Updated on 05.02.16

Reader Mailbag: Diet

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. How to find a housemate
2. Getting neighbors involved
3. Building credit from nothing
4. Charities and taxes
5. A 203(k) mortgage
6. Suggest some board games
7. Investing extra money
8. Writing online for money
9. Giving up cable for Netflix
10. Dealing with bad credit

Due to some medical results and the recommendations made to me because of them, I’ve been eating a plant-based diet for a month now (that’s right – no meat or animal products, at least as far as I could reasonably tell).

It’s actually been easier than I thought it would be. The first two weeks were the hardest. At this point, I’m not really bothered by it at all, though cheese still sounds really good. I really wonder if I’ll feel the same way in a few months.

Q1: How to find a housemate
I have thought about this for about a year and I think I am finally ready to rent out a spare room in my house. I have a 3 bedroom, 1 bath home near Pittsburgh PA. The house and room are great: can be fully furnished, lots of living space, large yard and ample off street parking. The problem I am having is how to go about finding a housemate. I have asked all my friends and family if they know of anyone looking for a place, unfortunately no one does. I put an advertisement up on craigslist. I put really nice pictures and tried to showcase how large the room was and hardwood floors. I had a few people interested, but no one ever showed to see the place. Do you have any suggestions on where I can list my room? Or should I just keep posting on craigslist? The room is 120 sq feet with a large closet and ALL utilities are included for $450 a month.

– Barb

If the $450/month rate is comparable to what similar rooms are renting for in your area (and Craigslist can help you figure this out), then the problem is probably with your salesmanship.

If you say “you get a 120 square foot room,” that’s going to sound like a prison cell to some potential renters. What other amenities is the person going to have if they rent the room? Will they have bathroom access? What about a kitchen? How much is the square footage including the closet? Is there parking available? What other amenities are nearby?

If you want renters, accentuate every positive you can think of about the room and the area you’re in. You want to entice them to check your room out.

Q2: Getting neighbors involved
I live in a high-rise in suburban NJ — great building, nice neighbors, love my apartment — we’ve just been told that due to neglected maintenance, we’re being hit with a special assessment and the recent condo board meeting was not pleasant.

I’m very interested in frugality and going green, both for the planet and to save $$$$, but am stumped as to how to make this effort larger than just my one-bedroom.
– Jay

If you have a good relationship with your neighbors, talk to them about fixing this “neglected maintenance” problem together from a saving money perspective, as it’ll help everyone involved not only avoid future assessments, but also likely reduce their own cost of living.

I’d start the ball rolling by talking to the neighbors you know the best and seeing what they think. If they’re all positive, have a meeting somewhere and come up with some plans for addressing it. You can utilize the condo board meeting or do it on your own.

I would advise not pitching the “green” aspect of this as being environmentally conscious is apparently very politicized and can get a very negative response from some, as has been my experience recently.

Q3: Building credit from nothing
I am a recent college graduate who is engaged to be married in June of 2011. My fiance also also graduated recently and was lucky enough to obtain a job making 50,000 to 60,000 dollars a year (varies based on the availability of overtime). I have not found a full time teaching job yet and currently make approximately 1,500 dollars a month working part-time. Financially, we are doing well and have about 18,000 dollars in savings. Our only debt is my student loan debt; he has none. The problem we are facing is credit. We want to buy a home before June; however, my fiance has absolutely no credit to speak of. I have been building my credit since I graduated highschool but have no full time job. The mortgage broker we spoke to practically treated us like children and left us feeling pretty hopeless! I feel like we have spent the last year putting the pieces of a puzzle together to realize we were missing the center piece! Without rambling any longer, my question is: What should our next step be? Try to build his credit (he has been denied a loan, credit card, etc)? Wait until I secure a full time job? Your input would be greatly appreciated!!

– Priscilla

You will have some difficulty building a strong credit rating for your partner before June, no matter what you do. A strong credit rating comes from having a long positive credit history.

The best way to get the ball rolling on that, of course, is to start immediately. If he has already been denied for a loan and a credit card, his best move is probably to attempt to get a secured credit card. A secured credit card basically means that he pays the credit card holder a deposit in advance of getting the card, which protects the issuer from this person with poor or no credit from charging up the card and then refusing to pay.

