Updated on 12.21.10

Reader Mailbag: Family and Friends

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. Pets, roommates, and repair costs
2. Gift receipts
3. Why get married?
4. Lonely Christmas
5. College athletic compensation
6. Preparing for a layoff
7. Why Christmas?
8. Diversifying retirement savings
9. Career in music industry
10. Christmas carols

The biggest highlight of this time of the year is the opportunity to spend time with people that you just don’t get to see that often during the year.

We have some friends that we rarely are able to see during the year because of conflicting schedules. Today, we’re going to have lunch with them.

Over the next few days, I’m going to see several other people that I see maybe once or twice a year and really look forward to seeing again.

That’s the point of this season, and that’s why I love it so much.

Q1: Pets, roommates, and repair costs
I have a question for you that you may or may not be able (or want) to answer. I’m 25 years old and about two years ago, I saved up and bought my first piece of furniture–a couch from a local upholstery store. I chose the couch from this store because my parents had bought one from the same store when they were first starting out and STILL have it now 23 years later–good quality if you ask me. Fast forward to February of this year and I’m living with a roommate who had just adopted a dog. Over the course of a few months, the dog started to chew on things around the house and I noticed that he started to work on the hem of my couch. I asked my roommate if she would mind keeping the dog in the crate when we weren’t around the house because I was worried that he might destroy my couch. For a while she did this. Then one day as we were both leaving for work, she decided to leave him out and put a throw over the couch saying that it would prevent him from chewing on the couch, even though I expressed concern. When we returned from work that evening, the dog had shredded the arm of the couch all the way down to the frame.

When I went back to the store to inquire about fixing this, I was told that if they had the same fabric in stock, it would only cost about $100. However, they no longer carried the fabric or could find any of the same fabric. The next option I was given was to remove the fabric from the back of my couch and use that to replace the arm, and just pick some random fabric to go on the back. The third option was to completely reupholster the couch, which would cost $500 for labor plus however much the fabric costs (anywhere from $15-25/yard).

My question is this: I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I saved up and used my hard earned money to buy a couch (it cost $1600) with the expectation that I would have the couch for years and years to come. I bought it new and am not really interested in having it look like a patchwork couch, otherwise I would have bought a used couch and fixed it up. I ideally would like to have been able to find the same fabric. Is it unreasonable for me to ask my roommate to pay for the cost to completely reupholster the couch since her dog destroyed it? If I had had the couch for longer, I would have maybe been willing to pay for the cost of a new fabric with her paying the cost of repair, but since I had the couch for less than two years, it was nowhere near being ready for new fabric. What’s your opinion? If my dog had destroyed something of hers, I expect that I would be responsible for cost of replacement (because my dog is my responsibility). But it makes me uncomfortable to ask her to pay close to $1,000. We’ve kind of tiptoed around the issue for a while now, but I’d like to address this sooner rather than later, and definitely before our lease winds down.
– Courtney

You are not out of line at all to ask her to pay to repair the couch. However, unless your roommate is a very good person, be aware that your request will likely have a negative impact on your roommate relationship.

Her objection likely won’t be to paying you for the repair. The objection will probably come in the high cost of the repair.

For example, I don’t think the total cost of every couch I’ve ever owned in my life adds up to $1,000. I would be scared to own such a couch because of the possibility of damaging it. I have actually not sat on the couches and chairs of friends because of the cost of it and the implication that I would be liable if I inadvertently damaged the couch.

Those types of feelings have a very strong chance of popping out in this conversation – that the presence of such an expensive couch made your roommate uncomfortable. How do you respond to that? It depends heavily on your roommate, but it’s something I’d think about before having the discussion.

Q2: Gift receipts
What do you think about taping gift receipts to the bottom of items given as gifts?

– Annie

I encourage it whenever possible. If you’re buying that person an item that comes from a store where it can easily be returned (like a department store), then you should give that person the option to do so.

For example, if I buy a DVD for a friend, I usually look at it as, “I bought them this DVD because I think they’ll like it. If they already have it, though, I do want them to have some DVD they would like.” Thus, it makes perfect sense to tape the receipt.

I extend a similar feeling to matters of taste. If I buy someone a vase because I think they’ll like it, I know that I might be pushing my tastes on them, so I’ll attach a receipt so they can pick out a home decor item that they would like.

I have absolutely no problem with someone returning a gift that I’ve purchased for them.

Q3: Why get married?
I am 25/f, never married, not in a relationship, no kids.

I am wondering about the nature of marriage. It seems to me that marriage is not about love – at least not ALL about love.

I have been thinking that marriage is about finding a suitable partner that you LIKE and see fit for the long term familywise. Am I wrong to think that, with regards to marriage, love is not the essence? As I get older and more experienced I find it harder and harder to “fall” in love – instead, there are many more other feelings – respect, security, help.

I am asking myself – is marriage like a business-contract in personal life? Like, you find a partner you can “work with” when it comes to creating a family, a person you can rely on and who can rely on you, but who you are not in love with – maybe someone you really like, someone to share your views on the world, someone to help you make your children happy?

I don’t want to sound like a person who doesn’t believe in love, but really, is a marriage based mainly on love? Can you really have love if you don’t have respect for your partner or if you are financially strained or if you and your partner are looking in different directions?
– Nona

I can’t comment on other people’s marriages, but I can comment on my own.

