Reader Mailbag: Decoration Day and Memorial Day

Memorial Day is pretty much just confusing to me. It’s theoretically a day to honor fallen soldiers, but most people just go on vacation or play in the yard.

What happened to Decoration Day, which is May 30 of each year? That’s the original date created to honor those soldiers that have served our country in times of war, started after the Civil War. As the Civil War veterans began to pass away, it gradually turned into our modern day Memorial Day, which mixed some notions of American exceptionalism together with a convenient three day weekend at the beach. To me, that really waters down the point.

Charles Ives’ poem Decoration Day captures what I wish this day was – and what it could be. But it’s lost amid the jet skis and the barbecue grills.

I love Computers and couldn’t survive with out the internet. I wouldnt say im a geek, as i dont play video games at all, and love sports. Im 17 years old, and live in the west coast, California. I currently work at Starbucks with minimum wage (the job sucks!). So im contacting you today because ive spent the past couple of months stressing about careers, as im graduating high school soon. Ive been looking for things i could do online as a career, or even a entrepreneur like you.

For the past 4 years, ive been really active on youtube running a Technology Channel: http://youtube.com/yutubemedia, with tutorials and gadget reviews, and recently have become a youtube partner, allowing me to make a small amount of money off of ads on each video. I also make about $200 a month off a GPT website called CashCrate.com, perhaps you have heard of it. Of all that $200 is from referrals.

Anyways, So ive been looking to start making a career online, and have tried some programs such as “richjanitor.com” which didnt work out at all. So im emailing you today, hoping that you could help get me jump started like you. Im wishing to not have to pay for any program, but to get some 1 on 1 support from you to help me get started. I would love to be your testimonial of success. I would preach of your work to everyone, and promote you on my youtube channel, which gets over 215,000 views a month. You sound like a great guy from the things ive read about you online, I really hope you can help me out, it would be un imaginable.
– Mike

Most online programs that promise to help you earn a great living online don’t work. Ignore all of them. You do not earn $100,000 a year online within three months of starting in your spare time on your own or with any program. It just doesn’t happen.

The key to making money online is traffic. Nothing more, nothing less. The more traffic you have, the more you earn. (Not all traffic is created the same, but that’s a different subject.)

The way to get traffic is to make content people want to read and that they want to return to. It sounds like you have a good start at that with your technology channel on YouTube. You need to be patient and keep adding good content.

What you’ll find over time is that every piece you put up will get a slow “long tail” of traffic each month. So, let’s say each of your videos gets just 50 views each month. Well, if you have 20 videos up, that’s 1,000 views a month. If you have 200 videos up, that’s 10,000 views a month. If you can get 2,000 videos made, that’s 100,000 views a month.

If they’re high quality, though, traffic will begin to drive itself. People will see one of your videos and watch some more. If you just have a few videos, there aren’t many to watch and they’ll leave quickly and probably forget about them. If you have tons of videos, they’re not likely to get through them all and they’ll probably bookmark the site. You’ll eventually stick in their minds and they’re more likely to share your stuff, driving more traffic.

Your best bet, honestly, is to just pump out those good videos as fast as you can while still maintaining the quality. You already have the snowball rolling there – keep it up.

I’ve told myself it will be fine, that we have our rental agreement and my son is responsible, but deciding to rent our home to him and his family is a concern still. I’m not sure what his wife will do when paying the rent gets too “hard”. We believe the risk is worth it to see them enjoying our home, but is it too risky?
– Abigail

These types of arrangements always make me uncomfortable, and it has nothing to do with the risk.

Whenever you enter into an arrangement like this, you’re transforming a parent-child relationship into a landlord-renter arrangement. The “rules” of these two arrangements are very different from each other – most people don’t have loving feelings for their landlords and view it as a merely financial arrangement.

What you’re doing is multiplying the chances that the relationship between you is damaged. If the parent-child relationship is soured or the landlord-renter relationship is soured, then you’re going to have a strong negative impact on the overall relationship.

For me, the parent-child relationship is one that, if it’s healthy, can be incredibly valuable for both of you. I wouldn’t rent to my child unless it was under the assumption that it didn’t matter if they didn’t pay me, thus eliminating the landlord-renter arrangement from the equation.

