Updated on 06.05.14

Reader Mailbag: Filling in Weekends

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. Fundraising for starting a nonprofit
2. Thoughts on tiny homes
3. Financial benefits of marriage
4. Cell phone options
5. Student loan question
6. College savings
7. How I make money
8. High cost of living advice
9. Learning about investments
10. Books at library

The old tradition of summer has begun. Our calendar slowly fills in with events and guests and short trips and other things. Before long, our summer becomes more intense than the other seasons because of all of the events.

It’s better to be busy than to not have anyone who wants to see you, I guess, but it often feels like there’s no chance for even a lazy afternoon at home during the entire summer.

Q1: Fundraising for starting a nonprofit
I have been a pastor for the past 16 years. Started right out of college at age 20 and have been loving it. I am currently looking to start a new ministry working with parents with at risk/strong-willed children and starting a new church. The ministry to parents will one day earn it’s own income, since parents will pay for those services.

I was wondering if you have any advice on ways to fundraise or even to starting up a business that come generate income so I can focus what I am really passionate about. I am currently reading 4-hour work week and have read Rich Dad Poor Dad. Just looking for more info and advice.
– Jesse

My initial suggestion is to go to the people that you’ve made contacts with throughout your pastoral career and see if any of them will help you to get started, either through donation or investment. Since you have a lengthy pastoral career to draw on, you hopefully have some people to contact.

I would also look for places to speak to people who might be interested in investing or contributing. Look for Christian or homeschooling parent groups and talk to them about your plans.

If you want people to invest, you have to go to the people who would be interested in what you’re doing. In your case, you’re talking about Christians and parents (ideally, people who are both).

Q2: Thoughts on tiny homes
This is an interesting take on cutting back: Dump Your Mortgage for a 320 Square Foot Home. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

– Marilyn

If I were single or just married without children, this would be fantastic. Such a home would be inexpensive, easy to maintain, and still serve all of our needs.

However, with children, I’d be hesitant to live in a home that small. Children need some room and some privacy, particularly as they grow older. That home affords little of either.

Six years ago, I would have loved that house (it’s not terribly different than the apartment Sarah and I lived in at the time). Now, I wouldn’t be able to live there.

Q3: Financial benefits of marriage
I’m sure you may have fielded this question before, but is there a financial benefit to getting married? I’m in one of those modern long-term relationships; I’ve lived with my boyfriend for a couple years now, and we’ve been together for several before that. We’re in it till the end. We both individually fall in the 25% tax bracket ($34,500 – $83,600), and it will be a long time coming before we individually (or combined: $69,000- $139,500) make enough money to exceed those income levels to keep our taxes as low as possible. We’re not going to have kids, so forget any of those financial benefits. Personally, we’re both apathetic about the legal contract that comes with marriage, but my hyper-pragmatic self wants to make sure I’m not missing out on something that could help me add more to my Roth IRA each year. I know there’s probably some legal details that might present obstacles…like leaving money behind to your partner or maybe having access to each other’s financial information (or something?) that we’re losing out on, but I’m not very concerned about those. I guess what I’m wondering about is the cash-money aspect. We are not particularly for or against going to court and getting that signed paper that makes us married. A good, tangible financial impact, though, would be a good fact to know.

– Debbie

Several benefits come with marriage, but you’ve said you’re not interested in some of them (issues dealing with leaving things behind for a partner).

The biggest benefit in your situation for marriage is that many employers make it very difficult to share benefits with anyone other than an actual spouse. This is vital if either one of you loses your job or chooses to switch jobs.

There’s also the legal recourse if one of you does something harmful to the other. If you’re married, you both have more rights during a split than if you’re not married.

There are other minor benefits, but you’re already enjoying many of them due to cohabitation.

Q4: Cell phone options
Do you own a cell phone? I have a cell phone but hardly ever use it. I was thinking about getting rid of it (I have met my contract obligations therefore no fees would be incurred). My plan is around $50 per month. My husband feels that I should keep it in case of emergencies. What’s your take on cell phones? By the way, I live in the country and don’t have cell service at my home so I really only turn my phone on during my commute to work, doing errands.

– Sarah

I don’t use mine much, either, unless we’re traveling. My wife uses hers quite a lot, however, so it makes sense for me to have a second line rather than having a separate phone, at least in our case. We just have a shared minutes plan and she uses most of the minutes.

