Updated on 07.29.14

Reader Mailbag: Clock Confusion

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. The price of tea
2. Preemptive computer replacement
3. Retirement account confusion
4. Secret Santa thoughts
5. Infrared heaters
6. Investing in I-bonds
7. Children and television
8. Health and weight management insight
9. Goal savings when goal disappears
10. Theo with Cubs

On the Saturday evening before a timeshift, I’m usually quite diligent about going through our home and adjusting all of our clocks one hour or another. Then I go to bed, confident that tomorrow will go smoothly and we won’t miss anything that we’ve planned.

Inevitably, though, I’ll forget a clock somewhere in the house and at some key moment, I’ll look at that clock and assume it’s correct, causing me to miss out on something or another.

Q1: The price of tea
Is it cheaper to buy tea bags or use loose leaf tea? I can buy a box of 100 tea bags at Walmart for $1.00.

– Lisa

It really depends on what you’re buying. If you just want a mildly tea-infused drink and are really only interested in black tea, such discount tea bags are probably perfect for you. You’re going to have a hard time finding bulk black tea sold at such a price.

However, as a general rule of thumb, when you’re comparing identical teas and looking at bags versus loose leaf tea, the loose leaf tea will usually be a bit less expensive.

If you’re happy with the tea that those bags produce for you, then by all means keep buying it.

Q2: Preemptive computer replacement
With Black Friday deals fast approaching, my husband and I are trying to decide whether or not to replace our HP desktop. It’s about 5 years old and for at least a year or two of that we’ve kept it on all the time because it takes so long to boot up (I know this lessens it’s life and we’re trying to remember to shut down now). Besides the usual aging factors, like increased fan noise and the slow boot, it’s doing well. Our concern, however, is that it might not last another year and Black Friday is the best day to get a great deal on a new one.

We’re living on a small graduate stipend and minimal student loans plus a little bit of babysitting income. We use the desktop for movies, etc, since we don’t own a tv, and basic word processing. So we don’t have any particular high power needs, just something that has a monitor large enough to watch movies and that provides me with a computer when I’m home with the kids. In a perfect world, though, I’d love one of the all-in-ones since it’d mean less computer the kids can get to and mess with (the blue power button is a constant temptation to my toddler).

Any thoughts on preemptive replacement? We have the money for a Black Friday deal, but not for a full or typical sale price.
– Jenny

Although you might save a bit of money buying a computer on Black Friday, the honest truth is that entry-level home computers are so inexpensive at this point that the deals on Black Friday don’t blow away the day-to-day prices like they did several years ago. You can buy a very solid home computer for $300 that will meet the needs you describe any day, and over the last couple of years, there haven’t been huge discounts on such home computer units.

That’s not to say it’s a bad idea to replace the one you’ve got, nor is it a bad idea to check and see what’s available on Black Friday. However, if you don’t see anything that’s really exceptional, I wouldn’t buy. Instead, I’d just wait until I actually needed a replacement.

Regardless, you should have some kind of backup plan in place for your key documents. You don’t want to lose them, especially on an aging computer, and having such a backup will make a switch to a new computer that much easier.

Q3: Retirement account confusion
I am 26 years old and am trying to figure out retirement accounts. I am currently investing through my employer’s 401k which is with Wells Fargo. However, they are not currently offering any matching benefits at this time. Is there any reason why I should continue putting money into this account versus starting an IRA with another company like Vanguard or Fidelity? It seems that these offer more options for funds to invest in.

– Josh

I definitely agree with your plan of opening an IRA elsewhere. However, there are still reasons for keeping a regular 401(k).

The biggest reason is that the maximum amount you can contribute to an IRA of either kind (Roth or Traditional) is $5,000 or $6,000, depending on your age. If you’re wanting to contribute more than that to retirement, the 401(k) is most likely your best option.

Aside from that, you may find that there are better investment options in certain classes with the 401(k). It is never a bad thing to have more options available to you.

Q4: Secret Santa thoughts
What are your feelings on “Secret Santa” gift exchanges during the holidays? My office is doing one and my extended family is thinking about it too.

– Ron

The entire purpose of a “secret Santa” gift exchange in an environment like an office is to simply ensure that no one is left out (assuming they choose to participate) and that gifts are more or less equal and anonymized. Without this, it’s pretty easy for gift exchanges to create hurt feelings in an office environment, which can quickly turn poisonous.

That being said, if you’re resorting to such methods to preserve everyone’s feelings, why have an exchange at all?

My solution would be to do something fun with it, such as turning it into a game. I participate in one such exchange that’s done as a “yankee swap,” where everyone takes turns opening an item then has the ability to “swap” that item with one that’s already been opened.

Q5: Infrared heaters
Trent, would dearly love to see you write on the infrared heaters that are getting so popular. I’d love to get one but don’t want to spend the money if they aren’t worth it. I get confused in reading about all of them. Do they really cost a dollar a day to run?

– Millie

Infrared heaters seem popular mostly due to a large deal of advertising for the EdenPURE brand of heaters as well as the “Amish” heater.

These heaters can be inexpensive to run, but they’re really no different from any other space heater. They save money due to the principle of zone heating, in which you lower the overall temperature of your home and then use a space heater only in the room you’re in. This, of course, can be done with any space heater.

In fact, many of the popular “infrared” space heater models get pretty poor reviews from Consumer Reports.

If you want to try this tactic, get a lower cost space heater and use zone heating. That’s how you’ll save money.