It’s not the financial risk that would worry me, it’s the relationship risk.

If I were you, I’d try really hard to move on from this, even if it means stepping in as a parent to help them buy a house elsewhere or something like that.

One topic that I don’t think that I’ve seen you cover and would like to see what you have to say about it is the finances of adoption. My husband and I adopted a domestic newborn boy about 10 months ago (our first child). We are now planning on adopting internationally for our next 2 children, most likely through a lawyer from the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have noticed that one of the main things we mention when we talk about adoption is the money. Domestic adoptions can cost anywhere from $10k-$40k depending on the method of adoption, birthmother considerations, and, shockingly, the race of the child. International adoptions tend to run from 18k-30k, depending on the country.

We are Christian school teachers (so, we don’t make much money) and the type of people that, if finances would permit, would adopt several more children. There are so many factors that affect the cost of the adoption process, and so many people have different suggestions for how to raise that money, running the spectrum from garage sales to adoption credit cards and home equity loans. There are also time considerations–often a huge chunk of the money is due at an unpredictable time (when you happen to be matched with a child or birthmother). Plus, many adoption situations have upper age limits for parents, and since my husband is 12 years older than me, it’s not like we can wait forever to get all our financial ducks in a row.

I would love to see what you have to say about this topic! With infertility on the rise across the country, I bet other couples would benefit from your advice on the matter.
– Monica

This is the truth of adoption and it’s one of the reasons my wife and I have been hesitant to do it. That’s a lot of money, an amount that, for many families, is destabilizing, and the entire point of adoption is to provide love and stability for the adopted child. So you essentially have two factors working in opposition to each other.

You already know the only real antidote for this – cash in the bank. Make sure you have a cash emergency fund (a few months’ worth of take-home pay) sitting in an account to deal with your current family’s crises, then start a second savings account and sock it away.

If you’re adopting domestically again, you may want to consider a private adoption, which can be a bit cheaper but has a different set of concerns and risks.

Whenever adoption is mentioned, people often mention foster homes. The problem with foster homes is that the law is bent against foster familes. The law essentially discourages building a long-term loving and trusting relationship between the foster child and the foster family because the foster child can be removed essentially at any time. This type of relationship takes a very special type of person or family to make it work – successful foster parenting isn’t something that many people can do. I consider the foster system to be just as broken as the adoption system.

I am a United States citizen and currently live in California, but I will be living in France during the next two to three years and am thinking about some financial questions, mainly about my tax situation, and thought you might be able to help. I will work as a freelance editor and as an editor for my university, but also may do some teaching, partly for people (or institutions) in the United States and partly for people in France, and so I probably will have to file two forms at least for 2011.

Do you whether income counts as American or French, based on where I live, or based on where the person who pays me lives? I know about the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion but haven’t been able to find out anything else that pertains to my situation on the State Department site or the site of the Consulat in Los Angeles, the two most obvious sources; everything is written exclusively either from the French or American point of view and doesn’t consider hybrid situations such as my own.

I want to make sure I follow the law but also am thinking that some good planning could land me in a lower tax bracket or have other benefits. Can you offer any advice or recommend any other sources?
– Tom

As a U.S. citizen, your worldwide income is subject to the U.S. income tax regardless of where you’re living. The FEIE you mention above applys when you are not living in the U.S. and your employer is not based in the U.S.

I do not know how French income tax law works, but if you are a resident there, you’re likely going to have to pay some form of income tax in France as well. My understanding (which is admittedly poor on this subject) is that if you are not a French citizen but living in France for a short period, you would only have to pay French income taxes on money earned from French businesses while living in France. You would have to pay U.S. income taxes on all money earned.

Yes, it’s a double whammy, but governments want their tax dollars.

I never watch infomercials; never! But the other day, I paused to watch one when I saw that the product they were advertising was the Magic Jack. In short, it seemed like for $3.33 a month (or a one time fee per year actually), you can carry a jack which plugs into your computer…plug a regular land line into the jack and call out anywhere in the US and Canada. If anyone has a M. Jack anywhere in the world, they can call you and talk unlimited for the same price. But I think that it is the same as Skype in that you can only call out.
– James

MagicJack is great if it works. I have one friend who swears by it.

