how to spend your money instead of being a sheep to the corporations.

  27. Erin says:

    Chloe – my first thought was also that your son might be clinically depressed. Google for “symptoms of depression” and you will find a list of the most common signs.

    If that doesn’t seem like a possibility, then the other most likely scenario is that he’s being a lazy bum. I would give him a 6-month deadline he has to move out by. I’m sure he can find some way to support himself by then, even if it’s delivering pizzas or cleaning houses or something.

    Ann – Regarding the gold, I think Trent is right. Does your brother think that people in Haiti are out on the streets looking for bars of gold now that their society has practically broken down? No, the currency they’re looking for is food, water, medical supplies, building supplies, etc.

  28. Kim says:

    Chloe–we had the same problem with one of our sons who lost his job then moved back home. A couple month stay turned out to last nearly a year! Of course if someone was providing me shelter, a full fridge, cable TV, internet, etc. I probably would not want to leave the house either. Our solution was setting a rule that since I worked 40 hours a week and my husband worked 40 hours a week, he was going to have to work 40 hours a week too either at a job, volunteering, or attending college or trade school. Not 20 hours a week, not 30 hours a week, but a full 40 hours of the above mentioned work or a combination of the three. At first he balked when I would try to wake him up in the morning so I would wake my husband up at 6am (he didn’t have to get up til 8am) to wake our son up so needless to say, hubby got tired of getting up so early and quickly ensured that our son was out of the house by 7am each day. To make a long story short, he quickly determined that if he worked part time and shared an apartment with a friend his life would much easier so he moved out within a couple of months. Now, years later, we are all on great terms and he is taking the same stance with his own kids!

  29. anna says:

    @ #2 John, You’ll also find that FASFA deducts the exact amount you made that year in wages from the amount of Financial Aid they give you for the next year. That one really got me because than the next year I had to work twice as hard to have a little spare cash, vicious cycle where the Goverment pentalizes those who work or save.

  30. jim says:

    I agree on MMORPGs. $10-20 a month is a great value for the amount of playing time you can get from them. BUT just don’t play TOO much.

    Unless you’re assuming some sort of world wide apocalypse happens then gold will always have value.
    I don’t think the US dollar is going to collapse anytime soon. People are panicking a little too much. But if the dollar did lose value due to crumbling US economy or hyper inflation or something then Gold would certainly be of value since you can just trade gold for more valuable foreign currencies like Euros or UK Pounds.

  31. matt says:

    For people who want to invest in gold for an apocalyptic financial meltdown; you would be better off buying booze, cigarettes, firearms and ammunition in mass quantities. They are likely to be much more valuable than gold in that kind of reality of a barter economy. I can not think of a single situation where a total economical collapse that renders the dollar useless would have any value for gold as well.

  32. margaret says:

    Re wine making — since that is a product for consumption, your state likely has very strict food handling regulations. In order to turn it into a business, your brother might have to set up a food processing room or facility separate from his home. If he does not follow the regulations and get inspected by public health and a business licence from his municipality, he could face thousands of dollars in fines. It may not just be that he doesn’t feel like making it a business — odds are, it would require a huge investment to make it a legal business.

  33. Henry says:

    I wonder if Shane doesn’t want to buy BP because they allowed oil to leak all over Alaska’s North Slope. Or is it because BP imported almost 35 million barrels of oil from the Persian Gulf in 2007?
    Chances are, whatever the reason it’s probably just misinformation. No oil company is any more or less evil than the next.

  34. guinness416 says:

    I read in Globe Investor the other day that all the gold ever mined in the world would struggle to fill two olympic swimming pools. That is no help in terms of investing for the apocalypse but I thought it was an interesting factoid.

  35. Henry says:

    Looks right, guinness, from Wikipedia:

    At the end of 2006, it was estimated that all the gold ever mined totaled 158,000 tonnes[38] and its January 2009 issue, National Geographic magazine writes: “In all of history, only 161,000 tons of gold have been mined, barely enough to fill two Olympic-size swimming pools.”[1] This can be represented by a cube with an edge length of about 20.28 meters.

  36. Steffie says:

    I agree that gold would be useless in times of want. I’ve never seen a science fiction/end of the world as we know it movie where food, water, gas and ammo were not the most coveted items. Shiny bars of gold? Heavy to carry when you are walking in the nuclear wasteland. Stockpiling is not good unless you use and replenish, food becomes stale etc.

  37. Sheila says:

    For Lily–Many YWCAs or other women’s groups have free or reduced-cost classes for women who have never worked or have been out of the workplace for a while. You can gain insight into how you can market yourself, what skills you have that an employer would want (and stay-at-home mothers have more skills than they realize), and often work on new technology skills that are useful. I wish you success and hope that you’ll let Trent know how you’re doing (and that he’ll let us know).

