Updated on 12.28.10

Reader Mailbag: Friends Without Work

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. Using recorded financial data
2. Moving away from debt consolidation
3. Student loan forbearance
4. Stopping all retirement contributions
5. Chasing passions without self-sabotage
6. Dealing with college burnout
7. Emergency funds or debt repayment?
8. Debts and responsibilities
9. Homemade windshield washing solution
10. Earning money at home

Several of my friends have the week between Christmas and New Years off of work. This is making me sorely tempted to spend an unhealthy amount of the week goofing off with them.

After some discussion with my wife, we decided to limit hijinks to a New Year’s celebration and one single day of shenanigans, with the rest of the week being spent on getting a large number of year-end projects taken care of.

It’s a reasonable compromise.

Q1: Using recorded financial data
Since 2009, I have been tracking all of my expenses and earned income in an excel spreadsheet. The practice of tracking my cash flow has lead me to some positive behaviors: I’ve taken a conscious effort of curbing my eating-out habits and I’ve allowed for splurges on things that really make me happy (e.g. locally grown fresh produce) without feeling guilty. But even after a year, I still feel like I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck, and I tend to be left with only a few dollars each month when I balance out my spreadsheet (I will note that I consider savings as one of my regular monthly bills, i.e. any leftover cash at the end of the month does not include contributions to my retirement, emergency fund, or targeted savings accounts).

Because at the end of this month I will have accumulated exactly one year of personal financial data, I feel like I should do something with this. Are there any trends I should look for, ratios or percentages of income I should examine in certain budget categories? How do I use this data to reevaluate my situation?
– Stephanie

The biggest thing that such accumulated data can do for you is give you a real sense of your true budget – where you actually spend your money.

I would suggest totaling all of your expenses in each category for the full year, then calculating the percentage each represents of your total income. Then, go through each category and ask yourself if that spending is appropriate or whether it should (or can be) cut.

Looking at the amount you’ve spent in a category will often encourage you to re-evaluate how you spend within that category and push you to find more efficient ways to use your money.

Q2: Moving away from debt consolidation
I signed up for [debt consultation through a particular company] when I was a college student. I have been using them for about three and a half years now. At the time it seemed like my only option, but now that I am older and actually have a decent credit score I want to drop [that company] and just see about doing a balance transfer to one credit card and pay it off that way. Do you know if this is possible to do? Or at least maybe have any good directions to steer me into? I am paying $50 a month to [that company] that I could be applying elsewhere. Thank you in advance for your time.

– Kristen

It depends on the agreement you entered into with the company in question. Your first step is to get out your agreement with that company and find out what you need to do to terminate the agreement. It should be in the initial documentation provided to you when you signed up.

Of course, when you do figure out how to terminate the arrangement, they won’t make it easy on you. The monthly bill you pay them for their service is their gravy train and they don’t want to let go of it. They will most likely make it very difficult (as difficult as they can) for you to end the agreement.

If you find it unreasonably difficult to end the arrangement even after following the procedures in the agreement, contact a lawyer.

Q3: Student loan forbearance
Over the past few months, we have had a bunch of unexpected expenses that put a big dent in our emergency fund. In addition to these expenses, many of our bills increased as well. Our electric bill was through the roof because of the consistent 100+ degree days we had all summer, our water bill rate increased, plus our sewer bills have more than doubled because the city has decided to make repairs that should have been made decades ago. So, looking at our situation today, the emergency fund and little bit of savings we had is depleted, and I am having trouble getting the bills paid. I am looking for a temporary solution to ease the financial burden so that we can get upright again. I am considering applying for forbearance on student loans so that we can use the money that would go towards them and put it towards our other expenses. The student loans total about $10,000 and have a 3.58% interest rate, which means that over the course of the allowed year, it would accrue about $360 in interest, but over the short term, it would free up about $240 each month that I could use towards utilities, etc. Is there any reason why I shouldn’t go ahead and apply?

– Alecia

Your situation, from the information you provided here, is the reason that forbearance exists. You’re having difficulty paying the bills, while at the same time the lender doesn’t want to waste resources chasing people who can’t pay their bills right now. Forbearance helps you both for a while.

Look at it this way: if you don’t do the forbearance, you’ll likely have to go into debt of some other form to continue paying your bills. Those other forms of debt are going to have a higher interest rate than those student loans, thus your overall debt load will increase, as will your risk of defaulting and damaging your credit score.