Q6: Investing in I-bonds
I am 23, I have been working as an accountant for a Fortune 500 company for 5 months since graduation. I live on half of my after tax income, I have an emergency fund consisting of 8 months of expenses (in a high yield, online savings account), and next year I plan on putting $1,000 to my Roth every other month and a $1,000 the other months to save towards an engagement ring and a down payment on a house. Still will have an extra couple hundred, after taxes/10% contribution to a 401k, that will increase my e-fund and car fund.

I am risk averse and my idea is to put the short-term savings in I-Bonds to obtain a decent yield. Is that a prudent idea or is there somewhere else to put my money? I do not plan on buying a house for awhile because I have location volatility for the next 2-4 years. I have seen many co-workers lose money on homes, I love renting and will rent until I am in a more stable location.
– Will

Right now, I-bonds offer a 3.06% rate. However, to get that rate, you have to lock up the money for at least a year without any sort of option to cash them in. If you cash it in before the five year mark, you sacrifice three months worth of interest.

The reason you get a better rate on I-bonds than on bank CDs or savings accounts is because you are locking down the money very tightly. For the first year, they’re essentially not liquid at all, meaning you can’t tap them even if you wanted to. Even after that, the penalty for tapping them early is pretty stiff until you reach the five year mark. Not only that, the fixed rate on such bonds is really low. You do get some inflation support, but it’s not strong support.

I’d only consider such bonds if you’re planning on cashing them in at exactly the five year mark, as I’m pretty confident that at that point you’ll want to have your money in something else. I’d also make sure that you have plenty of money not locked way in such bonds.

Q7: Children and television
Do you let your children watch television? If so, how do you monitor and control it?

– Shelley

The only television our children are allowed to watch are programs that we’ve pre-recorded on our DVR. This lets us pre-screen the programs so we know what’s being recorded. If it’s not recorded, they don’t get to watch it.

Most of the stuff that’s recorded are PBS children’s programs like Sesame Street, although we record a few other family shows like Max & Ruby.

Our children average about twenty minutes of television a day, usually as a “wind down” before we start our real bedtime routine of teeth brushing and fish feeding and bedtime story reading. It’s usually a half hour program about two out of every three days or so.

Our only television is not in the room where most of the children’s toys are, so when they’re playing, there’s not even a television available to watch. The only television is in a room that’s largely filled with adult things, so it’s not really a room that they go into when they’re looking to have fun.

Q8: Health and weight management insights
I love reading your blog and find it the continuing source of encouragement I need to spur my family on to making better financial choices and making the small choices everyday to be more self-controlled with finances. I am wondering if you follow any blogs that would help me in the same way that the simple dollar has with money but in the area of health/weight management and overall fitness? There’s so many out there I just thought I’d ask for advice from someone who’s writing style and personal philosophies about deeper issues seem to connect well with me.

– Andrew

To be honest, I’ve never really clicked with any blog ever written about health and weight management issues.

I think the big reason is that, unlike personal finance, it’s often hard to demonstrate how something universally works in terms of weight loss and health. Money is an absolute thing – you can count the dollars and cents no matter what. Time management is another absolute thing.

Health and weight loss is not an absolute thing. In college, I had a roommate that was as thin as a rail, yet he ate amazing quantities of unhealthy food. I know people who look and feel best when they eat really carefully and others who look and feel best when they eat whatever they like. I know people who are healthy who are gym rats and others who would never enter a gym. Lots of people tell me that diet is the key, but I find over and over again that my activity and exercise level is the real key for me.

When I read personal finance and personal growth and time management blogs, I can relate and analogize those experiences to my life and use those tactics. When I read health and weight loss blogs, I can appreciate the story, but even the tactics that make sense may or may not work for me. Rather than being a helpful story, it’s just an inspiring one, and because of that I’ve never really found any that have clicked with me.

Q9: Goal savings when goal disappears
I’m interested in your thoughts on what to do with savings it turns out you don’t need for a specified goal. Let’s say I need a new lawn mower. I start saving up and have enough cash on hand to replace it. I then receive a perfectly functional used one from a family member. Should I move some/all of that saved money to apply towards other goals or just leave it there as someday (years out I’m hoping) I’ll need that new mower? I like the idea of having that money set aside in case something happens…but it could be used for something else now. Is the answer just to reprioritize goals, moving some money out of the mower fund for other things, setting a new mower goal date, and continuing to save as before? Perhaps the real question is, how do you save proactively for something that may not have a current goal date?

– Ron

If you have another goal that you’ve thought about, planned for, and are currently saving for, then it’s completely appropriate to take that saved money and apply it to your newer goal. All this is going to do is accelerate you toward something you really want and have planned for.

The reason for having a goal is so you know how to save for it. If the goal is more than ten years out, for example, you should be putting that money into stocks, not into a savings account. If you have a very short term goal, for example, you might want to throw all of your savings toward that goal for the next month or two.

One caveat, though. I’m not clear on whether you have any sort of an emergency fund or not. Everyone should have at least two months’ of living expenses just sitting there in a savings account for emergencies like the one you mention. If you don’t have an emergency fund, this savings should become your emergency fund before anything else.

Q10: Theo with Cubs
You’re a lifelong Cubs fan. How do you feel about the team’s new management?

– Elliott

I’m happy with it. I feel like the new owners of the Cubs (the Ricketts, who bought the Cubs a couple years back) are taking their time and building the team that they want in Chicago. Theo Epstein, more than anyone else in baseball, knows what it’s like to take over a team with a long history of choking in the postseason and build a winner.

For the first time in my lifetime (or at least since I became a more serious fan of baseball), I feel like the Chicago Cubs are taking steps to actually build a long-lasting contending team. They’ve had playoff runs before (1998, 2003, 2008), but each time I felt like they sacrificed the long term in a terrible way for the short term, often destroying the nucleus of something that could have been long-lasting to take a (failed) shot at winning that year. I just don’t think Theo Epstein works that way based on what I saw in Boston.