Get that card, then use it regularly for some routine purchase, like gas, and then pay the full balance off each month. What you’ll find is that over time, his credit will improve and he’ll eventually be able to get an unsecured card.

The key is for him to keep paying his bills on time. Gradually, his credit will go from nonexistent to good and he’ll be eligible for other loans.

Q4: Charities and taxes
I made some contributions to a charity for a few years. I stopped giving to this charity about 3 years ago. I want to know if I can still claim tax benefits.

– Javier


IRS Publication 78 reports the following:

Contributions must actually be paid in cash or other property before the close of your tax year to be deductible, whether you use the cash or accrual method.

In other words, to claim a deduction on your 2010 taxes (due next April 15), you have to make the deduction within the 2010 tax year.

Q5: A 203(k) mortgage
I have been dating a wonderful girl for the last 6 years and we have recently gotten engaged. Now that we are engaged we can seriously consider one of the things that I have looked forward to for a long time, getting married and buying a house. I have been doing a lot of thinking on the matter and I have developed some questions. Currently she lives with her parents and I live with mine (it is a great way to save money) and we are both financially responsible as we are on aggressive plans to pay off our student loans as well as saving for retirement and the short term. I feel that I have a good idea of what we can reasonably afford without putting us in a bad spot. Let’s say we have $10,000 for a down payment.

In our area one can find a nice-ish house in a good neighborhood for $85,000 to $100k (probably toward the higher.) I would say that these are within our price range. One can also find a house in a good neighborhood that is in need of updating/repair for about $60,000. She and I both like the idea of buying a house that needs some updating so that we could put our own touch on the place we will call home. In this area there is a plethora of homes that were built 50-80 years ago and for the most part they are in need of the same kind of updates (bathrooms, kitchens, flooring.) I feel that these are the types of updates that I would be willing and able to do with the help of family members and a friend or two.

So one might say that buying a ‘fixer upper’ is a no-brainer for someone like me….The problem: How does one finance these expenses? I am still in the early stages of my research on mortgages and buying a home (hence this email.) One thing that I found interesting is the FHA 203(k) mortgage, it appears that with some restrictions and a few steps, the government will back the mortgage, which will be more than the cost of the home, to allow for repairs. To me the 203(k) loan sounds like it’s right for us but I am hesitant. The information on HUDs website is informative but I need an opinion. Another option would be to put a small percentage down on the home and take the remainder of our savings and put it toward the upgrade costs. The problem with this is the time it might take to get the upgrades done. What are your thoughts on the matter? I feel that either way we are looking at an $80-$100k mortgage but the difference in houses could be big (given the potential cost savings of doing the work on our own.)
– Bill

A 203(k) loan is more or less what you describe. A lender lends you an amount greater than the value of the home (but backed by the government), with the additional money going to make repairs on the home. Ideally, this brings the value of the home up more than the costs of the material for the repairs (you’re adding sweat equity).

There are some risks here, though. The big one is that if you’re unable to follow through with the repairs for whatever reason (health, etc.), you’re underwater on that mortgage. You’ll owe more than the house is worth if you can’t put in your own sweat equity.

If you’re willing to accept that risk – and it sounds like you’re in the best position you could be to accept it – then I’d go for it. It’s a great opportunity for someone with home improvement skills to turn those skills into home value.

Q6: Suggest some board games
Some friends of ours invited my husband and I to dinner a few months ago. After dinner we played some board games of theirs that I’d never heard of and had a blast! Since then, we’ve dined and “gamed” with them several times and tried a lot of games. I found out eventually that they got the idea of playing board games and having dinner parties with them from The Simple Dollar, which is how I found your site!

I am wondering if you could suggest some games for us. We would like some games that could be played in an hour or less that my husband and I could play and we could also easily play with another couple. What would you suggest for us?
– Kelly

Here are four board games that can be played in an hour or less, work well for two players and also work well with four players, and don’t have overly complex rules. I own all of these and enjoy playing them all.

Ticket to Ride involves planning a journey around the United States (or Europe, if you get the Europe version). Each player has a set of secret goals (say, “Houston to Seattle”) and earns points at the end of the game if they’ve completed those secret goals by connecting enough cities together to build a path between those cities (say, “Houston to El Paso to Phoenix to San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco to Portland to Seattle”). You have to “build” each leg of that route simply by drawing cards and collecting sets of the same color (say, to build “Houston to El Paso,” you might need a set of three cards of the same color, or another one, like “San Diego to Los Angeles,” might require a set of four yellow cards), and when you complete that set, you discard that set and mark that route on the board.