Use the forbearance, then use your energy as best you can to ensure you don’t have to use the forbearance again.

Q4: Stopping all retirement contributions
I have a mountain of debt right now. I’ve read the TMM by Dave Ramsey and according to him he said to stop all contributions to your retirement account. So I did do that. I was only having $25 taken out of my paycheck towards retirement. It was being placed in a 401b account. Not a lot but all I can afford at the moment.

Today we got paid and noticed that I had $25 taken out for my retirement account. I spoke with the pay roll dept and it was a mistake on their part. I could have a check re issued but decided not to. I plugged my paycheck into my budget and after all bills are paid I’ll have $57 left in my checking until my next pay check which is on the 28th.

So if I look at my paycheck right now I’m having the following automatically deducted out:

Xmas fund: $25
Emergency Fund: 85
Freedom Acct: $25
Retirement: $25

So do you think I should go back to having the retirement stopped or continue with the $25 deducted?
– Justin

People could argue all day about this one, but I don’t really think there’s a wrong answer here. In either case, you’re spending less than you earn and improving your financial state.

Without seeing your full picture, it’s hard to say which route really is the best. If you find that you’re getting value from Dave Ramsey’s plan, stick with what he advises. If you feel more comfortable contributing a bit to retirement, do that.

You’re not really losing no matter what you choose here, so don’t stress out over the choice.

Q5: Chasing passions without self-sabotage
I’m a second year veterinary student, and although I’ve always firmly wanted to be a veterinarian, I tend to settle on different specialties that interest me every six months or so. For a while I was certain that I wanted to be an equine general practitioner. Then I wanted to practice equine sports medicine. Most recently, I was convinced that I’d be an equine surgeon. Now, I don’t know – small/mixed animal practice, emergency medicine, and every variety of equine practice all seem like they could be right for me.

I want to have a a career plan well before I graduate, because frankly, switching around can be expensive and stressful. I would hate to have to practice in a particular field simply because it’s lucrative. I’m hoping to graduate with some small student loans, and I’m building an emergency fund and contributing to a Roth IRA while I’m in school. I’m also trying to get a wide variety of experience.

Do you have any advice on finding my passion in medicine without sabotaging myself later?
– Martha

Go to a person practicing each of these fields. Explain to them what you’re going through and ask if they have advice for you. Seek out any opportunities you can to shadow these people and get as close as you can to what they actually do.

It sounds to me like you simply love animals, particularly horses. Just keep in mind that all of the choices you have are great for these animals. No matter what you choose, it’s the animals that benefit.

I don’t know how important specialization is in the veterinary field, but I would trust the people who are actually practicing.

Q6: Dealing with college burnout
I am a senior in college at UNL (Nebraska) I’m a secondary education major and my endorsments will be in Spanish and English as a Second Language (ESL). I am hoping to get a job after graduation in my field in this town or at a nearby high school.

I’m at my last semster at the college and I’ll have one semester of student teaching in the Spring, and then I will be done. My question is this:

I have been working my way through college since day one. I’ve always had a part-time job to keep my head above water. However, this semester is not going to be easy.

I took 12 credits this summer (which really sucked) and I worked part time on top of it all. So, needless to say, I am very “burnt-out.” Ideally, I would like to quit my part time job so I can focus on my last year of school and really pour all of my efforts into it without being super stressed. I’d like to have time to study and have a life as well.

Here’s the situation:
I work M-F 7am-11am at a call center making $10.50/hr. (so that’s about 20hrs/week…about $800/mo or less) I leave for class immediatly afterwards and have class all afternoon. Plus, I also am going to be starting a practicum at a local high school for two hours everyday in a few weeks (M-F) this practicum is required for student teaching next semester. I also have a few night classes, one of which is once a week for 3 hours and ends at 9pm.

I live with my boyfriend (going on 3 years now) he works full time at a bike shop and works off of commission. In the summer, he makes about $3000/mo but in the winter months, he only makes about $1500/mo. He is taking classes part time. I am getting about $5,000 back in refunds from my students loans (I took out much more than needed because I know I am not going to work during student teaching, even though grants alone would pay most of school). My only major bills are my rent, $350 for my half, and my car payment $206/mo. I also have utilties which altogether are less than $100/mo for my portion. Plus, I have a dog, so I pay for his food, but he’s pretty low maitenence since I groom him myself.