The only thing that worries me is how much of an impact Larry Lucchino (the Boston Red Sox president) had in Boston in terms of building those teams. How much of the credit does Theo really deserve? From all accounts, Theo deserves a lot of it, but did Lucchino curb some bad impulses and decisions? I guess we’ll find out.

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. Jonathan says:

    Q2 – Instead of leaving the PC on all the time to avoid the slow boot you could use hibernate instead. Since your system state is saved to memory you avoid the boot time, without having the electricity use and ware on the hardware from leaving the PC on all the time.

  2. Gretchen says:

    Weight is just like money to me.

    Most people who are normal are self regulating one way or another.

    You may think your friend eats tremendous amounts of junk food, but you don’t see that he doesn’t eat dinner or commutes to work via bike or gardens the whole weekend. Or whatever.

    (obviously, there are outliers, but in general, I feel this is the case.)

  3. EngineerMom says:

    On Q8:

    Andrew – if you’re looking for a website that would help you make those small choices, but also give you access to blogs and articles that could help encourage you, I recommend SparkPeople.com

    There’s a lot of variety on that site, it’s free, and it gives you ideas and tips of ways to track healthy habits like exercise, drinking enough water, sleeping enough, etc., in addition to your food/nutrition. There are also literally hundreds of blogs by members, plus articles aimed at particular targets such as people struggling with diabetes, women trying to lose weight after having a baby, people trying to start exercise programs for the first time in their lives, and experienced athletes trying to prepare for a race or other competition.

    They have a common-sense approach to weight-loss – it’s a matter of changing small (and some big) habits, and it’s a lifetime commitment.

    It might be worth checking out if you want/need community support, a way to keep track of varius goals, and information about healthy ways to lose weight or increase exercise levels.

  4. Money Beagle says:

    My desktop computer is six years old. I have no plans to replace it but would if it were to die. I make sure that all of the critical info is backed up. I’d rather bank the money, earn interest on it, and get something when you truly need it.

  5. valleycat1 says:

    Q1 – I “just want a mildly tea-infused drink and am really only interested in black tea”, which makes buying a quality black tea well worth it to me. I like the convenience of bags, over dealing with the loose leaf version, and since bagged tea is often lower quality, that makes it even more important to buy a good brand.

  6. Katie says:

    Heh, as with the coffee, I’m totally happy with the mildly tea-infused liquid I scrounge for free at work. This blog has started making me feel really non-discerning.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    And, in the fall, if you go by a clock that hasn’t been re-set, you’ll be an hour early, not an hour late….

  8. Johanna says:

    Q4: In my vocabulary, a “secret Santa” is not the same as a “grab bag” gift exchange. With a secret Santa, you’re assigned a particular person to shop for, and you buy a present or presents especially for that person – but you don’t know who’s buying presents for you (hence the “secret” part). In an office, college dorm, or other environment where you all see each other every day, you can leave little treats or clues for the person in the days leading up to the big reveal, and you can have fun trying to guess who it is that’s been leaving stuff for you.

    With a grab bag, you buy a gift that would be suitable for anyone else in the group, and each person chooses from the pile of wrapped gifts. Then you can swap gifts around according to some set of rules, etc.

  9. Steven says:

    “I know people who look and feel best when they eat really carefully and others who look and feel best when they eat whatever they like. I know people who are healthy who are gym rats and others who would never enter a gym.”

    I guess that really depends on how you define “healthy.” You can’t judge a person’s health based simply on appearance. I’d be willing to be the “gym rats” could stomp your friends who don’t exercise and eat garbage in a 5k, a hike up a mountain, or a bike ride.

    I’m 6’3″, 185#, and just looking at me, you’d probably think I’m healthy (and maybe by your standards, I am) but I’ll tell you something: I can’t lift very much weight, I can’t run a marathon (yet) and my flexibility is horrendous. All of these things I’m working on to improve my health.

    I’m also working on improving my diet because I know that eating Cheetos and drinking Pepsi isn’t conducive to good health, even though I have a “healthy” appearance. I could eat a pound of chocolate a day, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

    It seems like you’re implying that certain types of people are somehow immune to the effects of not eating healthy and not exercising. They’re not. And when you put them against someone who *is* healthy, the differences become obvious.

  10. Courtney20 says:

    Q2 – I’ve always done well replacing computers at the end of the year, as they have some pretty good ‘after christmas’ sales. I don’t really shop at all on Black Friday but I thought that when you see a really awesome price on something (particularly electronics) they usually only have one or two in stock.

    Q8 – the common denominator in both finance and weight loss is tracking…being aware of what’s going out and what’s going in. I personally use MyFitnessPal.

  11. Katie says:

    Steven, I almost hesitate to ask this, but you really think nobody who can’t run a marathon is healthy?

  12. Des says:

    Hmm…I wouldn’t think ability to lift tons of weight, run extreme distances, and flexibility would be the ideal indicators of health. I might be totally off base, but I would look at blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar before anything else. And yeah, there are some lucky souls who can eat cheetos and pepsi and still be healthy. But, like you said, maybe that comes back to how you define “health”. I’m thinking in terms of disease prevention and longevity – maybe you are thinking in terms of surviving an EOTWAWKI situation (as in, needing to “out-compete” for scarce resources). Diet and exercise aren’t everything, we too often discount genetics.

  13. Steven says:

    Last comment stuck in moderation…

  14. MattJ says:

    #12 Des:

    Agreed. Health and Fitness are highly correlated, but not the same.

    I would put myself, for instance, in the category of someone who is fairly healthy, but not particularly fit. That is, I’m strong and trim, my most recent blood tests gave all ‘normal’ results, but I’m not that flexible, and I can’t run particularly far or fast without getting out of breath.