  38. IASSOS says:

    We have the survivalist question again. Trent: I think there is a desire for an article and some discussion on this topic.

  39. Sara says:

    A possible solution for Shane, if it really bothers him to spend an extra nickel per gallon, would be to see if any other conveniently-located gas stations offers a rewards program. A lot of gas stations have credit cards with discounts and/or cash back for purchasing their gas. Of course, you’d have to pay the balance in full every month or the interest would eat up any savings or rewards.

    @Chloe: I’ve kind of been in your son’s shoes (living with parents, looking for a job), and it’s extremely demoralizing to apply for dozens, even hundreds, of jobs and not even get interviewed for most of them. I can understand the temptation to give up. But I agree with Trent that you should give him conditions for staying with you. He should keep looking for a job and try to do things to improve himself (e.g., take classes, volunteer, get a part-time job). He should also do something to contribute to the household, like running errands, doing chores, cooking, etc.

  40. I have two questions for possible inclusion in a future mailbag…first, I was curious what blogging software you use, and secondly, I was curious if you share with Sarah the criticisms you receive here on the blog. If you do, how does she react?

    If that’s too personal,though, I totally understand.

  41. MP says:

    I don’t give my hard earned money to support a lot of businesses whose profits are suspect for a variety reason. Some because of deeply held values (child labour is a big no for me). Some because of my politics. Others because I can’t trust the safety of the product because of where/how it’s made-remember lead in toys from China?
    I also will spend more to support local organic farmers, I try to buy organic, non-industrial farm, antibiotic-free, steroid and hormone-free meats and poultry – because I don’t think we should be putting that kind of stuff in our bodies.

    I also recognize I make enough money to be able to make these choices and that there are many who are not able to make these choices because they don’t make enough money.

    I do wonder when enough people will make the connection between our drive for a low-wage economy (witness the end of decent paying manufacturing jobs and outsourcing to lower labour cost countries) and rising corporate profits…walmart prices exist because not because walmart wants to save us money folks – they exist because walmart drives wages down to make even more corporate profit.

    Remember the hero the US Airways crash into the Hudson River? Captain Sullenberger testified at a Senate hearing and told them a lot of things those Senators just didn’t want to hear – like how he would not let any child of his become an airline pilot – that this once proud profession had been so gutted by corporate greed that the person flying the plane who is supposed to get you to your destination safely probably has a second job at Starbucks just to make ends meet.
    Is this the kind of economy we want for our children?

  42. Jen says:

    “Voting with your dollars” is great, but does the company know why you’re doing it, or even THAT you’re doing it? If not, what effect does your boycott have?

  43. AnnJo says:

    Gold is largely an investment in superstition. Since I happen to believe in the power of supersitition even when I don’t share it, I have some gold, but I agree with Trent, it is not the first, second, fourth or sixth place to put your money.

    Think about it: Both money and gold-as-money are MEANS to an end – the acquisition of STUFF. Build up your supply of stuff, and it doesn’t matter as much whether the means to acquire it is dollar bills or gold coins. You already HAVE it.

    Are you afraid you won’t be able to afford your mortgage? If it’s a fixed rate mortgage, dollars will pay it no matter how worthless they become. In fact, paying it off in otherwise worthless dollars is as close as life gets to a free lunch.

    Are you afraid you won’t be able to feed your family? Buy food. Build up a 3-month, 6-month or year’s supply of the foods you normally use (or learn to use the foods you store), and if dollars become worthless your “investment” will skyrocket.

    Anyone who doesn’t have an emergency fund, at least a 6-month supply of food and household supplies, a debt-free balance sheet other than fixed rate debt, and several usable skills, has no business investing in gold. IMHO.

  44. Jeroen says:

    As someone who was like Chloe’s son: what helped me was my parents demanding ‘rent’. And for every Quarter I stayed at home they asked for more. (the actual amount could be reduced by doing chores, but only up to half of it.) This served multiple purposes:
    1/ It kept me busy (doing nothing makes you lazy)
    2/ hit home the fact that you need a job (i was really burned out from the previous one)
    3/ Because it became more expensive as time went on, it was also made clear that it was only a temporary arrangement.

    Best thing: when I did move out, my dad told me that he put all that money away in a savings account and gave it back to me. :-)

  45. Jeroen says:

    I clicked on ‘submit reply’ too early…

    About the politics (I’m not an American, so I could be wrong): would it be political suicide to combine higher interest rates with usury laws? Over here, every interest asked over 15%(*) is illegal. (You can get around that a bit with fees, but still..)