I REALLY want to quit my part time job but I am torn. I want to do well in school and have room to take care of myself and be happy, but at the same time, I don’t want to be broke!

Do you think if I was frugal enough, I would be okay? or am I being just too wishful?
– Kayla

You’re burning the candle at both ends. There are only so many hours in the day and you’re essentially choosing between time spent studying to get the best grades or time spent working to reduce your bills.

If I were you, I’d choose the grades. The financial concerns raised by one semester of not working a part time job are much less than the problems that could be caused by a semester of extremely poor classroom performance. If you’re reached a point where you feel this is an either/or choice – and it sounds like you have – choose the classroom.

The only alarm bell I have here is a car payment that’s more than $200 a month. That indicates that you’re not driving a low-end car, which means that you’re making at least some financial choices that aren’t in line with getting a low-cost education. Take a look at your lifestyle choices and see if there aren’t any other areas you can cut back on while you finish up your degree.

Q7: Emergency funds or debt repayment?
I read a lot of people asking your opinion about several things, and one pattern I found is the fact most of them are full in debts and at the same time having savings, usually summing the same amount they owe.

Point taken, my financial situation today isn’t bad—I don’t have any debts—but lately some unexpected expenses appeared, which totals more than my current emergency fund. I know I’ll have to use my credit to cover that.

My question is: do you believe it’s wise to manage the damages of these unexpected expenses and at the same time re-build the emergency funds?
– Igor

The reason people encourage an emergency fund is because the bank is an unreliable supplier of credit. At the whim of the bank, they can simply close your line of credit, leaving you in a very painful situation if your car breaks down or you lose your job. Banks do this quite regularly, reducing lines of credit or canceling credit cards.

On the other hand, if you have cash, it will get you through the emergency without much worry at all. Unlike a credit card or a line of credit, a bank can’t close off your access to the cash you have.

That’s why it’s a good idea to always have some cash on hand. No matter what happens to your credit, your cash supply will help you handle the emergencies in your life.

Q8: Debts and responsibilities
Nearly 11 years ago, my ex-husband and I filed bankruptcy as part of our divorce. Through the bankruptcy, my ex-husband reaffirmed on our house and I did not (he kept the house – I kept the car, children, and my self-esteem, which is all I wanted). I was told the mortgage would become his and I would have no responsibility for the debt.

Now, as I am working towards improving my credit score, I have discovered that his mortgage is listed on my credit report as my debt. I have filed two disputes with the credit bureau and have been denied having it removed, citing both the bankruptcy and divorce as reasons the debt isn’t mine. My ex-husband has been more than 180 days late on payments for the last several years, so you can imagine what my credit score looks like.

My question is: am I responsible for this debt even though I filed bankruptcy on it? And if I am not, how do I get it removed from my credit report? Please help, I am being penalized severely for a debt that isn’t supposed to be mine and I have no idea where to turn for help.

I have reviewed my copy of the bankruptcy papers and do not see anything that says simply the mortgage is no longer mine. I attempted to contact the lawyer who did our bankruptcy, but he does not return my phone call. What is my next step to have this removed from my credit report?

Also, I have talked with my ex-husband and he has not kept any bankruptcy papers. I was hoping he had a copy of the reaffirmation paper for the mortgage (like I have for the car which only has my signature). He also stated that a few years ago, he talked to the mortgage company and they refused to remove my name from his house.
– Christina

Typically, the only way to remove your name from a mortgage is through refinancing. If your husband did not do this, then your name is still on the mortgage.

Did your mortgage decree state that he had to remove your name from the mortgage through refinancing in a certain timeframe?

Another concern is whether or not you’re outside any statute of limitations to do anything about this. I would consult a divorce attorney with regards to this.

Q9: Homemade windshield washing solution
Do you have a windshield washer solution recipe that I can put in the car reservoir? Something less expensive than $2.00 I pay at the car parts store for 1 gallon.

– Mickey

I use a homemade solution most of the time.

I just take a gallon milk jug, fill it about a third of the way with water, add three drops of liquid dish soap, two or three squirts of whatever window cleaner I have on hand, and about half a cup of vinegar, then add water to fill it to the top.