  15. jim says:

    Q2 : I would recommend that you back up your important data on that current computer.

    Otherwise I don’t see a big reason to go spend money to preemptively replace a computer. If you just want a new computer and can easily afford it then OK. But if your purpose is to buy a new one before this one fails then just back up your data. Your current computer could easily several more years. If it suits your needs then keep using it and save your money.

    Q5 : Trent is right that the infrared heaters advertised are generally no different than other space heaters. The Amish and Edenpure brands are basically just fancy boxes you $200-$400 pay for which perform no better than a $30 heater but at least look nicer. Theres no special magic or extra efficiency. Its just a space heater. There is actually some truth that infrared heat can be more efficient, but the way they build those things negates that benefit and you can also just buy a basic infrared heater for $30-$50. No need to spend $200-$400. Those $200+ models are a borderline scam / ripoff IMHO.

  16. Johanna says:

    I agree with those who point out that health and athletic ability are two different things. But I also agree with Steven’s point that you can’t necessarily tell whether someone is healthy OR athletically able just by looking at them.

  17. Tom says:

    hm, rather than dissecting Trent’s response to Q8, does anyone have a really good general purpose fitness blog they like? I’d be interested in checking some out.
    I’ve recently tried fitocracy as a motivational tool/game-ification of fitness. Not sure how much I like it yet.

  18. jackie says:

    Q9: I handle this situation by having really broad goals. Instead of saving up for a lawn mower, I put a set amount of money each month in to a savings account tagged for house related expenses. And I continue to put money into it even when I don’t have any upcoming expense in mind. In that way it serves as a house-specific emergency fund that I can dip into for unexpected repairs or planned purchases.

    I have a similar account for car related expenses. I put enough in it that it’s constantly growing, even when I have to occasionally tap into it for a repair or license renewal. Eventually, it will go toward a replacement car.

    And I have a similar account for vacation/fun.

  19. jim says:

    I think that ‘eat less and exercise more’ is pretty universal truth for weight loss. I’m sure that they work to differing degrees for different people.

    Financially controlling your spending and increasing your income are pretty universal truths too. Of course they work differently for different people.

    Just cause skinny people exist doesn’t mean that eating less and exercising more isn’t going to help overweight people lose weight.

    If you make an analogy to finances then its like if someone in debt says that budgetting doesn’t seem to help them and then points to their high income friend who seems to be able to buy whatever she wants. The high income friends spending habits are neither here nor there. If you’re in debt then controlling your spending and increasing your income is useful.

    Counting calories consumed and calories burned is as absolute as money spent and money earned.

    Of course eating better and exercising is not easy for many people. But controlling your spending or budgetting or earning more money isn’t all that easy for many people either.

  20. Katie says:

    Jim, the difference being that human bodies are a lot more complicated than numbers on a spreadsheet.

  21. jim says:

    I agree with Johanna #8 comment about how Secret Santa works.

  22. jim says:

    Last comment in moderation for no apparent reason.

  23. jim says:

    OK tried to reword my last comment to restate it. That too went to moderation. I can’t imagine why 4 sentences with nothing at all controversial is needing moderation. The comment moderation filter on this blog is highly ineffective and annoying.

  24. jim says:

    OK I’ve got 4 comments in moderation. All of which are perfectly inoffensive and bland statements lacking any controversial keywords. I can’t imagine what the software is doing.

  25. Josh says:

    I have a ton of comments in moderation too. @Katie, people like to believe human bodies are a lot more complicated than they really are, it is more of an excuse than anything. Counting calories will work for the vast majority of people.

  26. Katie says:

    Josh, [citation needed].

  27. Johanna says:

    “Counting calories will work for the vast majority of people.”

    Citation needed.

    And don’t tell me it’s “common sense.” Common sense tells ME that unless you’re a really serious athlete, the majority of the calories you burn just go toward keeping your body alive and functioning. And your body has the ability to slow down its metabolism if it needs to, to conserve energy, or speed it up if it has energy to spare. That’s a widely documented phenomenon, but it, too, is common sense. If small changes in diet really could cause you to gain or lose huge amounts of weight over the course of, say, 2-3 years, you’d see people wasting away to nothing, or blowing up like balloons, a whole lot more often than they actually do.

  28. Johanna says:

    And now in stereo…

  29. Sara says:

    Q2: I wouldn’t recommend preemptively replacing a computer because with computers (as with most technology products), the longer you wait, the more you can get for your money. You may get a great deal on black Friday, but if you wait 6 months, the regular price on the same computer will drop. An all-in-one computer is going to be more expensive than a comparable desktop. You can save some money if you just continue to use your existing monitor.

  30. Josh says:

    No citation needed, it is common sense, most people just don’t care as much about their health as they say they do. Actions speak louder than words.

    Most people who blame genetics don’t even bother to count calories, it is pretty much the equivalent of someone whose spending is out of control, who refuse to make a budget, and then wonder where all their money goes?

  31. Adam P says:

    I have to agree the all bodies are different in metabolism and the effectiveness of calorie deficits and excersize respectively.

    Luckily, I seem to follow the mold pretty well. If I need to lose weight, I hit the cardio every day for 30 minutes and watch sugar intake and portion size. After about 1.5 months of this, I am back to my ideal weight. Since it has always worked for me when I get a little chunky, it stands to reason it should work that way for others.

    But since I can’t monitor others’ behaviours, I have to believe that they do exactly what I do (cardio every day and watch their diets) and yet still stay fat, so their bodies are indeed different than my own.