Sarah is the one person in my life that I can rely on completely. There is nothing in my life that I think or feel that I can’t or won’t tell her. Nothing. Because of that, she’s a constant part of my thought process on everything I do, from decisions about The Simple Dollar to who we’ll visit this Christmas season. The closest description I can give is that of a best friend, but it goes so far beyond any “best friend” I have had prior to her in my life that such comparisons are like comparing the moon and the sun.

Because of that deep reliance, I am quite willing (as is she) to incorporate her as a deep part of everything I want for my future. Simply put, my future isn’t a future I want if she’s not in it.

Marriage, to me, is simply a public way of saying that to everyone. I’m publicly telling others that Sarah is someone I trust that deeply and intend to spend the rest of my life with, for better or worse. I don’t take that pledge lightly, and I don’t intend to ever break it.

I think there are a lot of people who do not take it that seriously. I don’t know what marriage means for them.

Q4: Lonely Christmas
I’m going to be spending Christmas Day alone. While this does have a good side – no Christmas gifts to buy! – I am left feeling rather lonely and depressed about this state of affairs. Do you have any suggestions for making this day go any better?

– Marcus

It sounds like you want the “people” part of Christmas without the “gift” part of Christmas (at least in part).

If that’s the case, make the “people” part of Christmas part of your day as much as you can. Place a call to the people you care about most that day and wish each of them a wonderful Christmas.

Often, the reason people give gifts is to express that they care for someone in a way that they have difficulty expressing with words. I don’t think that’s an entirely bad thing, as long as the gift genuinely comes from the heart and doesn’t come from the Wal-Mart discount rack. If this causes you to re-think Christmas gifts, go get a few small items and then distribute them quietly and anonymously on the doorsteps or mail slots of people you care about on Christmas day, just to remind them that you care for them.

Another idea: spend Christmas day helping out at a soup kitchen or some other type of volunteer work. Every time I do such work, I find it very deeply fulfilling.

Q5: College athletic compensation
Do you think college athletes should be directly compensated beyond their scholarship?

– Rodney

I believe that the NCAA should not allow direct compensation of athletes for their play at the university.

However, I believe the NCAA should allow schools to sign athletes to personal service contracts that become valid when they graduate, enabling them to receive whatever compensation the university sees as being fair for promoting the university, appearing in university advertising, and helping with future recruiting.

So, for example, a prized athlete is considering going to school A. That player would receive a scholarship, but they might also recieve a contract from the school for the time after they graduate for personal services such as recruiting and school promotion.

This serves a lot of purposes. One, it helps to push away some of the underhanded dealing in college sports. Two, it does allow the player to receive compensation for their school using their likeness in future promotion after they’re no longer a student-athlete. Three, it encourages students to actually graduate instead of just leaving school and turning pro in their sport of choice, which is somewhat the point of college athletics (at least on paper). Four, it gives those kids some insurance on their talent – if you’re a great athlete, go to college, and get hurt because of that choice, you’ve just lost a huge portion of your financial future.

Yes, I’m sure top athletes would get ridiculous personal service contract offers from universities who want top-notch programs. On the other hand, those athletes will help sell expensive seats at the sports stadiums, help drive university merchandise sales, and aid in recruiting at a later time.

Q6: Preparing for a layoff
I’m looking at a potential layoff in the next few weeks and can’t help but feeling panicked about it, though looking at things on paper has part of me thinking we should be “fine”. I thought I’d send our basic numbers to you, in hopes that you could serve as an impartial judge of if I’m crazy to be nervous and panicked. Our combined income is 175K, 95K for my husband and 80K for myself. Our take home pay falls a little over 8K a month, and my husband contributes the full $16,500 to his 401K each year. (I had been contributing 10% but dropped to 1% when I learned of the likely layoff). The remaining balance on our mortgage is right at 290K and the monthly payment (PITI) is $2146. (Our original mortgage was 332K, we have been here 2 years, and our interest rate is 5.625% – best available at the time. No PMI as we did a buyout as we put 10% down.). Our total monthly expenses, including the mortgage but not including food, falls in around $3200 a month (includes things such as cable tv, xm radio, that I know we could cut if needed). We have no credit card debt, and our cars (a 2007 and a 2009) are completely paid off. I should also mention that we have 60K in savings, 20K in IRA’s, and my husband has at least 80K in his 401K, probably more.

The way I’m working things out on paper, even without changing his 401K contributions my husband’s take home should be a little over 4K a month, which would cover our $3200 a month in bills, which could be less if we cut some non-needed things such as XM radio. We wouldn’t be able to eat out a lot, or buy expensive groceries, but as long as he is employed we should be “fine” right? Plus I should be able to bring in $1200 a month in unemployment benefits as well.

I am actively job seeking and have gone on several interviews, though each company was promising they did tell me that despite the interview they actually don’t have positions available, just that they are looking to hire when they work out their 2011 budgets. That was discouraging as I was not aware of that going into either interview.

I am also able to move from my health insurance plan to my husband’s at a reasonable rate (essentially the same amount I pay with my company now) once the layoff occurs.

I realize many people are in worse situations and on paper this seems like it should work, but I can’t help feeling like this is going to be awful. I did go through my father being laid off in my early teens which was devastating for our family and probably the reason I am so panicked over this that I feel like things will never get better.
– Jennifer

It is going to be awful, but you’re in pretty good shape to handle it right now.