In the winter, if you live in a cold climate, increase the proportion of vinegar in the mix, even up to as high as 1:1.

Q10: Earning money at home
I am 67 and my husband is 72. A couple months ago I had to ‘spend down’ our meager savings to split in half in order to have him approved by Medicaid because he needs care in Nursing Home. I am not physically able to care for him in his condition.

For this spend down, I bought a new ‘used’ car and paid off the mortgage on our condo (which is another whole story). I have around $19000 left in Savings(which is earning zilch, any suggestions?), have to pay Medicade $840/mo, plus pay off hospital and Nursing Home bills that were part of our outofpocket pay from AARP Medicare Complete.

We both have SS direct deposited to bank. I feel strapped on a monthly basis. I don’t have your talent for writing (I don’t think); my question… is there really any ‘work at home’ realiable, trustworthy ways to earn some extra money? And if so, what are they and how do I get in touch?
– Lani

There are no “work at home” opportunities where you can just sit down and earn even minimum wage at a computer without some very significant training. There are opportunities to earn a small amount through services like Mechanical Turk, but it takes a lot of time to get them to add up to much of anything.

Generally, when you’re trying to earn a living from home, you’ve either got a marketable skill set or you’re willing to slog through a lot of work that earns nearly nothing in order to build up something (like a popular blog).

For you, the best move you could probably make right now is to just make sure you’re utilizing all of the resources your community has available to financially disadvantaged folks, such as food pantries and the like.

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. Riki says:

    Re: Q1

    If you have money in savings and are contributing every month, I would argue that you are NOT living pay cheque to pay cheque. You don’t run out of money each month, you simply spend full amount you have to spend. If an emergency were to crop up, I assume from your description that you would have the ability to cover it.

    As a comparison, I’m in a similar situation. I get paid only once per month and generally have to manage my money very carefully (so I don’t run out of money before I run out of month). By the time the end of the month rolls around, I usually don’t have a ton of money remaining in my primary account but that is by design — if I were allocating so much spending money every month that I had tons left over, I would say I need to re-evaulate my spending and probably save more. The fact that I live comfortably off almost exactly the amount I allow tells me I’ve got a saving-spending/planning-living balance just right.

    That said, you obviously feel as though you could be doing better. I honestly don’t know the answer to your specific question about ratios to consider, however, I would suggest re-framing your thought process about living pay cheque to pay cheque. It doesn’t sound like you are. Don’t be so hard on yourself!

  2. Johanna says:

    Now I’m wondering what your friends were wanting to do with you that can be described as “goofing off,” “hijinks,” and “shenanigans.”

    Q1, Stephanie: If you’re consistently adding to your savings, then you’re not, in fact, living paycheck to paycheck, so one thing to do is examine why you feel like you are. Are you the type who will spend mindlessly as long as there’s money in your checking account to spend? (If so, then the mindless spending is something to work on, and in the meantime, you’re doing exactly the right thing by putting money into savings first.) Do you keep finding yourself at the end of the month (or pay period) without enough money for things you need or really want? (If so, then you want to work on splurging less at the beginning of the pay period.) Or would it make you feel better just to put an extra few hundred dollars in your account as a cushion? (Only do this, of course, if you’re confident that those few hundred dollars won’t immediately get spent.)

    As for ratios and percentages, I’m a big fan of the 50/30/20 budget. Out of your after-tax income (gross income, plus any employer retirement contributions, minus just your income taxes and payroll taxes), 50% goes toward committed expenses (such as rent, insurance, subscriptions, debt minimum payments, and basic food), 30% goes toward flexible expenses (pretty much everything else you spend that’s not a committed monthly payment), and 20% goes toward savings and extra debt payments.

    The 50/30/20 breakdown is just a guideline – if your own percentages are a little bit different, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong. But if they’re way out of whack – and if your spending *feels* way out of whack – the solution may be to try to get closer to 50/30/20.

  3. I thought you placed a strong emphasis on relationships with friends and family? If you have an opportunity to spend an “unhealthy” amount of time with them, why not do it? Life isn’t all about work and organizing your office.

  4. Adam P says:

    re Q1 – I have done as you did, and from the 1 year data I am tracking an average for each category of spending. This helps me more realistically set budget amounts based on an average month.

    And as Trent says, if you see a catagory where you are spending a great deal but not really finding it making you happy, CUT it as best you can.