I think there’s a lot of value in having one for emergency used – a charged phone in the glove compartment can be a real help. However, the day-to-day usefulness of a cell phone depends heavily on how you live. It’s useful for some, not useful for others.

If you don’t find it useful, get a pay-as-you-go phone. You have to use quite a few minutes to get up to the $50 a month level. If you use just a handful, there are many such phones out there that are a better deal for you.

Q5: Student loan question
Currently I have about $30K in private grad school loans at a variable rate (now at around 4.5%, but has been as high as 9%) and about $65K in federal loans (fixed at 5%). During grad school I consolidated several times, not even really knowing what that was, but just doing it when everyone else did. Now that I’m out of school, it seems that many people I know have significantly better interest rates than I do. I’m not sure if this is tied to credit, but I have a great credit score and always have. Anyway, I’m wondering if there’s anything I can do at this point. Can I “consolidate” to a better rate? Are the federal and private loans always going to be separate, or can I consolidate them together? I get tons of offers to refinance my mortgage and tons of credit card offers, but no offers relating to my student loans, so I guess I wasn’t sure if there was anything that could be done at this point.

– Shelly

Generally, public and private loans can’t be consolidated together at a rate that makes such consolidation worthwhile. Some private consolidations do exist, but they generally don’t offer strong rates.

Your best bet is to simply snowball your debts. If I were you, I’d focus on making extra payments on whichever debt has the highest interest rate at the moment. This may switch in the future if rates adjust.

With rates that low, you won’t gain much from consolidation anyway, so I wouldn’t stress out about it.

Q6: College savings
I have two kids — 2 1/2 and 9 months. I would love to start a college fund for them, but we have very little to spare right now. I think we could swing about $50 a month for this. So I’m wondering — should we set up two separate accounts and put $25 in each? Or just one account? At this point, of course, it’s impossible to tell if either or both of them will even want to go to college. I would love your advice on this.

– Jane

I would set up two separate accounts, one for each child. You would be the trustee on both accounts and each child would be a beneficiary on one account.

It’s important to remember that many such 529 plans allow you to use the money for any educational purpose, at any point in life. They might not want to go to college straight out of high school, but many people choose to return to school when they’re older and that money would still be there for them.

I think setting up a 529 is one of the best things a parent can do for a child. I’d highly recommend it, even if you can only contribute a bit each month.

Q7: How I make money
I ran across your website today and enjoyed reading it so much. I read how you got started and it seemed to simple yet genuine. I subscribed and will enjoy reading every day. I just have one question and please pardon me for not really being computer literate, but, how did you make money from your website, “The Simple Dollar”? I understand that the articles are free but from reading how you got started and had your bills paid withing a short time I am very anxious to learn how you earned money from the website. I am in the same situation that you were and you can shed a little more light for me.

– Carolyn

I make money in a wide variety of ways. The biggest one is from the display ads that appear on the right hand column of the site. I do not earn very much from each page that people view – a fraction of a cent – but I have a lot of readers which makes it work.

I earn bits of money from various income streams. My books – 365 Ways to Live Cheap and The Simple Dollar – give me small royalty checks every few months. I sell PDFs that are collections of posts, too. I also earn a bit from Amazon from book sale referrals.

It adds up to enough for me and my family and it enables me to share all of my writings at no direct cost to the reader. It only works, though, because I have a lot of readers.

Q8: High cost of living advice
In Canada cost of living is extremely high, you should check out house prices on Vancouver Island (where we live). If it were you, and you wanted to buy a house and you had the choice, would you stay here or move to Texas? (Our goal is to buy a house.)

– Beth

Is your goal merely to buy any house or does your quality of life have anything to do with it? I’m not sure from your question.

If you’re just looking for inexpensive housing, there are many, many places that are far less expensive than Vancouver – and less expensive than Texas, too. Do some searching about cost of living in various places and you’ll find a wide variety of information.

However, if quality of life is important to you, I’d filter places you might move based on those factors first. What exactly are your requirements for moving to a particular place? What must they have for you to move there? Settle that, then use that as a filter to decide where to move.

I would probably choose Texas over Vancouver, myself. I’d probably enjoy Vancouver more from a cultural perspective, but the weather and the fact that relatives live there would point me toward Texas.

Q9: Learning about investing
I am looking to learn more about investing in the stock market using all types of investment strategies (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, short selling etc.). I have a BA and post-graduate from Simon Fraser in Business Administration and don’t plan to gain any formal certification as the ultimate goal of my studies, but I would like to gain a greater understanding of investment strategies I can apply for my personal finances. What would you recommend for a good online course or very good investment book?