I have another friend who used MagicJack for several months and was incredibly happy at first. Eventually, though, he began to complain that many of his calls were suffering from him being able to hear the caller but the caller not being able to hear him, so he dropped the service after seven months.

My impression from their stories and from reading a lot of reviews is that it works best if you have a very, very high speed connection that doesn’t suffer many slowdowns during peak traffic periods. If that describes your connection, then MagicJack will probably work well. If you have a lower-end high speed package, then you’re likely to see problems.

One note: MagicJack (and Skype) both give you your own number so people can call you up. You just have to have your computer on to receive the calls.

So here’s where I stand now:

Keybank VISA, 0 balance, 7.99%, 3200 limit, no rewards
Chase VISA, 0 balance, 18.24%, 5500 limit, no rewards
I also have a card from a store where I buy most of my clothes with a rewards program and I’m thinking about getting a Chevron VISA with a gas rewards program. I want to keep both of these because of the rewards programs.
Altogether I’ll have at least $12K in available credit. I don’t need this much.

Here’s my dilemma, I still think I should close either the Chase card, or the Keybank card – simply because I don’t need as much credit as I have available and I want to reduce the temptation to run it up again. I’m going to try to negotiate a lower rate with Chase, and if I’m successful this comes down to a question of service.

I’ve always received excellent customer service from Chase (I even refinanced my car with them partly for the quality of service). My experience with Keybank has not always been perfect, but there haven’t been any deal-killers (aside from the fees they used to charge on my checking account that led me to switch to a credit union) and the issues I’ve had with them were of the nobody’s-perfect variety. And I’m taking their revisions to the credit program to mean they’re seriously trying to improve some things. I vote with my dollar right? So I’d like to give Keybank a chance, but I don’t want to abandon Chase. I believe that you shouldn’t abandon a company that’s always treated you well unless you no longer need their service.

So back to my questions:
How much credit is too much credit?
Do you think I should close one of these accounts?
Which account should I close?

– Julie

I wouldn’t close any of the accounts. I don’t think you have excessive credits. I have one card with more credit than all of yours combined.

The problem seems to be that you worry about your own ability to control your spending habits. If that’s the case, hide some of the cards from yourself. Freeze them in a block of ice (fill a pan half full with water, freeze it, lay your cards on the ice, fill it up the rest of the way with water, freeze it again). Cut them up, even.

If you feel you must cancel a card, cancel your most recent card. Always keep your oldest credit card because it’s the one that establishes the length of your credit history, and the longer it is, the better it helps your credit score.

I am American and live overseas with my foreign husband. I am almost finished with my Masters degree which focuses on the European Union. My husband and I are planning a move/to start a family over the course of the next 1.5 years and as it is difficult for me to find work that interests me in this country, I am looking into different jobs I can do online/from home. I have experience teaching English and a little experience editing. I would like to get more involved with the editing but am unsure as to how to go about finding more work. I recently secured 2 freelance editing jobs but need a few more in order for us to be able to save the amount of money we need to move and start a family. There are many websites (guru.com, elance.com, gofreelance.com, etc) where editing jobs are posted and you can post your resume as well. The thing is that most of these websites charge for membership (seems like $10 and up a month). In addition, some of them also take a percentage of what you earn. Would you recommend using these websites to get started? If not, what are other ways I can find editing work online or other online/work at home jobs.
– Meagan

Those websites are a good place to start. They will help you get starting jobs and contacts.

Ideally, though, that’s exactly what they are – a starting point. Eventually, you’ll be able to actually build relationships with people who need your services and, over time, the jobs will come directly from them, not through the websites.

This will not happen overnight, though. The competition on such sites is fierce because a lot of people want to do what you’re doing. You have to be doing quality work to stand out – if you’re not doing good work, they can easily just cast a line right back into that job pool.

My husband and I are having our first child in September. Last night I finally sat down and crunched the budget numbers and it was quite a wake up call — babies are expensive! Of course I knew that one level, but to see it on the spreadsheets was a bit of a shock.

My husband and I make about the same amount of money — around $28,000 a year after taxes. He is an EMT, I’m a weekly newspaper editor. I’ve been working in my field for eight years, he just got his license and is in the first month of his job as a aluminum plant staff EMT/firefighter.