    For me it was eating out, and I have dropped my monthly eating out spending by about 1/3rd in the last 3 or 4 months.

  5. matt says:

    Q9 – Buy your windshield washer fluid from Wal-Mart. It’s $1 there and even though vinegar is cheap, it’s hard to make the solution Trent suggests for less than $1.

  6. kjc says:

    …and, vinegar will freeze at about 28*F.

  7. Johanna says:

    @Alecia: Be honest with yourself: Were the increased expenses of the past few months really that unexpected and unusual? Or were they mostly things like maintenance and repairs on your home or car, that you were going to have to pay for eventually? Are your utility bills likely to go back down in the coming years, or are the higher rates here to stay?

    If you don’t have any reason (other than wishful thinking) to believe that your expenses are going to be lower next year than they are now, then the student loan forbearance is just a temporary solution to a permanent problem. If that’s the case, then you’re almost certainly going to be better off finding some other way to free up $240 a month.

  8. Jeannine says:

    Q6 – The car payment of $200 doesn’t suggest a “high-end” vehicle to me. It could be a shorter-term finance situation. Also, buying a car that isn’t a used beater with the intention of driving it until it dies isn’t necessarily a bad idea, regardless of whether you pay cash or finance. I would imagine that a college-aged woman would be concerned about reliability in a vehicle which many low-end vehicles cannot guarantee.

  9. Amy B. says:

    @Lani- While I agree that there are few work-from-home opportunities out there that are worth much, you should spend some time scanning the jobs and gigs section of your local craigslist – you just might find something you can do without a huge deviation from your usual routine (errand running for someone is an example. A neighbor of mine makes some small money getting two kids onto the school bus in the morning.) Just use common sense with craigslist so that you don’t fall prey to someone with bad intentions.

  10. sjw says:

    Q4 Justin –
    “I was only having $25 taken out of my paycheck towards retirement. It was being placed in a 401b account. Not a lot but all I can afford at the moment.{…]
    So if I look at my paycheck right now I’m having the following automatically deducted out:
    Xmas fund: $25[…]”

    So you’re putting aside the same amount of money on a regular basis for Christmas (which is not a bad idea in general) as for your retirement, and your plan is to stop the retirement savings to help pay down debt? Why not plan to downsize Christmas?

  11. Gretchen says:

    I’m shocked you don’t want to “goof off” with your friends on their weeks off.

    After all, they presumably have family and “end of year” things too.

  12. partgypsy says:

    Christina, it is my understanding that just because you divorced and went through bankruptcy, doesn’t mean anything regarding your name on the mortgage. As Trent says, that’s usually done by refinancing under his name only, and having a lawyer involved. Your ex-husband is correct; they mortgage holder will not remove your name just because he “asked”. You are legally responsible for this mortgage until you have this correctly unfortunately.

  13. Courtney20 says:

    Q1 – if you are paying the bills, spending on things you value and still contributing to retirement, emergency savings, and targeted savings, then you are not living “paycheck-to-paycheck.” You are practicing a “zero-based budget.” By design, you should only have a few dollars left in your budget each month (rounding or slightly underspending in a category) because every dollar is accounted for in a spending or saving category.

  14. Chris says:

    Q2 – Try the Better Business Bureau before you try a lawyer. I’ve been in a couple tough situations where I was trying to cancel a service, spent hours on the phone to no avail, but when I went through the BBB they took me seriously. The BBB site is a little confusing, but not too bad. Go there, type out your complaint, and (for free!) they act as a mediator between you and the company.

  15. Des says:

    RE Justin Q4 – I agree with Trent that there are really no wrong answers to your question. That being said, if I were in your position, I would follow the Ramsey baby steps…at least for now. So, if you already have a $1k emergency fund, I would redirect your monthly savings to your debt. We went through the same thing, and have recently finished paying off $43k in debt.

    For me, it was more productive over the long run to be single-minded about my goals. I knew exactly which financial goal I was working on at all times, and saw progress every month. I can’t recommend the TMMO method highly enough. YMMV.

  16. jim says:

    Q6 Kayla, I would agree that school should be your priority now over a part time job. You seem to have enough money to get by. I’d quit the job if its hurting your school or you’re getting burned out. If you end up running out of money later then you could look for an alternative job that is easier and even one that you can study at. Theres often on campus jobs like that.