    My cousin’s fiance has lost 40lbs this year from going to a doctor and getting B12 injections along with a draconian diet plan. I recently learned she put this all on his credit card, to the tune of several thousand bucks. Yikes!

  32. jackowick says:

    Q1 The other uses for tea can also drive the decision…

    About five years ago, I was walking down my hallway with no lights and didn’t realize my closet door was ajar and angled open with the end (not hinge) facing me. When I hit it with my temple, it knocked me off my feet and happened to also hit an area where I had a recovering pimple. The end result was a TREMENDOUS amount of swelling without a black eye, and no punctures to the skin. Just pure swelling around the eye.

    My mom, a retired nurse, offered the home remedy of putting a couple of heated Tetley bags into a papertowel and placing it on the area, which somehow brought the swelling down very quickly and was also soothing for the raw area. I burned through about 20 bags in the next 48 hours.

    If I had bought the 100 bags of base level tea for $1.00, then you can see how I ended up with 20 cents of healthcare costs out of a box a tea!

    So yes, my answer is buy the box… if you’re not too much of a connoisseur that is…

  33. Steven says:

    “…as they say they do.”

    I’d have to agree with this. A lot of people pay lip service to diet and exercise, but don’t actually commit to them. They don’t see the results they expect, and slowly revert back to old habits. Or they don’t go into the gym with the intensity that’s required to produce the desired results.

    It’s a little like Dave Ramsey, gazelle intensity and whatnot…the same applies to getting fit/healthy. You have to be committed, 100%. No excuses. I have my doubts that most people *really* make that change…as much as they might think or say they do. It’s hard. It requires a complete shift in lifestyle, all the way from the food you eat, to what you do in your free time.

    Yes, some people are able to make that change, but I don’t know that it’s the majority of people who try.

  34. jim says:

    2 more comments in moderation for no reason… I give up.

  35. Johanna says:

    @Steven: Well, yes, you can believe whatever you want about the world, as long as you’re willing to accuse anyone who doesn’t fit into your worldview of lying.

    But even within the framework you describe, have you considered that maybe some people have consciously decided that they’re not willing to put in the time and effort to “*really* make that change”? That they have other things they’d rather do with their time, and maybe other things they want to offer the world than a body that looks a certain way?

    That’s not making “excuses.” That’s prioritizing.

  36. MattJ says:

    #31 Adam P: (that won’t stay 31 once all these comments come out of moderation)

    But since I can’t monitor others’ behaviours, I have to believe that they do exactly what I do (cardio every day and watch their diets) and yet still stay fat, so their bodies are indeed different than my own.

    Over the past 100 years, our collective average weight has shot up, out of proportion to our increase in average height and average age – though those things almost certainly play a part in our collective weight gain.

    It seems more likely to me that a significant driver of our weight gain is that so many of us have easier access to plentiful food and less need to exert our selves physically than our great-great-grandparents did, than because something fundamental has changed about our bodies over the past 100 years.

  37. MattJ says:

    I’ve been there, Jim. Having comments fall into moderation Limbo is annoying…

  38. Johanna says:

    @MattJ: It seems likely to me that it’s not entirely irrelevant that fewer people smoke, and more women are on hormonal birth control, than in previous generations.

  39. lurker carl says:

    I’ve noticed that removing 1000 kcal per day from my diet for a month has a far more drastic effect on weight loss than adding 1000 kcal has on weight gain. The difference is my ability to resist the removal is far greater than my ability to resist the additional.

  40. Adam P says:

    Ugh..stuck in moderation too. I think it’s using the “at” symbol. Could be wrong tho. Trent…please stop with the moderation machine and give us a report post button or something.

  41. MattJ says:

    #38 Johanna:

    Neither fact is entirely irrelevant for increases in obesity for adults.

    I think you may be surprised at smoking prevalence using my time scale. 100 years ago smoking was much less common than today, rarer for men, (by both metrics of the number of men who smoked regularly but more particularly by the amount of tobacco used per smoker) and practically unheard of for women.

    Some stats: (I hesitate to link to my source, because I have a feeling my post will go to mod Limbo – google for cigarette consumption by decade if you want to see it yourself)

    Cigarette consumption per capita, Americans over 18 years old:

    1905: 70
    1930: 1085
    1960: 4171
    2000: 2092
    2005: 1716

    It seems to me that, despite a significant tapering off in the past 50 years, we’re still well within the ‘collectively, we sure do smoke a lot’ period. This leaves out nicotine consumption by other means, but the trend from the early 20th century is pretty stark, and did not, as far as I know, correspond to a period of massive weight loss in this country.

    On the other hand, we could look at average caloric intake:

    M: 2200 calories / day
    W: 1500 calories / day

    M: 2700 calories / day
    W: 1950 calories / day

    Looks like quite an increase to me. I’m not sure how we can decide how much of that increase to attribute to the decrease in smoking since the 60s.

  42. Adam P says:

    Well that rules out smoking…but increased hormonal birth control is making men obese, isn’t it?!

  43. Johanna says:

    @MattJ: “I’m not sure how we can decide how much of that increase to attribute to the decrease in smoking since the 60s.”

    I’m not sure either. But it sounds like we agree on what I see as the central point, which is that any population-wide weight gain has population-wide causes – availability and makeup of the food supply, the shift from physical jobs to desk jobs, smoking, medication, etc. It’s not due (to any significant extent) to a whole bunch of individuals becoming lazier, more gluttonous, or less concerned about their health. So to whatever extent that population-wide weight gain is a problem, it needs a population-wide solution. Pointing at individual people deemed to be unacceptably heavy and saying “Get to the gym, you lazy glutton!” is not going to cut it.