Job loss is never easy, no matter how much you prepare for it. It sounds as if you and your husband are in pretty good shape with regards to planning for it.

If I were you, I would cut those nonessentials. You’re not going to want to dip into that savings unless you have to, so I would ask myself, for each expense, whether that expense is really worth digging into your savings. Is XM radio really worth digging into your savings?

Remember, even in this situation, inevitable negative things will happen. A car will break down. A hot water heater will need repair. You’ll still need to be able to cover those things, and the best way to handle that is to trim the non-essentials for now.

Q7: Why Christmas?
I don’t understand Christmas at all. I mean, I understand it from the sense of giving things to your loved ones to show how much you care for them and I understand on some level the whole birth of Jesus thing, but why do we have a Christmas tree? Why do people put up lights outside their home?

– Erin

The Christmas tree’s origins are shrouded in the mists of time, but it’s fairly clear from what we do know that, like a lot of other pieces of “tradition,” it was incorporated into Christmas from cultural elements already existing in an area. There are indications of this in medieval Russia and Germany, plus there are stories of St. Boniface cutting down a tree in the Christmas season in “defiance” of Thor (a Norse god) sometime in the 700s. It’s more of a cultural heritage thing than a Christmas thing, though they are amalgamated together.

The idea of Christmas lights actually has a religious root, harkening back to early Christianity when a worshipper would place a candle in the window to signify that there was some service going on in this building. Over time, as the Christmas tree came into prevalence, the candles were moved to the trees. Electric lighting transformed that tradition into the modern one with lights.

In a modern sense, I view Christmas lights as a greeting, a way to say “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas” to anyone who passes by.

If you look at any mass social event, you’ll start realizing that the rituals are fairly odd and usually peppered with a very long history.

Q8: Diversifying retirement savings
When considering diversification of retirement funds, should I spread my retirement funds across separate investment banks, or is simply buying into a set of diversified mutual funds at one institution enough?

I have a retirement account at Vanguard, and I’m considering moving my fiancee’s retirement funds over there as well. Is having all of our eggs in one investment bank basket risking anything significant?
– Stephen

It’s not a bad idea to do this if you easily can.

Here’s why: if your investment house goes under (like, for example, Vanguard) and that house is protected by SIPC insurance (as most of them are), you’ll get up to $250,000 of your investment returned to you, most likely in the form of an account at another institution. Anything above $250,000 is likely lost. Note that this does not protect you against investment losses, just against the failure of your investment house.

For the end user, it’s much like FDIC insurance.

In the end, your best bet is always to diversify. Too many eggs in one basket is never a good idea.

Q9: Career in music industry
I graduated college with my bachelor’s in May of 2009, majoring in finance. Despite my education, I have made terribly poor financial decisions. I have $6000 of credit card debt, $20,000 in student loans, and $8,000 principal left on a 2003 Subaru Forester I bought used. I have been working for a year and half in Commercial Real Estate doing accounting, making a salary of $28,500. I lived with friends for a year and just moved home in September (the first smart decision I have made in years!). I am working to pay my credit card balance down as quickly as possible.

Now, relating this to your article… I currently have a job, but if I had a career, it would be in music licensing. I am fascinated with the concept of music as intellectual property and learning about digital copyright law. I have always been too afraid to pursue this and for the first time in my life, I have realized it is okay to learn about and enjoy what you like!

I have an opportunity to interview for an internal wholesaler position at a company in Nashville. My cousin works at the company and she offered to be a reference. However, she knows my ambitions are not long term. This is her career and I do not want my ambitions for change to affect her negatively in anyway.

I would much rather move to Nashville and work an entry level position at BMI, Sony, or another company then work in insurance. However, I am nervous about applying for these positions from Cleveland. I have often heard of HR representatives not considering resumes out of state.

As I see it, I have the following options:

· Take a job with the insurance company and relocate to Nashville, while network and looking for opportunities career wise.

· Pay off my credit card, save $6-7,000, quit my job, and move to Nashville to look for a career position.

· Pay off my credit card, and try looking for my career in Nashville from Cleveland.
– Jenny

Think about it this way: if your company is in Nashville and there are lots of good candidates in Nashville, why would you pay for someone to relocate from Cleveland? Why would you pay for an interviewee to fly in from there?

If I were you, I’d relocate to Nashville with a job in hand – your first option. You can then spend your extra time seeking out your dream job. I don’t think I would move there with no job opportunities in hand.

Chase your dream. You’ll never regret it, even if you don’t completely grab the brass ring.

Q10: Christmas carols
What’s your favorite Christmas carol?

– Amy

Let me put it this way: for most of December, the soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is pretty much on constant play around here.

I don’t have any particular favorite carols to sing, however. I am learning to play quite a few on the piano right now.

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. Katie says:

    Call me a crazy animal person, but it seems a little cruel that the dog should be expected to be crated all day every day to protect a piece of furniture. Perhaps the letter writer can ask the roommate to cover the cost of the repair and then say that they’ll store the couch at her parents’ house (if that’s a possibility) until she moves into a pet-free setting.

  2. Johanna says:

    @Katie: If you’re a crazy animal person, then I am too. If there’s really no other way to keep the dog from destroying the couch (keeping the couch and the dog in separate rooms with a closed door between them, training the dog not to rip up the furniture), then the dog and the couch don’t belong in the same house.