Dominion is a card game where each player assembles their own deck of cards while the game goes on. There’s a set of available cards for all players to buy from, and those cards each have special abilities on them (like “draw two more cards”). Once you’ve bought a card, you add it to your deck. You buy new cards using cards in your deck that have coins on them, so you might play three 1-coin cards (called Coppers) to buy a card costing 3 coins (“Village,” for example). Some cards are worth victory points and, at the end of the game, each player counts up the number of victory points in their deck. The game ends when a certain number of cards have been purchased from that shared pool.

Pandemic is a game in which you’re trying to prevent the spread of a few terrible diseases across the world – in effect, you’re acting as a member of the CDC. You do this by traveling around the map (the board is a world map) and “disinfecting” cities that have disease markers on them. Each turn, though, the diseases grow and expand to more cities. You’re working with the other players as a team in this game.

Carcassonne is a game where you build the board as you go along. The board is made up of 72 little tiles and each turn, you turn over a tile and play it next to one of the tiles already in play and build what effectively looks like a town. You also have a small number of little “people” tokens; you can play one of them on the board each turn. The more ‘stuff’ (road, buildings, fields) around your little people at the end of the game, the more points you earn.

Q7: Investing extra money
I’ve just started doing this roughly 1 year after buying my first house. Every quarter year I’m taking any money in excess of $5k out of my bank account that I use for paying bills/etc. and putting it into online savings. The money there is split into 25% to pay extra on my mortgage, 25% ‘me money’ which will likely not be spent often anyway, and 50% to TD Ameritrade. With the TD Ameritrade 50%, I am using 20% for individual stocks I choose, 20% for index funds, and 10% on bonds or something else secure. I’d buy these in probably $2k chunks so the fees don’t eat up the profits. So far I’ve got enough to put an extra $500 towards the mortgage for awhile every month and made 10% on XOM. The only part I’m not sure about is if I should be investing in bonds as a 27 year old when I’ve already got and employer who contributes 15% of my pay whether I match or not to a profit sharing retirement plan that invests in mutual funds. This is already a pretty stable investment and it dwarfs my TD ameritrade account so I’m thinking maybe I should be more aggressive with trading. I’m also a bit conflicted trying to define what counts as ‘me money’ but thats a different subject.

– Rob

Whenever you invest money, you should have a goal in mind for what you’re going to do with it. That way, you can make intelligent investment decisions with that money.

If you don’t have a goal in mind for money you’re thinking of investing, I would invest that money in whatever offers the best possible return without putting your balance at risk.

For many people, that means paying down debts. It sounds like you have an outstanding mortgage, so if I were you, unless you have a specific goal with that extra savings, I would sock at least some of it straight into that mortgage (or other outstanding debt).

Why do it this way? If you have a 6% mortgage, an extra mortgage payment in essence returns 6% a year until the mortgage is paid off (and you get the money back at that time in the form of not having to make the last few payments). You won’t lose principal on that investment, either, which you very well might in other investments.

Q8: Writing online for money
Seeing as how I’m only 23, I realize I’ve got some time on my hands to get started on my career. The thing is I just don’t know where to turn. I feel so lost. I love the outdoors, I love photography, but most of all, I want to start a family. I’m only 23 but my boyfriend and I are ready to get married. We’re just in the process of getting our financial situations in order (as I discussed in my previous question you answered). I dream about being a wife to the best man and friend I’ve ever had, and raising our children together. This possibility is always in my mind when I think about possible careers. I’ve thought about starting a blog or some sort of online free-lance writing (so that hopefully once I have children I can have an established at-home business) but I just don’t know what sites to trust, or where to get started.