We do have credit card and hospital bill debt in the range of $20,000. We do not have a mortgage, and we rent a house for $600/month. We share one car (I used a company car for work).

After crunching the numbers, I realized with both of us working, it would stretch our budget to the limit, and into more debt, to pay for childcare and other baby costs. Also, we’d have to have a second car since I need to tote our baby boy around to and from daycare when my husband is at work, adding even more costs to our budget.

If I quit my job, we’d save at least $500 a month, and probably more in baby costs. I would be better able to breastfeed and I’d love to use cloth diapers. Also, I would be cooking 95% of the time, and there would be no need for a second car ($200-$300 a month).

This is such a major decision! I worry that my child won’t be properly socialized if he’s not in some sort of daycare, and I worry about isolation — I have been a driven career-woman all of my adult life, and I do enjoy the duties of my work, just not the pay and lack of really any benefits. However, I went through a job loss a few years back and it really helped me learn there’s more to life, and me, than my job identity.
– Sarah

There are support circles in most communities for stay-at-home parents where they meet together in parks and other public places for the purpose of socializing their kids (and socializing with each other about shared experiences). If you’re interested in doing this, seek out people already doing it in your community and ask how they make it work. Ask around. You don’t have to be isolated.

As for the financial part of the equation, it really, really depends on where you live. If you live in a rural area, a family of three can make it on $28K. If you live in a higher-cost urban area, it won’t work – there won’t be enough to make ends meet.

Given the amount of debt you’re carrying, I’m not sure you’re making ends meet now, let alone with another family member and a halving of your income. Even with the savings from doing that, it’s not going to make up for the huge loss in income without some very radical life changes (like moving to a lower-cost area and dropping your standard of living a fair amount). I can’t answer for you whether you’re up to that.

Have you ever tried making your own windshield washer fluid? I’ve heard that a solution of vinegar and water in equal parts works well. How much of a cost savings do you think it would be?
– Tanya

If you live in a climate where the temperature never goes below freezing, this should be fine. However, a water-vinegar mixture will freeze at about 30 degrees F, making it impossible to use at that temperature. Most windshield washing solution freezes at a much lower point (often around -20 F), which makes a huge difference here in Iowa.

So, if you live anywhere north of the southern tier of states, I wouldn’t try it. If you live in southern Texas or something where the temperature never drops to freezing, give it a shot – a water-vinegar mix can be a great cleaner.

After all, you don’t want it freezing up on you if you go outside to drive when it’s 25 F out. When you’re below freezing but not so cold that the salt doesn’t work and the roads are covered in wet, grimy sooty water that splashes up on your windshield, the last thing you want is for your windshield cleaner to be frozen.

So finally I think we have our financial house in order. All our debts except the house are paid off. For past 3-years we have been maxing out our 401K’s and Roth’s. Bought a house with 20% down, good emergency fund, term-life insurance, following frugality tips, buying index-fund ETF’s. Basically been doing everything that PF gurus have been recommending. While I was aggressively paying off debt, saving money for home, etc I had something to look forward to. Now everything is on auto-pilot. It definitely saves me time. But it seems that I was so focused on the financial aspect for the past 3-years, that I have lost interest in everything else. I don’t like spending money on anything. I tried setting aside some fun-money and I do spend it, but I don’t derive any fun out of it. It’s not that I have turned asocial or anything but I just feel bored all the time. By the way, we are not rich or have very high paying jobs but are super-aggressive savers. Oh I forgot, we have a 2-yr old and I do love spending time with him. I’m not depressed
– Sam

Your answer is in your next to last sentence: “we have a 2-yr old and I do love spending time with him.”

The exact same thing happened to me. We had a child and I discovered, especially as he reached his toddler years, I often enjoyed playing in the yard with him more than I enjoyed spending time and money on other endeavors. I also began to feel that it was more important to keep him financially safe and secure than to spend money on other things.

The key for me was finding fun free stuff to do. I got involved in the parks and recreation service in my town, which has tons of free activities. I’m going to coach both my four year old and my two year old in soccer in the fall (the two year old will be three by then). I got involved in volunteer activities and committees. Most of my time is now filled with stuff that doesn’t cost money to participate in, and that itself has a very positive impact on our finances.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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