    I realize that’s not the question Courtney asked, but it is a relevant concern, since once Courtney gets her couch fixed, she’s going to need to keep the dog from destroying it again.

    I think a reasonable answer to the question she did ask would be to have the roommate pay for the “fabric off the back of the couch” fix, and then keep the couch with its back to the wall or to another piece of furniture. Isn’t this how most couches are placed, anyway? I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask the roommate to pay an extra $900 just because Courtney is worried about what the back of her couch looks like.

  3. Kestra says:

    About marriage, there’s nothing that says you have to do it, but you might want to some day.

    I think for me, it’s not that I love him, so I want to get married. It was because when I met my husband he was the person I wanted to marry, so that translates into love. Not sure if that makes any sense. But we were both 30ish, and I had very clear ideas about what my ideal partner would be like. That includes values, morals, finances, physical attraction, sexual compatibility. I figured if I found that type of person who fit all my criteria and there was nothing I would change about him, and I couldn’t see myself ever finding someone better suited, then I should marry him. Luckily he felt the same way about me, though not so analytical, as guys think differently, and we got married.
    That level of commitment was important to us both. We don’t intend to have kids, but we still wanted to get married and didn’t even live together first.
    Definitely, marriage is not, and should not, be all about love. You do have to compromise and discuss things and accept that you have to live with another person that isn’t exactly like you. I think it’s only worth it, if you find the right person, unless you’re both extremely easy to get along with.

  4. Raghu Bilhana says:

    Response to Q3.

    Marriage is all about having faith in each other. Beleiving to the core that your spouse will be there for you when needed. Making sacrifices for each other. Sharing things with each other.

    The real happiness not just in a marriage but in any relationship comes when you start to sacrifice, share. Real happiness comes when you feel happy because your spouse is happy. Real happiness comes not from gifting material things. If your spouse becomes happy only when you gift her material things, that is not happiness.

    Marriage is absolutely not a business contract. Any couple in a happy and meaningful marriage would be offended by that term.

    If you think marriage is something of a contract, or there would be no love in a marriage, then my sincere advice to you is to absolutely not enter the sacred institution of marriage. You are better off just caring about yourself, then you dont have to think about another soul.

    The problem with today’s younger generation is that they did not have good older generation to teach them high ideals.

  5. Kevin says:


    You are way too attached to your stuff. It’s just a couch. I know you’re only 25, so $1,600 might seem like a lot of money to spend on a couch in your eyes, but eventually you’ll realize that that’s just what decent furniture costs. You’ve got a $1,600 couch? Whoop-de-doo, so do I. I have 2 of ’em, actually. And a $3,000 dining room table. And a $2,000 bed. And futons, coffee tables, lamps, you name it. Welcome to being grown up. We don’t go around bragging about our $800 lawnmower, because everyone knows that’s just what they cost.

    That said, you’re completely entitled to expect your roommate to make this right. It’s HER dog, and HER responsibility to repair/replace anything it damages or destroys.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    @Katie and Joanna: I disagree that crates are cruel. Many animals find them comforting and calming once they get used to it. Crate training is an effective tool for new pet owners. (Our dogs used to play and sleep in them even when we were home.)

    My concern would be not addressing the pet’s behavior. It sounds like the poor dog is either anxious or bored — and that needs to be taken care of. The couch is just one problem; other things are going to get damaged as well.

  7. Tyler says:

    @Courtney: You gave the final OK when you knowingly left the home without the dog placed in the roommate’s bedroom. Best offer you can bring forth is to go half+half. This also goes back to the discussions you would/should have had when the roommate discussed adopting a pet.

    @Nona: You need love in a marriage. If all you do is “respect” the person, what happens when you DO, unexpectedly, grow attached to someone other than your spouse? It may not happen, but it may.

  8. Nick says:


    Your answer to NCAA student payments is one of the most reasonable I’ve read. When I hear people debating this, I have the same nagging concern that these athletes should be compensated in some way since the universities gain SO MUCH from their skills.

    If they aren’t compensated then you get all the under-the-table things and they realize that they should go pro while their skills are at their prime so they can actually earn some money. Heck. I would do the same thing.

    I love your idea on the compromise though.

  9. Laura says:

    I agree with Courtney here. I’m really appalled that people are “blaming” her for this.

    Her roommate absolutely needs to pay for whatever repairs are necessary to the couch. I think the roommate is at fault for leaving the dog unattended. The roommate did an “experiment” with her dog’s behavior, which seems to me like it was based on wishful thinking. But it was Courtney who had to suffer the consequences.

    It also sounds like the roommate somewhat manipulated or convinced Courtney into agreeing to leave the dog out. Disrespecting your roommate’s wishes, and having to “convince” them or lie to them to do something, is not considerate.

    Courtney bought the couch before the roommate had a dog. She may not have even know the roommate was planning to get a dog. So I don’t think it’s right to blame her and say, “shame on you, why would you buy an expensive couch like that anyway?”

    $1600 is a LOT of money for a 25 year old to buy a couch. I myself am 25 and just bought a $1100 couch 2 years ago. I’m pretty anal about it myself. (Considering that the closest thing I had to a couch before that was a futon mattress I got from FreeCycle, yes, it’s a big step for a 25 year old.) I love dogs, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to protect your belongings and to have a respectful roommate. I understand wanting to save money and buy items that will last a long time, so you can have money for other things that matter to you in the future.