I’m currently majoring in journalism in school simply because I think it’s a broad, widely useful major, and not because I’m especially interested in it. My dream would be to hike trails across the US, and when I begin having children, I would love to write about my experiences and post photographs of my travels. Seeing as how I’m a student and must work as much as possible to support myself, traveling and writing at this point in my life is just an impossibility. I suppose my question to you is: How would you get started? I’m not looking to be rich or work my life away, having a family has always been a dream of mine. I just want to get into the blogging or web writing field, but I’m not sure which sites are trustworthy, or how to pick a focus for my blog.
– Rhiannon

For a blog to be successful, it needs two ingredients. It requires enough passion from the creator of the blog to keep updating it consistently. It also requires a topic and an angle on that topic that provides some sort of value for the reader: it helps them with their problems, it entertains them, or something along those lines.

Those two points have to be addressed before anything else. If you don’t have those two, you’ll never be able to build an audience for your blog because there will never be anything there worthwhile enough for them to visit.

If you have those two, then everything else flows from that. If you’re providing something people want, people will come, and if you have passion, you’ll be able to keep doing it.

Find those two things before you do anything else or you’ll find yourself wasting your time.

Q9: Giving up cable for Netflix
I read in your post that you are giving up cable in favor of netflix. We are considering doing that, but I have a couple of questions. There are a few TV shows that we love and follow. Mostly Supernatural on CW and Haven and Warehouse 13 on SyFy. I’m not sure how we could follow those shows without cable. Right now we DVR them and watch them on the weekends. Any suggestion for that?

– Christina

Is your ability to watch those few programs worth your cable bill? I can’t answer that question for you.

What I can say is this: you’re effectively paying to watch them now. If you join a service like Netflix, such shows will eventually be available on DVD, allowing you to watch them in that form a year or so after their air date.

It’s because of Netflix that my wife and I are finally watching Battlestar Galactica all the way through. Sure, it’s not fresh and hot, but it’s just as entertaining as it would have been a few years ago.

Q10: Dealing with bad credit
Back in 2006, i opened a wellsfargo gold card and in sept 2007 i got offered to upgrade to a platinum card. I took the offer of course and end up having a $4 balance on the gold card that i was never aware of. Found out about it almost a whooole year later. Paid it off but now it is showing a charged off. I think it is hurting my credit score so what can i do about this?

*note: Sam actually attached his credit report to this email, and I’m not including it to protect his privacy.*

I attached the overview just so you can look at it and see maybe it’s not the card but the Debt to credit ratio instead?? I’m not sure and that is why i’m asking for you help.
– Sam

First of all, never send deeply personal information to someone you don’t personally know. I wouldn’t send anything like this electronically, period, unless it was encrypted. Sam did edit some key pieces out of his credit report, but there was potentially enough info there for me to dig into his identity if I so chose.

Now, as for his question. Your routes out of this are to either wait on the card to fall off of your credit report, which should happen in about four years. Alternately, you can contact Wells Fargo and/or the credit reporting agencies and request that the item be removed from your credit report, which they most likely won’t do.

Your best time to get this removed has already passed, which was the moment when you first discovered and tried to resolve the problem. Now that you’re considered fulfilled in Wells Fargo’s eyes, there’s not much incentive for them to issue such a change on your behalf (this is true of any business).

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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  1. Jonathan says:

    Warehouse 13 is available on Hulu (my wife and I watch it regularly). I just searched and it appears that Supernatural is available as well (at least a couple of episodes are out there, I assume they are recent, but since I don’t follow the show I’m not sure).

  2. Melissa says:

    @Christina – Cable and Netflix
    I have the most basic cable for $13/mo and I get the ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CW and TBS. I watch SyFy shows through Hulu on my computer, and have caught up on older seasons on Netflix.

  3. Ellery says:

    Q1 – I’m not sure how far outside of Pittsburgh you are, but if you’re within a 10-15 minute drive of Oakland or Squirrel Hill you might try advertising with the universities. Grad students make excellent housemates, and I know both Pitt and CMU keep separate housing advertisements through their off-campus housing offices. You could try the student newspapers, too.

    $450 for a room is a lot in Pittsburgh, though. A few years ago I was paying $500 for a studio in Shadyside with my own bath and full kitchen, parking, a/c, etc. Maybe prices have gone up a lot since then, but I wouldn’t have paid more than $350 for a single room with shared bath/kitchen.

  4. Interested Reader says:

    You can watch current episodes (usually the day after they air) of Supernatural and Warehouse 13 online either through Hulu or directly from the channel’s website. I’m not sure about Haven because I don’t watch that one, but if it’s on SciFi then it should be on their website.