  44. Katie says:

    Well, plus anti-depressants and other medications, and the fact that the hormones in HBC do, in fact, seep into water and through that into the food supply (see, e.g., changes in fish) and then into the general population.

    The increase in weight over the population hasn’t been as pronounced as people tend to assume – something like 10 lbs on average per person – but does exist, and its causes are a bit opaque. It doesn’t necessarily translate, though, that it’s solely about calories. In fact, all factors point towards it being pretty multifaceted.

    Meanwhile, the issue – for most people – isn’t that a change in calorie consumption won’t change one’s weight short term. For most people, it clearly will. The issue is that people seem to have set points to which their body will return that can be altered in either direction but not necessarily predictably. Or, for that matter, realistically without devoting one’s entire life to the pursuit and, frankly, many people simply don’t have the time, resources, or energy.

  45. Josh says:

    Over one-third of Americans are obese, and over half are overweight.

    This is because we eat too much, and don’t get enough exercise. End of discussion.

  46. S01 says:

    Q2 If your PC is just slow it sounds more like a OS fragmentation issue than anything fundamentally wrong with the PC. Backup all your important documents etc to an external HDD or Thumb drive and then do a fresh OS install, this should improve Boot performance/speed (you could also try an all night disk defrag). Unless your a PC gamer or into high end 3d graphics and photo manipulation any PC from 2006 onwards (basically dual core) will meet the basic word processing, web browsing and odd Java game need for the rest of us.

    If you really want to check if it’s your PC or the OS that’s stuffed download the Ubuntu Live CD and check the boot time for that, I’d recommend Ubuntu 10.04 (LTS) over 11.04/.11 for the average user it more closly mirrors the WIN X experience.

    I run 2 old dual core notebooks (07/08 vintage) picked up for less than $100, running Ubuntu 10.04 and they run perfectly for word processing/web browsing and even a little sketch up 3d work. So don’t throw out that old Hardware re-use and re-tool it :).

    *HDD should be backed up regularly, even a “Good” HDD only has a reliable life span of 24 months, a 1 % failure rate sounds good until your in the 1% and just lost all your photo’s :(.

  47. MattJ says:

    #43 Johanna:

    I’m not sure either. But it sounds like we agree on what I see as the central point, which is that any population-wide weight gain has population-wide causes – availability and makeup of the food supply, the shift from physical jobs to desk jobs, smoking, medication, etc.

    Agreed that all of those things influence rates of obesity and overweight-ness. I honestly don’t think smoking rates or medication are big players, but it’s hardly worth arguing over, imo.

    It’s not due (to any significant extent) to a whole bunch of individuals becoming lazier, more gluttonous, or less concerned about their health.

    If they had enjoyed the caloric availability and level of automation we now have, I suspect that Teddy Roosevelt’s generation would have packed on the pounds, as we have. In that sense, we are no lazier or more gluttonous than they. We just have more opportunities to over-indulge and ride our couches. Perhaps that means we have more responsibility not to.

    So to whatever extent that population-wide weight gain is a problem, it needs a population-wide solution.

    We can consider our population-wide health problem of obesity to be analogous to the population-wide health problem of tobacco use. Despite that fact that a lot of people still smoke, we’re having much more success on that problem than we are with obesity rates. I would prefer we leave the smokers and the overeaters (underexercisers?) alone, but if we ask for a population-wide solution to one, we can probably expect the same mindset to eventually seek a population-wide solution to the other. I expect, however, that the government won’t go as negative on overeaters as they have in the past on smokers in any future propaganda capaigns. I wonder if there will be any extremist green groups (think PETA, for instance) who will make the connection between overeating and overconsumption, generally and target overeaters as wasters of the planet’s limited resources.

    Pointing at individual people deemed to be unacceptably heavy and saying “Get to the gym, you lazy glutton!” is not going to cut it.

    That definitely wouldn’t be the right way to solve a nationwide problem. What do you think would be?

  48. Johanna says:

    “Over one-third of Americans are obese, and over half are overweight.”

    According to arbitrary BMI lines (that were arbitrarily redrawn in 1998). Did you know that, all else being equal, someone in the “overweight” category will probably live longer than someone in the “normal weight” category?

    “End of discussion.”


  49. MattJ says:

    I wonder if there will be any extremist green groups (think PETA, for instance) who will make the connection between overeating and overconsumption, generally and target overeaters as wasters of the planet’s limited resources.

    I should clarify that I don’t mean this criticism could or should only be applied to sedentary overeaters, but that it could also be applied to athletes who consume twice as many calories per day just as the fuel required to keep up their workouts and perform in their competitions.

  50. jim says:

    “Did you know that, all else being equal, someone in the “overweight” category will probably live longer than someone in the “normal weight” category?”

    Not if you set aside the impact of smoking has on the smokers who are usually thinner.

  51. kevin says:

    I’ve had many comments get stuck in moderation here. None were offensive. I’ve had better luck recently.

  52. Johanna says:

    “That definitely wouldn’t be the right way to solve a nationwide problem. What do you think would be?”

    Depends what you think the nationwide problem is. I’m of the (evidence-based) view that we should start by completely decoupling the issue of body weight from the real problems, which are poor diet and limited exercise (plus things like pharmaceuticals in the food supply, etc.) Framing the problem as an “obesity crisis” makes as little sense, and is as harmful, as framing a problem of child malnutrition as a “short-people crisis.”

    As for the solution: I’d favor policies that would make fresh, healthy foods more readily available and more affordable, especially in low-income areas. I’d favor re-examining agricultural subsidies (for HFCS, etc.) that have a negative effect on the healthfulness of the food supply. (I’m ignoring the obvious political challenges of making these things happen, of course – this is just my ideal solution.) I’d favor zoning and other policies that make it easier and safer for people to get around on foot and by bike. I’d favor phys ed classes in schools that focus on helping all students find forms of exercise that they can enjoy throughout their lives, rather than encouraging the kids who are already athletically inclined to bully the kids who aren’t (not that I know anything about that – ahem).