    This could definitely cause some hurt feelings though. Since the roommate hasn’t already reimbursed Courtney, it sounds like it’s going to be a struggle. And I can see the roommate feeling that it’s unfair that the fabric is discontinued so that she should have to pay so much more.

    If there’s only so much money the roommate is willing to reimburse, I would suggest redoing the arm with the back fabric for now, and replacing the back with a coordinating fabric. (She should get the money now, but hold off on the actual replacement until after the roommate and her dog leave, if Courtney can’t store the couch somewhere else.) Courtney could ask the roommate to write a rent check for the usual rent plus the cost of the repair. A few years from now, Courtney could always replace all of the fabric (with her own money though), when she feels like the fabric is worth replacing and perhaps might have done anyway.

    Another option would be to buy ALL of the replacement fabric now. Put some of it on the back. Then pay for the labor to just repair the arm with the existing fabric. Then, later, pay for the labor to replace the rest with the rest of the replacement fabric. That way, Courtney has the fabric on hand in case anything else happens, and she has the option to fully replace later, but the couch still gets repaired in the meantime.

    At the same time, Courtney can try to find a better bargain on the fabric. The fabric the furniture store provides might be expensive – try shopping around to find less expensive upholstery fabric. Local fabric stores sometimes have sales, or you can shop online. Then take that back to the store for the labor.

  10. Courtney20 says:

    Regarding Q6, I’m not seeing where Jennifer would have to pay for non-essentials out of savings? By my count, they are going to have about $5200 of monthly income ($4000 from hubby + $1200 unemployment) with $3200 in fixed monthly expenses, plus food and a “reasonable amount” in additional health insurance costs. Unless hubby’s job is very unstable, I don’t see any reason why they can’t continue to enjoy a few non-essential things (XM is only a couple bucks a month, cable maybe $100-150?) instead of immediately going into panic mode unnecessarily.

    (I’m not the Courtney in Q1, btw – our couch was $500 and has cat scratches on the ends, but we don’t really care that much)

  11. Jan says:

    I have spent more Christmas’ alone than I care to remember because my daughter always went with her dad to Arizona for school break when she was a child and have learned to treat myself well that day. Buy yourself some great food to eat, pick up an interesting book to read and a movie or two. Oh yes, be sure to take a nice nap! I think Trent misunderstood the reader. There is a fear to being alone on Christmas and it wasn’t about not having to do any gift buying – they were trying to make light of the situation.

  12. Michelle says:

    Q1: I think the answer to Courtney’s question has to do with her level of agreement when the roommate decided to get a dog. Did she say yes, that’s a great idea? Did she express expectations about how the dog would be managed and trained? Did the roommate decide without her to bring a dog home one day, and if so what did Courtney say about that? From her comments of letting the roommate talk her into leaving the dog out on the day of the couch-eating, and that the issue has yet to be addressed, it sounds like Courtney may not assert her expectations as well as she should. Therefore, I think they should split the cost of the full couch repair 50/50.

    I don’t understand Trent’s logic about the value of the couch being an issue of how much the roommate should pay. If you run a red light and total my new BWM, should you only reimburse me for a used Kia? Your negligence damaged something of mine, your opinion on how I spent my money are irrelevant.

  13. Michelle says:

    Q3: As you noted, there are many things about marriage that require an ability to make decisions together, much like business owners would do. So yes, it’s very important to marry someone who shares your values and whom you trust to be responsible and to have your mutual best intersts in mind.

    I’ve seen marriages fails because while they were madly in love, the spouse just not good partner material. But I’ve also seen marriages fail because while the partner was looked great “on paper” and had all the traits you mentioned, the relationship lacked intimacy. Rarely is love-only or practicality-only sustainable over the long term. So I think the answer is, you need both love and partnership. It’s difficult to find, yes, but worth the pursuit. And if you don’t find it, that’s really okay too.

  14. arvin says:

    Trent, if the most important aspect to marriage for you is simply to be able to publicly display your undying love for your wife, would you be willing to abandon the tax and legal advantages of marriage in the eyes of the government in order to afford others, like homosexuals, the same right to publicly express their love?

    It seems to me that if the government chooses not to legally recognize certain peoples’ right to marry, they shouldn’t recognize ANY peoples’ marriages. If social conservatives cry that civil unions are already equal legal treatment, then the government should only recognize civil unions for all couples, not just heterosexuals.

    I was partly in support of the initiative in California to ban divorce; since gay marriage was banned because some (and by no means all) religions objected to it, divorce should also be banned because some (and by no means all) religions also forbid that. Marriage is a sacred vow, right?

  15. Marle says:

    @Michelle – the letter could also be read as the roommate had just adopted a dog when the letterwriter and the roommate started living together. It also doesn’t say if the place had been Courtney’s, the roommate’s, or a new place they just moved into. I think how much responsibility the roommate has depends on the situation. If she moved into Courtney’s house and then brought home a dog without telling Courtney, I think she has a lot more responsibility than if Courtney moved into her house and there already was a dog, to cover the two extreme examples.

    I also disagree when you say the cost doesn’t matter. First of all, most 25 year olds don’t have $1000 in savings. If she doesn’t have it, then it doesn’t really matter if we (or Courtney) decide that she owes it. Second, a couch is different from a BMW, in the sense that if I’m worried about damaging your BMW I don’t have to ask not to borrow it (also, why in that example do you not have full coverage auto insurance so the only cost is the deductable), but if I’m worried about damaging your couch it’s hard for me to ask you to take it out of our living room. Did the roommate know the couch originally cost $1600 or have an idea that it could cost $1000 to fix? When I was 25, I had a $200 couch. If the roommate didn’t know it could cost that much to fix, it’s not fair to expect the roommate to pay that.