  5. valleycat1 says:

    Q10 – I would add a question to Trent’s answer – are you planning on needing a loan before this item might cycle off your credit report? If not, I probably wouldn’t take the time & effort to resolve this. However, the credit agencies have a means by which you are allowed to add a written note on your reports – in which you could explain the circumstances & small amount & that you did pay it off as soon as you discovered the balance due.

  6. Johanna says:

    @Barb (Q1): When you’re deciding which positives to accentuate about your place, focus not on what *you* like most about the place, but on what the biggest selling points would be for the type of person who’d be renting it.

    Someone renting a bedroom in a house is likely to be a single person, probably fairly young, maybe a student or someone in the area temporarily. They’re probably going to want to go out and do things on evenings and weekends. They might want to get around without a car, if that’s possible.

    And when you’re comparing your rent to other places, don’t just look at similar rooms in your immediate area – also look at some of the places the people who are showing interest are also considering. For example, if you’re getting a lot of interest from students at Carnegie Mellon or the University of Pittsburgh, they’re probably also considering places nearer to campus. If they have a choice between sharing a 2BR apartment near campus with another student, or renting your room way out in the suburbs, they’re not going to choose your room unless it saves them an awful lot of money.

    If, once you consider all that, you do think that your place could be an attractive home for someone at one of the universities, try advertising at the universities themselves. Find out what their policies are for advertising off-campus housing (maybe they have a special bulletin board, either electronic or physical, that all the students look at). Or just make some signs and put them up around campus.

    However you advertise, make sure to include plenty of information about you. A young, single person looking to rent a room in someone’s house needs to be really cautious about choosing a good landlord. If you have a professional webpage, link to it – that can lend some credibility that you are who you say you are.

  7. I think you dropped the ball on the blogging question. First, you didn’t even answer her question, second,I don’t think you could be any more wrong in the “answer” you did give.

    There are millions of bloggers out there with incredible writing skills, with tons of passion and whose content could be of value to many people, but no one ever reads them. Why? Because no one knows about them. Writing great content with all of your heart isn’t going to create an audience. Creating an audience requires networking, sharing your content with established bloggers, commenting on established blogs with thoughtful comments…not just “Good article.”

    As for her question, I’ll try to answer it. What should you write about? What should your focus be? The best answer to that is maybe another question: What do you care about? What fills you with excitement? What could you talk about everyday and not get tired of thinking about? Is it travel? Hiking, like you mentioned? Is it your soon to be children or your family? Do you love to cook? Do you have any special skill or knowledge that you could share with the world? Think about what gives your life meaning and write about that. Don’t write about something you don’t care about just because you think there might be a market for it. You’ll burn out and the project won’t sustain itself. People will be able to tell whether or not you care about what you’re writing about.

    As for which platforms to use, I use wordpress and couldn’t be more happy with them. It’s very user-friendly. I currently use their free blogging platform but if I ever build an audience that justifies using a paid platform, they can offer that service and my old articles should be easy to transfer (I hope). If you’re starting a new blog, I’d recommend saving yourself some cash and go with a free site, write for a while and work on building an audience. Once you’ve done that, then make the switch, start advertising and earn some money.

    Good luck!

  8. LB says:

    Q1- Two different times (once in NJ, and once in AZ) I was looking to rent a room and I visited houses owned by middle aged women who were trying to rent out rooms. Both times, I picked other rental options (I think I ended up choosing more expensive options both times) because of the same issue: it didn’t feel like I would get to make the place into my home. The first time, the house owner emphasized how previous renters had mostly stayed in their rooms and when I asked about the kitchen, she showed me a single tiny shelf where I could keep food and made it seem like I wouldn’t get much space in the fridge or have full kitchen privileges. The second time, the home owner emphasized all of her rules way too strongly and made me feel like I would be living with my mom. The wording of Q1 makes me think of these experiences because of the way the person is asking about finally renting out a spare room. Don’t think of it as a spare room. Think of it as pretty much half your house. Plan on proving amble food storage area, and half of the fridge. Expect that the person will want to put books on the bookshelf, use the television, have guests or a significant other over, cook in the kitchen. You will be living with another adult and they will want to be treated like such. Consider reducing the rent, adding details in the ad about yourself, and adding more details about the amenities of the house (cable tv, wireless internet, private entrance, washer/dryer, lovely kitchen) and what you’re looking for in a roommate (non-smoker, no drama, cats welcome, perfect for young professional new to area, great space for students).