– Matthew

The best one-shot book on investing I’ve ever read is The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by LeBoeuf, Larimore, and Lindauer. It’s reasonably entertaining, packs a lot of great information into one book, and presents a healthy moderate worldview about investments.

If you’d like something more course-oriented, I’d visit the iTunes site and dig around in the iTunes U section. There’s a ton of audio in there from courses on investing at various universities. This course on financial markets by Robert Shiller is a good example.

Few things beat a real course (if you actually use it and engage with it), but those resources are a great start.

Q10: Books at library
I enjoy reading your blog – very interesting content! I would love to read your books, but I can’t seem to find them at my local library.

– Carmen

My books – 365 Ways to Live Cheap and The Simple Dollar – are carried at a lot of libraries. I’ve seen them on the shelves at several libraries (what can I say? I often check if I’m at a library).

However, if 365 Ways to Live Cheap and The Simple Dollar aren’t at your local library, don’t hesitate to request them. Simply ask the librarian about how a book can be requested. They’ll happily help you.

I get books via library loan quite often, and sometimes libraries actually end up ordering books based on regular requests.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Johanna says:

    We have 320-square-foot homes in my city. They’re called studio condos. Unfortunately, most people still need a mortgage to get one.

  2. Valerie says:

    To Jesse on fund raising for non-profit:
    I would also recommend that you develop a solid business plan with the following sections
    1) Description of the non-profit (what it does and the need it fills (purpose)
    2) Target audience or customers, demographics and how you’ll reach them
    3) Services and how they will benefit the customer (particularly highlight unique services or qualities)
    4) Your (or other employees’) management experience — show you can run this
    5) Marketing – How you will market or promote your services (how will people learn about your services?)
    6) Financial needs — create a business spreadsheet of expenses for staff and services (Volunteers may need t-shirts identifying they work for your group) – this should show your investment needs up front, how you will sustain this (donations needed) for three years

    This doesn’t have to be long — just a few pages and then you might summarize your plan in what Trent has fit onto a business card.

  3. valleycat1 says:

    non-profits: You can also apply for grants from foundations, but you’ll need to get set up & registered as a nonprofit first and have some other source(s) of funds. Check in your library or local bookstore for books on grant writing & nonprofit businesses.

  4. MegB says:

    To Shelly re: student loans. Your interest rate when you consolidate your federal loans is based on the going interest rate at the time you consolidate. For example, I consolidated my federal loans in 2003 at a rate of 2.875%. However, people who graduated just a year after I did were having to consolidate at a much higher rate–around 5%–simply because that was the consolidation rate at the time. It was my understanding that once you consolidated you were stuck with that interest rate, but the goal was to consolidate so that you could at least lock in a decent rate. And, Trent is right that most private loan companies won’t consolidate. I had private loans that had interest rates of around 7%, which is as much as some credit cards! I just worked really hard to pay off the private loans as quickly as I could, and then started tackling the federal loans. Hope that helps.

  5. Andrew says:

    “Personally, we’re both apathetic about the legal contract that comes with marriage, but my hyper-pragmatic self wants to make sure I’m not missing out on something that could help me add more to my Roth IRA each year.”

    This is one of the worst reasons to get married that I have ever heard. Talk about cold-blooded.

  6. valleycat1 says:

    Q3 – check out the first 2 posts (and the extensive comments pro and con) that come up when you click on Trent’s Categories link to marriage. But I agree with Andrew comment 5. Cohabiting and marriage are two entirely different experiences – much more than just a piece of paper giving you some additional rights.

  7. Kevin says:


    “You can get a job as a physicist with a 4-year degree?”

    Of course you can. Not every single Physics grad goes on to do their Masters.

    “That’s news to me.”

    That doesn’t make it untrue.

    “Every physicist I know either has a PhD or is working on one.”

    I know a few who chose not to pursue further accreditation, and others who pursued their Masters while working. Which means they got a job somewhere, with just a plain-old Physics degree. Of course, their salary will increase once they finish their Masters, but in the meantime, they’re making $30k-$40k/year. Just like a new elementary teacher. But without the pension. And with a much harder degree. Just like DOT said.

    “I don’t think that’s obvious at all.”