    In the end, The roommate should pay an amount she can afford to Courtney, and then either Courtney and her couch or roommate and dog should find a different place to live, and Courtney should no longer live with roommates with pets.

  16. almost there says:

    With regards to dogs, roomates and expensive furniture. Don’t mix them. If one cannot afford to live on their own they take a chance cohabitating with a stranger and owning expensive things. I would have had renter insurance if not a homeowner. Being young is a time of growing and learning by one’s mistakes. I know I sure made plenty. In hindsight I would have driven less expensive vehicles and had less pricy things until I established my own home. Yes, I am a dog nut and my furniture has marks from a long dead dog going through the puppy stages. I refuse to repair or replace the chewed on table leg or recliner handle because it brings back fond memories of the dog.

  17. Jackie says:

    I spent Christmas alone a couple years ago when I was snowed in. It was a thought proving experience for me, not exactly fun, but interesting.

    I thought about what I do and don’t like about Christmas, and tried to make the best of it. I like: thoughtful giving, surprises, looking at lights, cookies, spending time with my family. I don’t like being in crowds I can’t escape from, the feeling of having over-eaten, being around children, carols, Jesus-talk or getting up a dawn. So I did the things I like and didn’t do the things I don’t. I’d already bought gifts and brought them to my family at a later time, and I got to stretch out the anticipation of the surprise for a few more weeks that way. I slept in and then made cookies (which I never ever do, so it was a treat for me) and had a quiet day alone with a novel I’d be dying to read. I called a bunch of family and friends, trying to time it to not interrupt anyone’s dinner and had nice conversations that were probably more meaningful than just saying hi in a mad crowd. Then, in the evening I bundled up with some spiked cocoa and took a walk through the neighborhood and admired all the decorated houses.

  18. Marle says:

    @arvin – Gays already have the right to publicly express their love. Gays can get married in churchs in many denomotions and they can call themselves wives or husbands. Trent doesn’t have to give up any rights for them to do that.

    What gays don’t have the right to is things like visit their spouse in the hospital, or keep the property they’ve shared if one spouse dies. At best, they get taxed on the “inheritence”, at worst, the family of the spouse that passed away get to take half or sometimes more of everything the couple owned. And no, civil unions don’t always fix those things. There are thousands of laws and regulations in this country that apply to marriage and married couples that are vital for two people who are spend their lives together, and no one is required to read “civil union” were ever it says “marriage”. Civil union is not equal to marriage, and never will be, and there’s no good reason to play a semantics game with it.

    We need more marriage, not less. And there is no good reason to ban something because “some (and by no means all) religions forbid that”. We’d have an awful lot of things banned if we went by that rule.

  19. Anna says:

    @Courtney –
    Another suggestion for the repair on the couch is to take the back of the couch fabic to repair the arm and than find a cordinating fabric to recover the back of the couch – its done all the time in the design world. Use some of the cordinating fabric to have some pillows made and maybe even a bed for Fido.
    I understand that you are upset about your couch being distroyed, I’ve had great roommates with terrible dogs before and had to replace carpeting because one wasn’t potty trained and the roommate didn’t care to clean it up or train the dog.
    I would ask the roommate to also repair the couch, a landlord would ask for the tentant to replace the wall if it was damanged, even if it was 60 years old at full cost because it wouldn’t need to be replaced unless it had been damaged, I’d say same thing for the couch. Obviously you can offer to split it but I wouldn’t expect it if it was my dog.

  20. arvin says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said, Marle, perhaps I was being too facetious in my way of expressing it.

    I think what we both want is a matter of consistency… that a society doesn’t function properly when it makes a judgment on which of its citizens are allowed to be afforded rights that its own Constitution deems to be reserved for all.

    Of course I would love for marriage to be available to all people… but honestly making gay marriage legal only opens one door but leaves loads more unopened… again, as a matter of consistency, I think marriage should then be allowed for matters of polygamy and even incest among consenting adults (since, after all, you are not allowed to question or prevent an adult straight couple’s desire to get married based on the chances of genetic abnormalities in their children, or psychological trauma between themselves and their offspring). As a matter of consistency shouldn’t we march for their rights to marry as well?

    That’s why, partly as a matter of satire, I was suggesting the other option… that government stay out of the marriage business together… and by that I mean anybody can call themselves married, remove ALL benefits marriage has over civil unions (or, better yet, transfer all those extra rights down to civil unions), and don’t even recognize the terms “marriage” and “divorce”… merely the creation and dissolution of a civil union contract. Hey, we’d make money in taxes if marriage doesn’t lead to tax breaks!

  21. Des says:

    RE: Dog & Couch – Regardless of what Courtney decides, I think there is a valuable lesson in this about how much material possessions cost. It doesn’t just cost $1600 to own a $1600 couch. You have to pay for maintenance and repairs for the life of that couch. If you can’t afford the maintenance on an item, you can’t afford the item – even if you really, really want it (and even if you think you’ll keep it forever).