  17. Johanna says:

    Q4, Justin: $25 per paycheck, over the long term, is not going to be nearly enough to retire on. At some point (maybe once you make a significant dent in your debts, maybe once you pay them off entirely), you’re going to have to start saving much more. So my answer to your question is: Go with whichever option will make it easier for you to do that.

    If you think it will be easier for you to start by saving a little, and then increase the amount from year to year, it’s probably better to keep saving the $25. But if you think saving a small amount might lull you into a false sense of security (of thinking “hey, at least I’m saving something”), it might be better to stop the retirement contributions for now.

    You don’t say anything about an employer match, so I assume you’re not getting one. If you are, that changes things.

  18. Bill says:

    @q6 2 things,
    1. It sounds tough, but just push through. I remember the last semester of my wife’s schooling, working for free in an internship 40 hours/week and then her working 2 16 hour shifts on the weekend. While I worked 2 jobs, but years later I keep hearing stories about how much student loans everyone has. Some of these stories tell of crushing debt that last for decades. The memory of those tough memories make feel strong.

    2. practicum, I learned a new word today.

  19. Kevin says:

    Justin: $25 is nothing. You should not waste any time worrying about it. $25/paycheck will never be enough to neither retire nor pay off any significant amount of debt. You need to increase your income and start thinking in a larger scale.

    Also, the homemade windshield washer fluid recipe is seriously lacking in methyl alcohol. Trent’s recipe will freeze.

  20. ellie says:

    Am I the only person having difficulty reading the comments on the greenish-gray background? I’m in my late 70’s, but can still read most things easily.

  21. DaveOR says:

    Q4 – Justin.

    I don’t find a problem about any comments but also haven’t seen any mention of the cost of the debt (other than D. Ramsey by default). If you’re really getting rid of a mountain of debt, consider the interest rates & fees – you could be eliminating 15-20% interest on each $25 payment. A good rate of return or elimination…

  22. Donna says:

    $25.00 times 52 equals $1,300.00 for Christmas. I would think the Christmas fund could be backed down a bit until the situation improves, no one who loves you would want you in debt for gifts or putting off payments. Take care of those who are truly near and dear to your heart first and the others will have to understand or else find an alternative for inexpensive gifts for them.

  23. Julia says:

    Q2 – My sister went through one of those debt consolidation services. They negotiated down the interest rates on her debts and then made payments on her behalf. The problem was that one of her debtors would not negotiate on the interest. So the payments the company made were so low that the debt kept growning and growing. She tried to arrange for that one debt to not be included in the program and got a bunch of grief. She was told everything had to be included or nothing. So she cancelled the service.
    Then some of debtors tried to claim that since she was no longer in the program she had to pay them off – in full – immediately. They treated her like she was kicked off by the consolidation company but she actually fired them.

    The point is that 1) Read your agreement with that consolidation company very carefully, 2) find out what you’re debtors will do if you drop the service, 3) be ready to spend some serious time on the phone talking to the service and the debtors involved, and 4) the BBB is a good resource if the companies become too difficult.

    Good luck!

  24. DougR says:

    Hey Martha (q.5): I totally agree with Trent here. Each area of practice you cite involves a certain kind of lifestyle, doesn’t it? So lifestyle considerations as well as the type of vet practice might influence your choice (e.g. the kinds of people and places you’ll be hanging out in & spending time among, stuff like ‘do I really want frantic 4AM phone calls to remove an impaction in a horse’s hoo-hoo out in a rainy field?’…maybe you do!), and maybe the only way you find that out, other than holding your nose & jumping in, is spending time with practitioners in the particular specialties, find out what kinds of people THEY are, what they like and/or regret about THEIR choices. I’m a big fan of going with what excites you, rather than merely on what pays the most, and the more research you do on ALL the aspects of each type of practice, the better.

    Also, each of the contacts you make is potentially a source of a job or a referral to someone with a job, once you decide what you’re looking for.

    Good luck, and enjoy exploring!

  25. kristine says:

    Q6- Hang in there. I got my first masters as a single mom with 2 small kids, working full time. I was operating 200/m underwater in childcare for the duration, but as the masters was paid for by my employer, and long term higher wages a concern, it was worth the stress of the interim debt. I now teach, and have a schedule that allows for much more family time.