    Wow. Are you seriously going on record as claiming that attaining a B.Ed. is just as difficult as obtaining a B.Sc. in Physics? Really? Teaching macaroni art is just as hard as quantum physics? Finger painting is on par with Special Relativity?

    Are you serious?

    “I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that physics is a male-majority field”

    *Groan* Oh gimmie a break, Johanna. Playing the feminist card yet again just makes you look desperate. Not everything is about the big, bad men oppressing the poor helpless women, you know.

    “they’re not even true (see above),”

    Fine. Pepsi’s profit was down 5% in February. Happy?

    Next time do your own Googling, instead of relying on a big, strong man to do it for you.

  8. Kevin says:

    Ignore the previous comment – wrong blog post.

  9. Dave says:

    @ Question 6) While I understand wanting to split the accounts so that each child has clear ownership of their money, if the funds are to be STRICTLY for higher education/post-high school use, I’d combine them for now to increase their interest income. Both funds are starting small and won’t earn a lot of interest at first, but as they grow, they’ll reach the higher rates faster if they work together. Some banks allow you to create “sub” accounts, so you could easily identify the money.

    Now if the accounts are to double as general savings accounts so that you can teach your kids about money, definitely keep them separate. My brother and I had separate savings accounts, but our parents took us to the bank so we could deposit Christmas, birthday, or other cash gifts. We were never allowed to withdraw from them until we got jobs and started contributing money regularly.

    Good luck!

  10. Riki says:


    I realize your comment is in the wrong section, but . . . do you really think teaching is only macaroni art and finger painting?


  11. Riki says:

    Question 8 – High Cost of Living

  12. Riki says:

    Question 8 – High Cost of Living

    When considering a move between Texas and British Columbia, there’s a lot more to consider than just the cost of housing.

    What about the cost of health care? You’d be moving to a very (very!) different system and the additional health care costs could easily negate any savings on housing. Do you have employment? What is your field and how easy will it be to find a job? Trent talks about having family in Texas but doesn’t make it clear if that’s his situation or yours. Do you have family in Texas? Why is Texas your only option? There are plenty of fantastic Canadian cities with reasonable cost of living that wouldn’t require you to give up our great health care and generally fantastic country. More details are needed to give you appropriate advice.

    But please don’t discount health care as a consideration.

  13. Johanna says:

    Hahaha…let’s hijack *two* comment threads with a discussion of macaroni art and finger painting!

  14. DOT says:

    I also realize your comment is in the wrong section but do you really think Physics is only Quantum Theory and Special Relativity? :)
    I just couldn’t resist… :)

  15. friend says:

    Wow, Kevin’s got his snark on speed-dial.

  16. maria says:

    DOT.. LMAO

  17. Amanda says:

    I feel sorry for Q7 reader. Get on board for answers that lack depth.

    Q4 Maybe you can get on a plan with someone else as their $9.99/month add on and ONLY use the phone for emergencies so as to not use up their plan minutes.

  18. krantcents says:

    Being married for 42+ years, the many benefits of marriage are not necessarily quantifiable! We built a life together and raised two very successful adults. We have each other to be very close, share experiences and build a future together. That support for each other can mean millions of dollars, but is counting? There is much more, but everyone is different.

  19. Sara A. says:

    Question 8:

    I live in Texas and own one of those cheap houses. I have urged friends from Los Angeles to move out and lower their cost of living and I stand behind that for moving around within the US.

    But, don’t leave your health care behind. So many people in the US (myself included) are just one illness away from total insolvency, and it is getting worse.

    Try looking for cheaper places to relocate within Canada.

  20. Tom says:

    Q3: Spousal consent laws for retirement plans come to mind (your unmarried boyfriend can designate whoever he wants as a beneficiary now without your consent).

    As a married unit you can contribute up to $10,000 total to IRAs, but I believe it still has a max of $5k into each *Individual* Retirement Account.

    Taxation of qualified dividends come to mind if you were in the 25% bracket and get back into the 15% bracket from being married, but it sounds like that’s not the case. For 2 average wage earners, getting married has few/no tax benefits to filing 2 single forms (Maybe you only pay for turbotax once?)

    Health Insurance for Domestic Partners is taxed as income, whereas its removed from your income if you’re married. It may be cheaper to have 1 joint plan than 2 individual plans – not always, and I know some penny-pinching employers who do not allow spousal coverage if the spouse can get employer-provided healthcare at their own job.