  9. Gretchen says:

    What 8 said, but also including the bathroom.

    I assume you do not have a seperate entrance, either.

    They aren’t renting a spare room, you are getting a roommate.

  10. Gretchen says:

    I also don’t understand question 2 at all.

  11. Courtney20 says:

    Answer to Q4 was terribly incomplete. Amended tax returns can be filed up to three years after the original due date. If the contributions were substantial and Javier has documentation of the contributions, he can file a 1040X for any tax year 2007 onward (which would have been due April 2008) and claim the deduction.

  12. Lauren says:

    LB — your stories reminded me of a friend I had in law school who rented a room off of lady for a few months. The landlord had some really bizarre rules. My friend had to freeze some of her garbage (things like chicken bones and banana peels) until trash day because the landlord didn’t want them in the trash can, and I believe she had to label all of her food in the kitchen. At least my friend had her own bathroom.

    Q1/Barb – I’m in the Pittsburgh area too, and $450 for a small bedroom and a shared bath seems kind of high to me. For just a little bit more a month, a renter could get a whole studio or one bedroom apartment in many areas around the city.

  13. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    Do a Google search for Lamarckian Poker. It’s a cross between a board game and a poker game (no gambling involved) that uses just a deck of cards. A lot of fun with about four or five people and very easy to learn.

    Hulu has all Syfy shows I believe. The CW website shows recent episodes of Supernatural. Between Hulu and Netflix (and a few network sites), I no longer need cable.

  14. Lauren says:


    Another Pittsburgher here. Especially since you say “near” Pittsburgh, I think you might be asking a bit much. A few years ago I rented a 3bed/2bath apartment in Highland Park for $700. Utilities weren’t included, but those weren’t even that much. Have you checked to see the going price for your specific neighborhood?

  15. Johanna says:

    @Rob (Q7): You don’t mention an emergency fund, or any savings for irregular expenses like home maintenance and repairs. Do you have money set aside for those things (ideally, in a conservative investment)? If not, I’d hold off on playing the market until you do.

    Putting extra money toward your mortgage can be great for your long-term financial picture, but it’s not going to do anything to help you get through a short-term period of decreased income or increased expenses.

  16. Lauren says:


    Could you add your fiance to your credit card accounts as an authorized user? There is some risk there, but if you’re marrying the guy it seems reasonable. Unless they have changed it very recently, the AU “adopts” the credit history from the card. My early credit was boosted greatly when I was added as an AU on my parents’ card… my credit history suddenly was as long as my life.

  17. Johanna says:

    @Priscilla (Q3): You probably will want to hold off on buying a house until you have much more than $18K in savings, anyway. See yesterday’s thread about some of the unexpected costs of home ownership. You need money for a down payment, closing costs, and a good-sized emergency fund to cover maintenance and repairs, at least.

  18. Marle says:

    “I put really nice pictures and tried to showcase how large the room was and hardwood floors.”

    No one looking to rent a room out of someone else’s house cares about hardwood floors. Also, pictures on the internet can be deceiving (smaller or larger), and someone who’s just renting a room probably doesn’t have a lot of stuff so they don’t care how big it is. The most important factor is *you* and how you are as a roommate. Focus the ad on that.

  19. Kevin says:

    Some cable companies offer a local channels only plan that includes the CW. While we dropped most of the our cable we did keep the local channels for $7 a month so we could watch local news in the morning and Supernatural on the CW.

    SyFy delays their shows on Hulu on a one month delay after the first couple of weeks of the season.

  20. Marle says:

    It’s been a while since I’ve had TV, but when did the CW, ABC, CBS, etc, start costing money? I’ve never had cable or satellite, but I used to get all of those as broadcast channels. Did that change?

  21. Erin says:

    Marle raises a good point – the CW is a broadcast channel, not a cable channel. If you get an antenna and digital converter you can probably get the CW, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS, and others. That’s what we did recently and between over-the-air, Netflix Instant Watch and shows available on DVD, and services like Hulu (which you can play directly over your TV with a software like Playon), we hardly miss it.