    (*) it fluctuates with the interest rate. IIRC it’s about 15% atm. At the time of higher interest rates, it goes up to 19%.

  46. deRuiter says:

    A bit of gold around the house can’t hurt. There are a lot of folks living in America today because their ancestors in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s had gold to bribe their way out when it became aparent what was happening to certain groups living in Germany. People want gold. It’s universally known to have value. Putting all your money into gold is foolish, but having a bit of gold you can snatch up and take with you if you ever have to leave in a hurry, it can’t hurt! If you haven’t lived through an appocalypse, you wouldn’t know how handy gold can be. It’s also interesting to compare the survival rates of those who picked up the gold and fled, and those who said, “This is my house, my piano, my furniture, my books, my garden, I’m staying.” and then they heard the knock on the door and were taken away. Buy a bit of gold if it makes you feel safe.

  47. Peggy Dague says:

    As one who has made maple syrup for a number of years, sugar maples are the best for maple syrup. It takes a 12 inch circumference to place one tap on the tree. It takes about 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Believe me, you will not be getting much syrup from a few trees. We used a wood fire and it would take about 8 hours of boiling to boil several hunder gallons of sap to the point where we would take it in the house to finish and about another three hours on the stove to finish it off. You need to leave the windows open so the steam does not take the wallpaper off the walls. Then you need to filter it and bottle it. All in all to make a gallon of syrup it takes about 12 hours not counting the time to cut the wood, gather the sap etc.

  48. Geoff Hart says:

    Re. Excessive emergency funds:

    Don’t forget that your emergency funds should be treated as an investment, like any other — but as a conservative investment, because you don’t want to risk that the market is down when you need to withdraw your cash in an emergency. These funds only become “excessive” if the money would be better off invested elsewhere to create a more balanced portfolio.

    If you look at your portfolio holistically, you can consider your emergency fund as part of the fixed-income component: one with a low but steady rate of return and minimal volatility. That lets you place more of your non-emergency funds in stocks and other more volatile investments that grow faster.

  49. MoMo says:

    @divajean (#4) – my heart aches for you, that you have to worry about your safety and life when you make travel plans. That’s not right for you to have to live with that kind of fear. My best to you and your family, and others in your situation.

  50. Christina says:

    Hello Simple Dollar,

    Me and my fiancee are finally starting to plan our wedding. We are going to get married in about 17 months.

    What is the best way to save money for a wedding?

    And do you have any tips or ideas for saving money during planning a wedding?

    We would like to do as much of the wedding ourselves. Our goal is to spend no more than $5000 on our wedding. We are getting married in Nova Scotia, Canada.

  51. christine arthur says:

    Johanna, you’re really on form today and I completely agree with your suggestion for Chloe. However, it’s Kim’s solution which really comes out on top for me. Whether or not it will work will depend on the depth of Chloe’s son’s depression. And Trent, for the first time I vigorouly disagree with your suggestion – ultimatums wreck relationships based on love.

  52. Randy says:

    Shane (BP boycott) – hate to tell you this, but most gasoline stations are franchised, and the gasoline they sell is from the nearest refinery or pipeline, which may or may not be BP. Gasoline, diesel and jet fuel are fungible – all refiners blend it to the same specification. (Sometimes company-specific additives are included at the truck-rack or terminal). It is then pumped via pipeline, moved by barge or trucked from the nearest refinery to the retail outlet. Refiners exchange product – if Refinery A is 500 miles away, Brand A sell retail product from Refinery B, which is only 50 miles away (and vice versa). Why transport an identical product hundreds of miles?

    So – if the BP station is a franchise, the boycott isn’t hurting BP, but does impact the local franchise holder. Even if it is a BP-owned station, they aren’t losing anything – the gasoline will be sold somewhere else (it’s fungible, remember). Refiners typically make five cents or so profit per gallon (refining margin) at the gate … they just sell an unbelievable number of gallons! Medium size refinery processes 200,000 Barrels/ day. At 42 gallons/ barrel, that’s 8.4 million gallons per day. At five cents per gallon, that is a half million dollars refining profit per day. (Don’t forget the refinery is a 4-5 billion dollar investment). Retailing profit is separate.

    The real profit (and risk) in oil is producing the crude from the wells (upstream).

    (Worked in the refining business for 37 years so far).

  53. Roger says:

    “Here’s the flat out truth: I don’t believe that either major political party actually has my interests at heart, nor the interests of most of you reading this. The current political climate doesn’t do much at all to reward people who are truly careful and thoughtful with their money.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  54. SC says:

    Although it might be foolish to put all your money in gold, those who decided to do it 5 years ago, would be up about 160% today which would’ve been much better than most.