    Getting married is a bit like getting a mortgage, it is just not for some people. Don’t do it if you can’t come up with a compelling reason to do so.

    Some other general hassles or awkward situations are avoided by being married, but they aren’t really quantifiable from a financial aspect

  21. Adam P says:

    I live in Canada and my mother, stepfather, and baby brother (he’s 2 and a half years old) live in Texas.

    My mom’s health care premium is $1100 a month for the 3 of them. That’s…a hell of a lot. It’s easily the difference in taxes that we pay up here.

    Salaries are lower in Texas than big Canadian cities in general because historically our dollar is only worth 80 cents US (not anymore though).

    I think you overall have a higher cost of living in Vancouver but if you can’t get affordable health insurance, or adequate coverage, you could find yourself quickly underwater.

    That said, if I had a potentially terminal illness, I’d get treated in the USA over Canada. Our hospitals are rated quite low lately in the rankings and the USA, though expensive, are always among the highest.

    Anecdotally, my sister just had her baby in a new Texas hospital in the town of Kyle outside Austin. This place was immaculate and looked like a mall. I had lithotripsy at St Mike’s hopsital in Toronto, and it was a garbage dump. Dirty, filthy, run down, filled to capacity with long waiting times and a month wait for “urgent” treatment.

    You get what you pay for in this case.

  22. Amy says:

    I realize that this blog is not a democracy, but I vote that you replace the mailbag with a new weekly feature. I enjoy the new 10 pieces of inspiration and the meals with my family posts for example. It seems like lots of the mailbag questions are repeats and they also seem to generate more snarky comments than most of your other posts.

  23. Andrew says:

    Amy–the snarky comments are why a lot of people come to this site!

  24. Sheila says:

    I highly recommend getting that summer calendar out early and reserving a couple of weekends for family/quiet time. It’s saved us many times from too many weekends running hither and yon with no break. :)

  25. Kathryn says:

    Q2: Being part of a 3-person family, I also would not want to live in a home this small. However, I think it’s interesting that you say kids “need” room and privacy. I disagree with that, or at least with the idea that kids “need” what our culture defines as room and privacy. Maybe it’s a priority in your family, but I wouldn’t call it a universal need. I think you only have to look at the rest of the developed world (especially Western Europe), or even at cities like New York, to see that families can thrive in small spaces.

  26. Des says:

    While I do enjoy the snarky comments, I agree with Amy that the Reader Mailbags could be revisited. I would rather see half as many questions with more thorough, researched answers than 10 off-the-cuff responses.

  27. Rockledge says:

    Q8. I have lived in Houston, Texas for 26 years, moving here from Pennsylvania. Yes, the cost of living is cheap, but the summers are hotter than hell and by “summer”, I mean May, June, July, August, September, AND October. In Houston, we also get to deal with insane mosquitoes, serious flooding, regular droughts, and, just for fun, hurricanes.

    I would consider very carefully before I made a switch like that. In fact, I highly recommend you spend some time here in August before deciding.

    Our winters are nice though. When we retire, my husband and I plan to become “snowbirds”, traveling up north in the summer and returning here in the winter.

  28. MattJ says:

    I also agree that the reader mailbag posts should be reworked. I would go the opposite direction as Des, however: Instead of having fewer questions with answers from Trent that are more thoroughly researched, I would vote for more questions thrown directly to the hounds with no answers at all from Trent.

  29. MattJ says:

    Also, the glimpse at Kevin & Johanna’s argument gave me a chuckle. I want to find the rest of it…

  30. cc says:

    re: #22, i’m totally the opposite :) reader mailbags are the highlights of my week, but i always skim or skip the cooking & inspiration posts.

  31. anna says:

    Bankrate’s website has a cost of living estimator that will show you how much more or less you will need to make to living in different cities. It’s very intersting, I live in the midwest and would need to make 31% more to live in southern california. It even breaks down what random items like haircuts and a dozen eggs will cost in your current area and your chosen new area.

  32. jim says:

    Q2 Whoever invented those $15k wooden trailer shacks is a genius. Why not buy a trailer or RV instead?

    Q8 Beth : Have you stayed in Texas any length of time? Canada and Texas are very different places in many respects. Moving from BC to Texas could be a real culture shock. There are cheaper places than Vancouver to live in Canada. Why the jump to Texas? Is there a job offer or some other strong reason to move there? You’re probably aware that Vancouver is considered one of the best places to live in the world right? Don’t take that for granted. Just a bunch of questions… maybe you’ve considered em all and have good answers, but if not think about it before you make a rash decision to move somewhere radically different just because its cheap.