    There is a reason why you start your life with cheaper items, why you begin with a starter home first, and why you initially invest only a few hundred dollars. You are young and still learning. You will make mistakes and learn from them. It is cheaper to learn when you’re young than to make the same mistakes later in life. This was an expensive way to learn that pets (and, I would add, young children) do not mix with pricey furniture.

  22. Briana @ GBR says:

    @ #3: There are people who get married for love, there are people who get married for business, and there are people who do both. I’m engaged and we want to get married 1st and foremost because we love each other. We’re best friends, and excellent partners. We also understand the business side of it: reduced expenses, tax benefits, extra income, another parent for future children, etc. Don’t feel pressured to get married; it really isn’t for everyone. But don’t knock it; it comes at different times for different people.

  23. Marle says:

    Oh, ok arvin. I get your point.

    I agree, I think we both want consistancy. I think marriage should be allowed for polygamy and incest as well, though polygamy needs a little extra work since some marriage rights don’t scale well to three or more. For example, do social security survivor benefits get divided up equally, doubled (some amount per person no matter how many), or just go to the first spouse? All of the above have problems, and that’s a long debate for another place.

    What we do disagree on is scrapping marriage for civil unions. Marriage has a long history of being tweaked legally for the benefits that two people sharing their lives need. I don’t see the benefit of scrapping that whole system and re-writing the rules from scratch.

    Also, when it comes to taxes, married people don’t always pay less. Most years my husband and I have paid exactly the same as if we were still single, and a few years we’ve even paid more. There’s no specific tax credit just for being married. Basically how it works is that if you both make similar amounts of money, you pay the same as if you’re single, though if one doesn’t work or makes very little money you’ll probably come out ahead. The reason we’ve paid more in taxes is because we make similar money, but if we weren’t married we could itemize deductions for one of us while the other took the standard deduction and it would come out higher than if we itemized together or took the married standard deduction. Also, if you have the misfortune of filing married filing separately you can run into also sorts of problems. Certain credits are randomly not allowed with that filing status (and only that filing status) and if your spouse itemizes taxes you do not get a standard deduction. So it’s not clear cut that married people have lower taxes.

  24. Kerry D. says:

    On Why Christmas: another way to think about it, if Christianity isn’t a strong belief for you, is as a part of a Festival of Light–celebrated around the Solstice, similarly Hanukkah, where Light overcomes darkness… literally the Solstice celebrates the point where daylight begins to overcome darkness (astronomically speaking, nights become shorter.) To me, in the broadest sense, it becomes a statement of the presence of hope. And all those jillions of lights burning up lots of electricity echo that statement, so I kinda like it.

  25. krisitne says:

    I like your interpretation. And I have no idea why Trent skirts the word pagan. Christmas trees are an adopted pagan ritual. Modern day Wiccans have a closer ancient relationship to Christmas trees than Christians do. Anyway, I am an atheist, and I love my childhood baptist ritual of a tree, advent and Santa, and perpetuate them. To me they represent the warmth of love and family and friends in the cold of winter.

    Arvin- well said. A religious marriage and a legal marriage are indeed 2 different things. If people have religious beliefs forbidding- fine, let it be forbidden in your church until that institution evolves, or not. As far as our presumably secular non-religiously discriminating gov goes, I see no logical reason why gay marriage between 2 consenting adults is not legal. Perhaps the reason is really IRS based.

    Excellent statement of what it takes for a marriage to succeed.

  26. Bill says:

    @Q10 Best Christmas carol

    Hands down Carol of the bells!!!

    I don’t know the musical term for it but I like it when 1/2 the singers start later. I heard it sang once live with 3 ladies singing at offsetting times and it was fantastic.

  27. kat says:

    Trent, my comment about christmas traditions was not posted please let me know what you thought would be offensive in it. I truly was not trying to offend, and really was interested in the legends you mentioned.

  28. Bill says:

    I learned this year for the first time about Krampus, google it. He was the evil guy that traveled with Saint Nick and punished the bad kids. They still do this is Austria on December 5th. Men dress up in scary mask and wonder around town scaring little kids. Sounds kinda fun.

  29. Jeroen says:

    @Q7: I think Trent is wrong on the christmas light thing. I seem to remember from my history classes that pre-christians used candles during the winter Soltice to ‘call in the light’ and keep away bad spirtis on the longest night of the year.

    The fact that they used a christmas tree, is because it keeps it leaves and was, therefore, a symbol of life during the winter. Or something like that.

  30. deRuiter says:

    Nashville, Trent’s correct, move to Nashville with JOB. Work on your sideline around your job. As a person who graduated with a degree in finance and is broke and in debt, perhaps your decision making skills are not the best. The job climate is very tough right now, with hoards of desperate people unemployed or underemployed. The likelihood of your becomeing a smash success in a glamour business like country western music management isn’t all that great. It seems to me that with the ability of any person with a CD burner to copy music for free, that this is not perhgaps such a growth industy, but then I don’t know! Any glamour / entertainment industry has loads off capable competition. You having a job to support yourself would be a leg up for you. After graduation you sponged for a year off friends, and now you are sponging off your folks, and you are still in debt despite a degree in finance. Maybe you better get a part time job as a pizza delivery man or waiter and not move to Nashville until you are debt free and have job.