    @Priscilla – your next step should be to save an emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses, (if your current savings don’t represent that amount) and then after you have done that save a 20% down payment, while building your fiance’s credit score. Just because you’re getting married doesn’t mean you have to rush to buy a house. House come with all kinds of unexpected expenses and stresses. Just rent for your first year of marriage – it will make your life much much easier.

    @Bill, taking out a loan for more than the value of the home sounds like a recipe for disaster. If you need to move for some reason you are either trapped in that house or will face foreclosure. Home projects do not generally return 100% of the money you spend on them. In fact, the return in increased value to the house is often more like 50%, depending what type of remodeling you did and the state of comparable homes in the neighborhood. Why not buy a home that is habitable but needs updating, then pay cash for the projects as you go along? It wasn’t my dream to live in a split-level with bathrooms and kitchen cabinets from 1978 and cheesy wood paneling in the basement, but our house was in good shape and had some updates, and we have steadily been making improvements as we could pay for them over the past 5 years.

  22. Interested Reader says:

    @ Marle – I have internet through Comcast and it costs less to have the basic cable package and internet than just internet. I save about $6/mnth with this.

  23. jim says:

    Q1: Skimming Craigslist for Pittsburth it seems that there are a lot of rooms in the $300-$400 range. $450 may be high. Also keep in mind that November is not a hot time for moving so there are fewer people looking right now.

    Q3: If you have credit cards then try and get your husband added to your accounts.

    Also, “The mortgage broker we spoke to practically treated us like children ” Find a different broker. That won’t impact your credit situation but you should not give your business to someone who is condescending to you.

    Q8: You can start with wordpress.com and make a free blog there. Its safe and easy. I wouldn’t worry about begin a success right away. It takes time to learn blogging and theres no way to learn it other than doing it.

  24. valleycat1 says:

    I don’t understand Q2 from Jay either.

  25. Kathryn says:

    Q3: Another option is to request manual underwriting. This involves the mortgage company giving your case personal attention and using payment records from sources like landlords, utility companies, etc. to establish your creditworthiness. No credit cards involved. In my personal experience, local/regional brokerages are happy to provide this kind of attention to financially responsible customers.

  26. Marle says:

    I think Q2 was asking how to get the rest of his condo building green, though it was really badly worded.

  27. Heather says:

    Regarding Q2 and Jay’s question about the condo – we’ve been in a similar situation with our condo buildings which are over 35 years old. In addition to Trent’s suggestions, here’s what we learned:

    Report maintenance issues as soon as you see them. Don’t assume someone else reported it. The management company and the board can’t address what they don’t know about. This is good risk management as its cheaper to pay to repair a broken gutter than a flooded ground floor unit later. Its better to get four reports of the same problem than none until there’s a bigger problem!

    Attend the all (or as many as you can) the board meetings. Too often the board gets abandoned until the one meeting where the budget gets approved. My husband and I trade off attending because they can get boring or contentious. It also gives you a better overall picture rather than just a snapshot of one particular night or issue.

    If your board has committees, particularly a maintenance committee, volunteer to get involved. First you’ll learn more about the history of the situation and second, you just might find others concerned about the environmental impact as well.

    Involvement is good risk management against future special assessments and helps maintain the value of the property over the long-term.

  28. tarynkay says:

    Q5- If you buy a house for $100K and put $90K down on a 30yr mortgage at 5% interest, your payment will be about $600/month. If you buy a $60K house and put $50K down on a 30yr mortgage at 5%, your payment will be about $330/month. I would buy the cheaper house and pay for renovations out of pocket, using the money you’ll be saving on the cheaper mortgage and living as cheaply as possible to help pay for it. If you’re doing all of the work yourselves this is totally doable. Just make sure that you buy a house that doesn’t need major structural work, so that you CAN do it all yourselves. Updating kitchens and bathrooms like you’re talking about is pretty easy, even for an inexperienced DIY-er. There is a TON of information online about this stuff. Be open to using salvage materials and hunting things down on Craigslist and the Habitat stores, etc. If you need a whole new kitchen, lots of stores that sell kitchens (such as Ikea, Home Depot, etc) will finance for a year w/ no interest. My husband and I bought a 60yo house last year and construction/renovation loans were not available at the time. We’ve been paying out of pocket and doing all of the renovations ourselves. We make two incomes and live entirely on one (modest) income- I recommend this for all newlyweds, but especially if you are trying to accomplish a major project like this. Now, a year later, we are about 95% done. A year is not bad at all for completely overhauling a house. We know people who hired fancy contractors who didn’t get done that fast. So this is both totally possible and less risky without the
    203(k) loan.