  33. Amy P says:

    “I have lived in Houston, Texas for 26 years, moving here from Pennsylvania. Yes, the cost of living is cheap, but the summers are hotter than hell and by “summer”, I mean May, June, July, August, September, AND October. In Houston, we also get to deal with insane mosquitoes, serious flooding, regular droughts, and, just for fun, hurricanes.”

    I’m a Western Washingtonian transplant to Central Texas and my experience of Texas has been slightly different. I’d say summer runs from May-September, and we don’t have the consistent humidity that Houston is famous for. July and August are the two really unlivable months and people who can flee to Colorado. Anybody who can’t just keeps on the air conditioning and stays inside. I grew up with constant grey rainy winters and I love the fall, winter and spring in Texas, just as I love the mild July and August in Western Washington. It can actually get cold and even snow in our part of Texas, but two days later, you could have temperatures in the 70s. The economy is also dynamic and Texas has done very well in job creation during the recession. We do have tornadoes and DFW is sometimes called “Delayed For Weather”. Different parts of the state are different. Austin is the place that a lot of northerners love, but it’s also expensive for Texas. Austin also has scorpions. In many parts of the state (particularly in outer suburbs), rattlesnakes turn up where you least expect them, like warming up on your driveway. There are also mega roaches. There is a bright side to the fauna. We have geckos that come hang out on the screen of our kitchen window during the summer and they’re really cute! The kids love the lizards and my husband wants to grow cactuses eventually.

    Oddly, we have strong family connections in the Vancouver area. The real estate market there is headed for a crash because they are so dependent on rich Chinese, but it’s really hard to tell people there that. I wouldn’t buy a house there now, even if I had the money, but Vancouver may well be much more affordable in 3-5 years. Currently, it’s a nice place to visit, but you have to have a huge income to live a normal middle class life there.

  34. Looby says:

    @ Amy P- Vancouver is a nice place to visit but it is also a great place to live. I disagree that you need a huge income to live a normal middle class life here.
    None of my friends or colleagues make huge amounts of money but are all able to have great lifestyles, whether that is a house in commuting distance or a rented condo downtown.
    I agree you need a huge income to buy a large detached house near the university and beaches but plenty of people manage to have a “normal middle class life” here.

  35. Amanda says:

    @26-I totally agree. Reader mailbags is my favorite feature. I hate that 10 inspiration and I don’t read it. The cooking, some of them are OK but not necessarily healthy… 5 WELL RESEARCHED answers, and actually answering the reader’s question rather than saying whatever point you’re trying to get across.

  36. valleycat1 says:

    #29 Matt – the ad nauseum discussion is attached to Trent’s 10-year plan post of a few days ago.

  37. erin says:

    I moved to texas a while ago from elsewhere. I almost broke down during my first trip for groceries because they had Texas-shaped tortilla chips. Missouri did not have that and I suspect Vancouver doesn’t either. If you can handle the overwhelming Texasy-ness of it all go for it but kiss winter goodbye. Texas is cheap especially if you happen to work in the oil and gas field you’ll have a wealth of opportunities which pay quite well. Good luck!!

  38. AnnJo says:

    Q4 re: cell phones –

    I bought a cell phone for $50 at Costco almost three years ago, loaded it with 1000 minutes for $100, and renew my remaining minutes with an annual purchase of 100-300 minutes for $10 – $25. The monthly cost works out to about $5 including the cost of the phone. It is more than adequate for what I need (and also has a camera, voice mail, good coverage in my area, etc.), since I do most of my phoning on land lines. I think I still have over 700 minutes on it, and on the next anniversary date will spend $10 to renew them for another year.

    I’m amazed at the amount of money people spend on their cell phone plans (including me before I saw the light). Granted some people truly benefit because of their work (realtors come to mind and others who work on the road) but is it worth $60-100 a month to be able to call home from the grocery store to see if you need more milk?

  39. Alex says:

    Vancouver and Vancouver Island are two different places. Q8 referred to Vancouver Island. Vancouver is on the mainland. Both are expensive (Vancouver even moreso than Vancouver Island), but the lifestyle is different. The largest metro area on the island has a population of about 330,000, while metro Vancouver has 2.1 million.