    And if the amount of money being printed grows so large, and it gets loaned out, to where inflation over the next five years becomes very significant, gold could raise to 5000 dollars an oz or something, and you wouldn’t have lost so much due to inflation.

    Still, if it is the apocalypse or something, gold is about as useful as dirt. But if by collapse of the dollar they mean “one euro is worth about 10 dollars” it might be a good hedge.

  55. Henry says:

    So we all agree that Shane is a misinformed knee-jerker.

  56. Colleen says:

    I wonder if Shane’s issue with BP doesn’t involve the origin of the gasoline, but rather, BP’s charitable contributions as an organization. They give monetarily to Planned Parenthood each year.

  57. Becky says:

    Regarding FAFSA…this is something I wish all my friends realized. If you apply to a college, go ahead and pay them what you’ve saved up…THEN apply for federal aid when you have nothing left. You can apply even during the second semester for that year and get it.

    My friends had $13,000 saved up. If she would have gone ahead and paid the school bill with her savings and then applied, she, no doubt, would have qualified. Since she had saved so much, she didn’t qualify.

    The idea is to show a low amount of savings on the form. If you’ve already used it up, it’s not dishonest to say “0” because it is no longer in your account.

    So far my sons have applied when they’ve had nothing in the bank (either before they’ve gone to their summer job, or after they’ve put it all towards their school bill), so they also show “0”.

    As to the guy who is surfing the net. I’d consider cutting the internet. That way, if he wants to surf the web, he has to do it on his own “nickel” which would then require some work. Of course, having a heart to heart talk with some requirements would/should come first.

  58. Kate E. says:

    ‘Unless Amy Dacyczyn decides to make a run for the Senate, no, I wouldn’t endorse a candidate.’ Loved this answer! I totally agree with you. :)

  59. Holly says:

    WoW isn’t the only MMORPG out there.

    It kills me to pay for a game monthly. It makes me want to play it more to “get my money out of it”.

    As an alternative, Dungeons and Dragons Online is completely free to download and play. There are portions that are available to pay and get advancements, but the gameplay is free.
    My husband is on DDO now and uses it to play online with friends in other states. http://www.ddo.com

  60. Sheri says:

    Why in the world was my post deleted? All I said was that your responses were spot on and then I asked if you knew of a debt elimintation law.

  61. John says:

    I came back to look at this blog to see what you said about Gold. I still can NOT believe that your understanding of gold is unexisting.
    Please do me the favour of reading through the first two posts on this blog: http://fofoa.blogspot.com/ (it’ not mine, don’t worry). Oh, and it would be better to read a bit more … it takes time but when the dust clears, it is a real eye-opener!

    As I understand deRuiter’s comment: what good is all your “stuff” if you (amongst thousands of others) decide (or are forced to) move to another area/country/continent.

    In the end it will be all about the gold. Having said that, the end might be for my unbron children to live through. The way I see it: I buy one 1oz coin a month towards my pension plan. I will try to not use them and just act as a guardian of this family treasure chest towards the next generation. And with the rest of the money : 6 months food reserve, energy supply and water filters! No problems with all that, but Gold comes first for me.

    One last question: why is the official Gold pricing in the US 42,22$ and the price you pay for the real stuff way higher ?

  62. Anne says:

    I’d like your thoughts on my situation.
    I’m a 23 year old college student with a husband who is also a college student. He’s about to graduate, but is planning to go directly to grad school, a necessary move for his chosen career. I have about a year left of my undergrad. Anyway, we really got the short end of the stick in regards to our refund checks this semester. Neither of our families help us pay for college or living expenses and we’re both taking over 20 credits. He works every weekend for 16 hours at an entry level position, and plays in a local symphony for a little money on the side. I just applied for a census job.
    All in all, we’re not taking in enough money to pay our basic bills, an amount of about 1,000 including rent. We have about 9,000 of combined debt so I’m very hesitant to take out any private loans for school.
    We talked to the Fin Aid office and couldn’t squeeze any more money out of them. What can we do to survive until the summer when we can hopefully get seasonal full time jobs? I’m at a loss.
    Thank you!

  63. bg says:

    @Donald – winemaking as a surefire business? Probably not.

    My friend is a winemaker and between the capitalization requirements, the long work requirements during harvest season (pretty much 12-14 hour days from early Sept to end of Oct with no days off) and the business of marketing and selling wine when you have to compete with companies scaled to sell it under $5/bottle, it can be quite a challenge. Sounds like your brother understands this and enjoys his hobby.

  64. Lazo says:


    I’m sorry, but you picking the Cubs in the wildcard CANNOT wait until November.

    As the NFL analysts say, “C’MON MAN!”


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