  29. Marle says:

    Tarynkay, what numbers did you mean to have in your post? If you buy a house at $100k and put down $90k, you’re getting a loan for 10k and the payment will certainly not be $600 a month. Did you mean you if you have $10k to put down, how expensive of a house to get?

    I can’t imagine having the time to completely overhaul a house with both spouses working. My husband and I have been in our house for 3 years and have done things here and there, the biggest project being remodeling a bathroom but that took nearly a year in itself. I can’t imagine having a house that needed to be completely overhauled. Even if it was all stuff we could do, if every room in our house needed something I wouldn’t have bought it. Most people don’t have that kind of time.

  30. tarynkay says:


    Sorry, I wrote it backwards. I meant if you put $10K down (which Q5 mentions having) and took out a $90K mortgage on a $100K house. I got the numbers from an online mortgage calculator.

    My husband and I both work full time, are involved in church, spend time with friends, and even watch some tv and we’ve managed to redo most of the house inside of a year. We have trimwork left- baseboards and such. I do not think that we have more time than most people. We are not type A people, and we do enjoy our sleep, we’ve just worked at this steadily. It’s enjoyable for us, maybe that’s why it’s gone quickly for us? Every room did need work, which is why we bought it. We took down some walls and replaced the entire kitchen as well. It doesn’t seem like Q5 is talking about going for a place that needs this amount of work, so if anything, it should be quicker and easier for him. It has been a lot of work, but not overwhelmingly so. We tend to do a lot at night after we get home and on weekends. We both work in offices, so coming home and banging on stuff is relaxing. We’ve had friends and family help as well, and Q5 does mention that he has friends and family that can help. Again, we do enjoy this kind of thing, but it sounds like Q5 does, too. If you don’t like doing renovations and can’t stand living in a construction site, I wouldn’t recommend it. There are plenty of turn-keys out there. If you do, this is a good way to get a great deal on a house.

  31. Marle says:

    It’s ok, it makes sense now.

    It really depends on how much work needs to be done, and what the definition of “needs” is. When I moved in my house, the bathtub in the bathroom we remodeled was broken (literally cracked). Yet, the house had another bathroom with a shower in it. I wouldn’t want to live forever with a broken bathtub, but I knew I could shower in the other bathroom until it was remodeled, so I wasn’t worried about it. I don’t mind living around renovations and construction, my only concern with buying a house is what if it doesn’t get done? What it takes 3 years to do what you thought would take 6 months? If that’s not the end of the world, then I would go for the house that needs repairs.

  32. AK says:

    why do you keep answering the same board game question?!?!

  33. Georgia says:

    Q#3 – This may not help to get credit quickly, but will get you a fair to good credit rating. You say you have $18k in savings between you. If your fiancee has a good portion of this savings, he can usually go to the bank he had his money with, especially if it is CD’s, and ask for a loan on that. They put a hold on the money until you repay it. You can usually borrow 50-70% of what you have. Then – and be sure about this – make payments on this amount each month ON TIME. You can put the money borrowed into another savings and use it for the payments. You are usually charged 2% more than they are paying you on the CD. Then, after a year, or the loan is repaid, use your bank as a credit reference.

  34. Sharon says:

    CW is broadcast tv. But before you go out to by the convertor box check out the type of TV you have. If you have a newer tv it may be digital already and all you need is an antennae. (I’m sure my spelling is whacked this morning…sorry).

  35. imelda72 says:

    Hey Trent,

    I have a reader mailbag question. I currently live in Japan, making less than $70,000, so I don’t pay any taxes. I want to continue my retirement savings, however. I thought I could contribute to a traditional, pre-tax IRA, but it seems that may not be the case. Can you help me figure this out? How can I keep up my retirement saving while working abroad? Thanks!

    (PS: I have savings in ING; perhaps I might contribute money from that account to an IRA, since it was earned in the US and I paid taxes on it already?)

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