    Personally, I would never live in the U.S. due to their health care system. I have a friend in Minnesota who is fighting terminal cancer, and the gov’t just garnished his disability, leaving him with practically nothing. Whereas here in Vancouver, I’ve had 2 surgeries in the last year, waited 1 month for one, 1 week for the other, had top-notch facilities and doctors, and didn’t pay a dime. There are many good things about the U.S., but IMO none of them are worth the risk of bankruptcy or worse due to unaffordable/inaccessible health care.

  40. deRuiter says:

    Debbie #3. If one of you dies, the FAMILY of that person steps in to take control of the ill or deceased person, you have no legal standing. Your wishes have no legal weight. If a person becomes incapacitated, his / her FAMILY decides whether to pull the plug on the life support system. Your companion can clean out all joint bank accounts, sell off the furniture and the artwork, and run off with some floozy or cabana boy when the long time companion begins to look a bit careworn or long in the tooth. The partner left financially stripped has no recourse. However, to marry only because you want the opportunity to put more money in your ROTH isn’t enough to push you to the alter. Better start some side business and set up a retirement account for yourself with that.

    AnnJo #38, Thank you for that splendid idea about a cheap cell phone, I’m going to get one of these! Thank you also for another reason why Walmart is good for poor (or thrifty) folks. Add that to Walmart’s dirt cheap drug plan for seniors on Medicare (cheaper than any other plan on the market), bargain groceries, (I hear in some places) bargain gas, walk in medical clinics at budget friendly prices, new, inexpensive goods for poor people, and you illustrate the good Walmart does for the financially challenged.

  41. Heather says:

    To add to the great comments by Valeri & ValleyCat in response to the new nonprofit: Our local library has a whole Foundation Center section with books and access to the Foundation Center Online a subscription database that allows you to search for funding opportunities. The librarians are very helpful as well and you can usually make an appointment for one on one time to help you search. Also, check out your local organization of nonprofits. Ours has an “emerging nonprofit” membership and provides fantastic plug and play templates of required policies (like Conflict of Interest) but also proposal/grant writing trainings, expert advice, and access to searchable funding databases – well worth the membership fee.

  42. Michelle says:

    Alex #39, if YOU didn’t pay a dime for those surgeries, who do you think did?

  43. Scott says:


    Are you going to fix the poem reference for “O Captain?” The poet is Whitman, not Frost.

    You should consider doing more fact checking.

  44. Courtney20 says:

    @ Dave #9 – Two separate accounts will earn as much total interest as they would if the money was all in one account; there’s no benefit to be had there.

    Q3 – if you’re going strictly by the numbers, and since you mentioned a Roth, there can actually be a *disadvantage* to being married. The cutoff for full Roth eligibility for a single filer in 2011 is $107K. You would then think that the full contribution cutoff for married filing jointly would be $214K but it’s actually only $169K. Additionally, the phase-out range (for partial contributions) for a single filer is $15K (so, up to $122K) but for MFJ it’s only a $10K range (up to $179K). This is a sore spot for me personally because my husband and I will only have a few more years of Roth eligibility.

  45. AnnJo says:

    @40, you’re welcome, deRuiter, but I got my cell phone and minutes at Costco, not Walmart. I’d guess Walmart has something like it, though. I had a bare-bones plan before with fairly limited minutes, and a really low-tech phone and it was costing nearly $500 a year, so I’m saving quite a bit.

  46. Justin says:

    @Q2, I’m all about a small house- my wife and I never want to have a huge house. Its just more expensive and harder to maintain.

    But 320 sq ft? To raise a family, that’d be tough.

  47. Dave says:

    @ Courtney #44:

    Many banks increase interest rates as your balance increases. For the sake of an example, let’s say anything up to $5,000 may earn 0.5%, 0.75% up to $10,000, 1% above that, and so on.

    If they split the accounts, it will take twice as long to reach the higher rate levels as when they’ve saved $5,001 (total) it will be split in two accounts earning 0.5% instead of one account now earning 0.75%.

    Saved separately, it would take twice as long to reach the higher interest rates.

  48. littlepitcher says:

    @32Jim–RV’s have little or no insulation, little or no floor space, and they’re exorbitantly expensive. Ditto travel trailers. Another problem is that most counties prohibit living in them.
    I’d make the kitchen table a dropleaf, keep the LR bed for my own use, convert the BR to exercise space and a home-canning pantry, screen the porch for temperate-weather living space, and install a composting toilet.
    Cities and small towns are full of tiny off-sized lots which frequently end up on back-tax lists and can be had for low prices. Such a house could be installed on these lots, landscaped attractively, and possibly have a food garden in the back yard.