    And for all these things, I’d favor not using population BMIs to measure the results in any way.

  53. Johanna says:

    “I wonder if there will be any extremist green groups (think PETA, for instance) who will make the connection between overeating and overconsumption, generally and target overeaters as wasters of the planet’s limited resources.”

    Well, not all calories are created equal, in terms of the resources required to produce them. There are definitely groups already who make the connection (rightly or wrongly) between eating things like meat, and air-freighted fruits and vegetables, and overuse of the planet’s limited resources. Of the ones I’ve seen, some target individuals, and others frame it as a larger systemic problem.

  54. Steven says:

    Now I’m accusing people of lying…hmmm.

    Actually, I think a lot of people aren’t being completely honest with themselves. I’ve been guilty of it myself. I go to the gym just often enough to make it appear that I’m making an effort when I could be doing better. Or cooking just enough healthy meals to make it seem like I’m eating healthy, when really, I could be doing better.

    It’s my opinion that there are many people just like I used to be (and sometimes still am) who aren’t totally committed to the change…despite what they tell people, or themselves. Everyone could be doing better, including me.

    And if people make the choice that their health or physical appearance aren’t important, I couldn’t care less. If people are happy with their lives the way they are, fine. I don’t expect everyone to value the same things as I do.

  55. SwingCheese says:

    @Steven, et al. On the subject of those who have wanted to lose weight, lost it, then regained almost all of it, all of it, or all of it and more. It seems to me that diets are regarded as a short term necessity. When the weight goal has been reached, the diet is then abandoned and old eating/exercising habits are revisited. However, as these habits were (usually) the culprit of the weight gain, they usually result in another weight gain. In my admittedly small sample population, the people who regain weight have not maintained the eating and/or exercise habits that allowed them to lose the weight in the first place, and don’t seem to make the connection between needing to keep up with their new habits in order to maintain their new weight.

  56. jim says:

    Johanna : “@Steven: Well, yes, you can believe whatever you want about the world, as long as you’re willing to accuse anyone who doesn’t fit into your worldview of lying.”

    Its hard to see what you read in Stevens comment that you took such a reaction to.

  57. Steven says:

    @SwingCheese: It’s a lifestyle change…not a momentary shift to achieve results. And it really does boil down to two things: diet, and exercise. Are there outliers with other issues? Absolutely. I don’t believe (and I have empirical evidence to support my claim) that the United States is suddenly filled with people who have medical complications that won’t allow them to be slim.

    Now, I’m not going to claim to be some sort of fitness guru, but because I do spend a lot of time in the gym, and read quite a bit about exercise/training/etc, I’ve heard the same things repeated over, and over again. Eat healthy, whole foods, in moderation. Drink lots of water. Be active. The problem? There’s nothing to be sold here.

    Weight loss has become a billion dollar industry because people market it as being this complex process that requires this gizmo, or that gadget. This diet, or that. And it’s a bunch of garbage…

    Here’s the only secret anyone who wants to lose weight needs to know: eat healthy, whole foods. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is your best friend. Lift heavy weights whether you’re a man or woman. Drink water. Lots o’ water.

    It doesn’t require gizmos or fad diets. Just commitment and hard work.

  58. Steven says:

    *have no empirical evidence (How nice it’d be to have an option to edit comments.)

  59. SwingCheese says:

    Stephen: “It’s a lifestyle change…not a momentary shift to achieve results.” Yup. I agree – but the people I know who have had the issues with regaining weight don’t seem to be making that connection.

  60. MattJ says:

    #57 Steven:

    Here’s the only secret anyone who wants to lose weight needs to know: eat healthy, whole foods. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is your best friend. Lift heavy weights whether you’re a man or woman. Drink water. Lots o’ water.

    I lost 50 lbs almost 3 years ago by changing my diet. Period. I was a light-to-moderate exerciser before I went on my diet, and stayed that way until well after the weight I wanted to lose (and somewhat more) was lost. Only after I lost the weight did I increase my activity level, and then only slightly, mostly because I found myself able to get into new hobbies when I wasn’t carrying around an extra 50 lbs of fat.

    Here’s a bonus for my method: Not only does it cost nothing, it actually saves you money, because the only thing you do is buy smaller amounts of food, and generally less expensive food. One of my diet changes was to quit drinking calories. Tap water is, for practical purposes, free, while anything else one might drink is quite expensive, and some things one might drink (alcohol, for instance) are extremely expensive.

    I’m not as sanguine that my method will work for everybody if their goal is to lose weight, but it seems highly likely that diet changes could help most people get healthier.

    As, of course, also could exercise.

  61. deRuiter says:

    “…the honest truth is that….” Is there another kind of “truth” in your world Trent?

  62. deRuiter says:

    Unless they’re on medication, fat people are fat because they consume more calories than they burn. Want to know about how many calories you should eat if you’re an average person, not a gym rat or running marathons? Multiply your ideal weight by 11 caloiries. That’s about how much you need to live an average life without a lot of gym work, you might have to eventually tinker with the figure slightly, but that’s about all the cals you need. Fat people overeat in public, or more commonly are sneak eaters. I go out to eat with a fat friend and when we part company, she heads to Shop Rite and spends $10.-$18. on junk food and then goes home and pigs out. Look at the pictures of WWII concentration camp inmates. They are all scrawny, pathetic, skin covered skeletons due to calorie restrictions and physical activity. There are no fat prisoners in the photos in the camps. Americans who are fat (except those on certain drugs like steroids) are fat because they over eat. They may lie to themselves about how much they eat, but they eat more calories than they need. It’s not “glandular”, it’s not “big bones”, it’s not “hereditary” unless you are referring to Mom’s family’s recipes for chocolate cake with fudge icing and baked stuffed potatoes.