  31. Mel says:

    @Q7: Coming from the Southern Hemishpere, I had my first 27 or so Christmases in summer. I’m not at all religious, and then Christmas was about seeing family and friends, smiles and happiness, and of course food! This is my 3rd winter Christmas (and first white Christmas!) and those things still apply, but it’s also about keeping warm in the kitchen in the dark evenings, baking cookies with my in-laws and having light around. It’s something to look forward to when it’s -10 celsius outside. It’s a bright spot in an otherwise cold and dark period – something my native country sorely misses in winter!

    @Bill (#28) Here in Central Europe (right next to Austria) Dec 5 is St Nicholas’ day. Traditionally, St Nicholas travels with an angel and a devil (never quite worked the exact translation, but he doesn’t have a name). Children sing a song for St Nicholas, and good children are given something nice. Bad children are taken away in the devil’s sack. My boyfriend tells me about being *really* scared when he was small that the devil would take him away! It’s becoming more about kids wearing flashing horns, but I have seen at least one group with 2 extremely scary devils.

    @Q3 Perhaps I have a slightly unique perspective on marriage – my parents lived together but never married. Until I was 14 I assumed they were married. My boyfriend (ok, fiance) are getting married next year – for me it’s not important, but we want a family and for him it is important to be married first. So I guess for us the ‘marriage’ part is purely practical (although here there are no tax etc benefits), but that isn’t to say the relationship is. He is my best friend, we can talk about and share everything, we’re there for each other always, we play together, are silly together and bring out the child in each other. We also work well together (in ‘job’ work and in household etc work), most of our beliefs and values are the same or compatible (or we know where the compromise is), have similar hopes and dreams and all the other practical things. To me, that’s what love is – both of those things. The marriage part is just a label, which may or may not give legal or financial benefits. But the intangibles are absolutely required. I can’t wait to raise children with him, share my life with him and to be old with him. Without that, why be with him – with or without a label?

  32. renee says:

    “Lonely Christmas”- my first Christmas without the kids I made special for me. I bought a small pack of good coffee, candles, bath salts, a movie I wanted to see, cooked foods I liked but nobody else did. Spoil yourself, that is your Christmas gift to you. Make it special for you, it kind of recharges your soul.

  33. Mol says:

    Good Morning Trent,
    Me and my fiance are looking to open a joint checking account with a credit union, but I was unable to find this option to compare rates at bankrate.com Do you know any websites to compare rates as thoroughly on checking accounts with credit unions? Thank you.

  34. Mike says:

    @Nona; I’ve been married for almost 25 years to the same woman and I wouldn’t trade that gift for anything. Love is more than feelings, it is caring deeply and acting selflessly for the other person, not because of any endearing quality of the other person, but simply as an act of self sacrificial love. That’s what the Greeks called agape.

  35. jim says:

    kat, if your post had any links in it then it may have automatically been put into ‘moderation’ which means it is just sitting waiting for manual approval. If you repost the content without the link it will probably work. I doubt Trent is manually deleting things or manually denying posts.

  36. jim says:

    Q1, Courtneys roommate is responsible for fixing the couch. It doesn’t matter if the couch is expensive or ‘too’ expesive or whatever, if your dog shreads someones couch you should fix it. And this is not Courney’s fault in any way, she wasn’t responsible for telling the roommate in advance that if the dog ruins her stuff that it should be paid for. That goes without saying. Ideally the couch should be made as good as new. But the roommate may not be able to afford that so maybe they can compromise and find a cheaper solution. But really the roomate should fix the couch, no questions asked and no argument. Whether or not she can afford to is another issue. If she can’t afford it then you can hardly ask her to do it.

    The dog and couch should be separated.

  37. jim says:

    Q8, if a stock broker goes bankrupt then you should not simply lose your investments. Your stocks and bonds should be registered in your name so they should simply transfer to you. The broker can not raid those and sell them as they are in your name. The real risk is in the case of fraud like pyramid schemes. Also the SIPC insures up to $500k per individual for the situation where stocks ‘disappear’ or are ‘lost’.

  38. SwingCheese says:

    Re: Christmas Trees. I can’t speak to the “tree” itself, but it was common practice for ancient Romans to decorate their homes with evergreen garlands for Saturnalia, which was celebrated at the end of December.

  39. Marriage, it IS about love. Love encompasses all the other things that are involved in the decision to marry from financial issues, commitment issues, trust, sacrifice and everything else.

    My marriage is successful because of love. We love eachother so much that we come to equal compromises about how we use our money, we love eachother so much that we choose how to raise our child, we love eachother so much that we want to sacrifice small parts of our independence for one another, we love eachother so much that we want to spend the rest our lives enjoying the company of the other. I love that he fixes the computer and hosts my website, he loves that I’m a whiz in the kitchen.

    There’s no ‘business’ about it. There’s no separation between love and marriage.

    Marriage may be a contract but it would (or should) never be signed if love isn’t the reason.

  40. Jen says:

    I disagree with the comment on sports players. I don’t think the players should get more money until they start offering the same deal to students who excel in academics. Colleges give people in sports tons more money than people who are going there for academics. That has always and will continue to annoy me. Those of us on the honor roll still struggled to get money for school but all the sports players at my high school who got C’s and D’s went to college for free. I won’t even touch on the special treatment that sports players get in high school and college get. Such a double standard. And then they would get MORE $$$??? Such crap! I think if I got a free ride to college and the opportunity to play college ball I would be incredibly grateful, not looking for a handout. I know this isn’t reality, but that is really depressing that they would expect more money :(

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