  49. socalgal says:

    I lived for one miserable year in Texas. We had a lovely home just outside of Austin on almost 2 acres. Unfortunately we are not Evangelical Christians, so neighbors were very cool to us after they asked and discovered that we were “heathens” (their word). In addition, I have never seen so many morbidly obese people in my life. Food is an obsession with many folks & it shows in their waistline. The weather was crazy, but interesting. I may go back there for a visit, but I would love to live in Vancouver.

  50. Courtney20 says:

    @ Dave – That’s true. Though the ones I remember seeing have all been a lot higher ($25K+) to get to the bonus interest. But I assumed you were talking about the mistaken belief that compounding one large sum will give better results than several smaller sums equal to the large sum. Sorry!

  51. Georgia says:

    In 2007/2008 I lived in a studio apt. that was also approximately 320 sq. ft. I loved it. I was working 90 miles from home & lived there until my job ran out. I was paying $250 a month and the only utilities I paid was the electric, which was my heat. It rarely ran $40 even in the coldest months.

    Right now I live in a 1000 sq. ft. double wide trailer that is 46 years old, at least. I could do with less space, but this is debt free and it has been updated in the last 8-10 years with a new steel & insulated roof, all double paned windows, a side wall on my carport and insulated siding. My total utilities, except for phone & internet run me about $160 a month. And that is in MO which has extremes in summer and winter.

    I also lived for 15 years in a room with adjoining bath that was probably 100 sq ft at the most and for that 15 years I only paid $100 a month in rent and no utilities. This was in our capital city. Everyone was surprised I got a place so cheaply. Most paid $250 and up and up.

    But – I am much older and do not need much space. My husband died in 2007 and I had way too much stuff. I am slowly going through it all and giving it away. My kids have told me the few things they want and I am saving those.

    I have 3 bedrooms, but they have different uses now. One bedroom, one office/library and one storage room for food/supplies. I even have all my food on shelving with use by dates – one for 2011, one for 2012 and one for 2013 and beyond.

  52. Emily says:

    I have a question:

    How much of an emergency fund do I really need? Right now I have about 10,000 and it feels like too much. It seems like more of it should be earning more interest.

    We don’t own a car.
    We rent.
    We are fully insured.
    We can live easily on either mine or my husband’s income.
    We are freelancers, so if one of us was for some reason unable to work, the other could just pick up more work.
    I can’t even think of a reason why the emergency fund would need to be used ever. Couldn’t it be $5000 or am I being terribly naive?

  53. Tom says:

    Emily, good question. The answer is nobody knows unless they take a good look at your income and expenses. Even then, it’s like asking “What’s the best asset allocation for retirement?” because it is uniquely personal to your fiscal life and what you feel is right.
    The best advice I could give you for emergency funds, not knowing how much you make and how much you spend is this
    There are two reasons for emergency funds:
    1. For unexpected, one-time expenses. You don’t have a car, but what if you broke your ankle tripping off a bus? Or maybe you need an emergency appendectomy or some other costly, unforeseen surgery. Can you comfortably pay your deductible and co-payment on your insurance?
    2. You’re both freelancers, isn’t it possible you both could hit a dry-spell of work simultaneously? Or, are you really sure you can *easily* live on one income? How long could you live on half of your income based on your rent, utilities and other regular monthly expenses like phone, internet, food etc.? You should have an amount that replaces that expected income for a time period that you feel comfortable. People commonly say 3 months.
    If you do the math and find out $10,000 is more than sufficient, the next step is to find out where you really want to put that cash to better use.

  54. cc says:

    @52, i wish i had 10k in an emergency fund but i had to raid it last year and am still building it up. our pet got sick last year and needed lots of tests, and expensive surgery by a guy that was out of town (car rentals = $$$).. probably ran about $1200 all said and done. we’re happy to have him back but my emergency account is done for. unfortunately i’m scheduled for #53’s hypothetical example, they’re taking my appendix out next month. i don’t have nearly the money, and am asking my parents for it. i’m happy to have a support network, but i also wish i had a bigger emergency fund to begin with.
    it’s not hurting anyone staying in cash… personally i would leave it, esp. with 2 freelance incomes.

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