  63. Riki says:

    Comment sent to moderation. Trent, fix your comment system! It’s really annoying and trust me, you don’t want to mess with comments . . . that’s why people come to your blog.

  64. Gretchen says:

    I’ve had comments still shown in moderation for a year, as seen when he was doing the year/2 years ago series.

    it was about browning meat.

    I belive the normal weight vs. *slightly* overweight death data is only true if the slightly overweight person does not yoyo in weight.
    It’s the yoyoing that is the killer, so to speak. not the scale number.

  65. littlepitcher says:

    @Lisa-Keep some tea bags in the freezer, order one small and one large tea ball, then go to eBay and Frontier Herb and Spice for flavored teas. Green tea is far less expensive in bulk than in bags, and you will get better flavor and a larger assortment of blacks. As for using tea bags for styptics, green persimmons work better, and can be frozen indefinitely in slices. American persimmons work almost immediately, haven’t tried Japanese.

  66. Carol says:

    Try LIVESTRONG.COM….it’s a great site to track your daily calorie intake, exercise output, weight charts, there are inspirational stories from people who have had weight loss success! There are tools to track walking/running with maps…it is a WONDERFUL site and FREE!!!!

  67. Kevin says:

    deRuiter is right. It really does just come down to calories in vs. calories out. If you’re eating less than you’re burning, you cannot get fatter. It’s a physical impossibility. It’s like pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it, where the water is flowing out faster than you’re pouring it in, and saying if the bucket has the right metabolism, it can actually get more full. That’s just not how it works.

    And if your comment get stuck in moderation, just post it again. Trent never reads these comments anyway, and apparently rarely ever even checks the moderation queue. By the time any moderated comments are approved, the post will be so old nobody will notice the double-post. I’ve been doing this for months now. A lot of times, I don’t even change the comment. I just post the exact same thing again. First time it gets stuck in moderation, the second time gets posted.

  68. Johanna says:

    Oh, Kevin. How rarely you fail to have no idea what you’re talking about.

  69. Geoff Hart says:

    Jenny (who seems to be in grad school with her husband) is thinking about a pre-emptive replacement for an old and failing computer.

    From your description, you have fairly basic needs, so here’s a thought: wait until the week after Black Friday and see what old computers are being discarded by students at your school who just bought new ones. Many students feel they have to buy the latest and greatest of everything (usually for gaming), so they replace their computer every year or two, then sell their old one for next to nothing.

    Check the local classified ads, other sources such as Craigslist, and see whether your school has its own online classifieds for students; many do. I’ve bought many fully loaded computers for my kids this way, usually for less than 20% of the price of a new machine. Haven’t done ths in a couple years, and nowadays the price differential will be lower, but the savings will still be significant. End-of-year student sales are another great way to save money; students often dump computers they can’t carry home with them on the plane or train.

    A few notes:

    First, make sure you get all of the original manuals and disks that came with the system (particularly the operating system), and if you’re taking any commercial software (e.g., Microsoft Office), ask for a written license transfer so that you can re-register the software in your own name and qualify for upgrades. That’s not necessary if you already have all the software you need and will simply transfer it to the new computer.

    Second, reinstall everything from scratch and run antivirus and antispyware software (there are many free options) to make sure the newly installed system is clean. Students tend to be rather cavalier about what they download, so you can end up with a compromised system if you don’t do this. Plus, miscellaneous software sludge accumulates over the years and you’ll benefit from starting from a clean slate. There are some malware programs that can survive a clean reinstall, usually hidden in the boot sector of the disk, so it’s worthwhile checking, just in case. If you don’t know how to do this, one of your circle of friends (or possibly even someone at the university’s computer department) will probably help you.

  70. Steve says:

    @Q4 Yankee swaps are no secret santa replacement. There are plenty of reasons to choose one or the other besides just not wanting to offend people. And there are plenty of ways of avoiding offended employees other than making them participate in a prescribed present-giving scheme. IMHO there is more opportunity for hurt feelings with something supposedly “fun” like a yankee swap.

  71. Kevin says:


    No, you’re right, Johanna. Some people just have a mysterious metabolism that causes energy to magically appear and disappear inexplicably, rather than being stored/burned as fat.

    Science is pretty clear on this. Energy you consume and don’t use doesn’t just magically disappear because the person has “a good metabolism.” It gets stored as fat. Every doctor will tell you the same thing.

  72. Johanna says:

    Every doctor will tell me there’s no such thing as basal metabolism? I don’t think so. How many doctors have you actually talked to about this?

  73. Nancy says:

    You might want to remember that a lot of the time the electronics that are advertised as Black Friday deals are cheaper versions made with cheaper components so they can get that “great” price. You might be better to spend a little extra on a day other than Black Friday so you get a better quality machine.

  74. Sharon says:

    Someone mentioned this but it got lost in the discussion of weight. There are other sides to health as well. Growing up I was always the “fat” child in the family. My brothers were both thinner and more active. As we got older my brothers gained weight and “caught up” to me. However, my brothers now have diabeties, high blood pressure and high cholesteral while I currently have no serious issue. My oldest brother finally had his stomach stapled to lose weight so his diabetes could be controlled.
    I don’t think I have a “self-rightous” reason why I have managed to remain disease free but I know that I would claim to be healthier than my oldest brother whose BMI is close to normal and diabetes free.

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