    I remember getting home at 10pm some nights, working on my thesis, then getting the kids up and showering for work without ever even laying down. That happened about once a week. You are young- you can do it. I would never be able to handle the physical or mental demands of that schedule now.

    Put the adrenaline of your youth and determination to work- it is only a few months…you can do it! I wish you all the luck in the world. And good luck with our student teaching! Do your best there- a good reputation while student teaching is a solid foot in the door.

  26. Christina says:

    Thank you for the insight on Q8. It’s unfortunate that I trusted the bankruptcy attorney when he said I was no longer liable for the house when the bankruptcy was completed.

    Interesting to note, only 1 of the 3 credit bureaus reports it. The other 2 removed it with copies of the bankruptcy and divorce papers several years ago.

    Looks like I will find an attorney to help straighten out this mess, if I can at all.

  27. Vivianne says:

    Q5: Spend the summer between 2nd and 3rd year and your weeks off during 3rd year doing externships in a mixed practice, a research facility, and with a surgeon. Think about what you enjoy about each field. Realistically, in mixed practice the owners will be more laid back, but you will have to spend time on cattle, pigs and sheep too. Sports med and surgery attract high powered personalities and high powered owners (and trainers, and farm managers, and groomers) all of whom have different views on how to treat your patient, so you either need to be incredibly diplomatic, or a charismatic superstar a**hole. Plus you’re looking at an internship and residency before you’re ready to practice. On average, in private practice most new grads change jobs after the second year, then stay in their second job for 10 + years. Best of luck to you.

  28. TK says:

    Q9 – Does the vinegar affect the finish on your automobile? It would seem like the vinegar would be corrosive.

  29. DeeBee says:


    I completely understand that you would want to be productive on your end-of-year projects and I admire your diligence and organization. However, from the perspective of one of those people who get the week off after Christmas, I count that as part of my vacation and time to enjoy the company of friends and family. I work Tuesdays through Saturdays, including evening shifts, so I can’t go out on Saturday nights like most people can. I have to plan my activities carefully during the semester because I am also in graduate school.

    I would just suggest that when making plans, that people consider the schedules of friends and family when accepting invitations, even for things that might seem like less productive activities. It might be the only time that those individuals can enjoy some fun “shenanigans” with you.


  30. Steve in W MA says:

    @ Q5,

    garage that $22,000 car take $3000 in cash out of your bankd account and buy Honda Accord or Civic 5 speed manual from a private party (NOT a dealership) that’s about 15 years old, it will give you less trouble than the car you have.

    Then, when your finances allow, fix the 22,000 car with cash and sell it.

    I have never spent more than $3200 on a car and don’t intend to. My existing car was purchased for $3200 eight years ago when it was ten years old and runs fine. I estimate I have put $1000 of work into it over that time. If I paid for ALL of the work (most things I do myself) then it would have been maybe $2000 in expenses over that 8 year period. A lot better than you are doing.

    Get a car you can drive for cheap, then dump your existing car ASAP. You may need to drop $2000 of your own money to get the tranny fixed, but once it’s fixed SELL IT.
    One more tip: when you’re buying a car, don’t buy automatics. They are complicated and prone to failure compared to the average standard transmission. Get a 5 or 6 speed standard transmission vehicle and keep it.

    good luck dude.

  31. Steve in W MA says:

    @ q1, Stephanie:

    Figure out how much money you will need to retire and at what age you want to retire.

    Then back-figure to the present and determine how much you need to be saving every year. If you are in your 20s, I’d guess at least 10,000 per year and if you can swing 20,000 that’s even better. 10,000 per year from your mid 20s should put you in the 700,000 range at the age of 60 if you can earn 4% in inflation adjusted returns (off the top of my head, which should give you about 24,000 per year of retirement money for 20-30 years depending on your assumptions.

    If you can put away 20K per year from the age of 25, you should be able to come up with 1.4 million in 2010 dollars, which is a lot heftier obviously and could allow you to retire comfortable earlier.

    If you are saving significantly less than 10K per year and you are approaching 30, you might want to do something about it. Not to mention if you are older and still haven’t started significant retirement savings.

    However, with all this talk of savings and investments, don’t forget social security. It should provide you some additional boost even 30 years from now.

  32. Steve in W MA says:

    @ Jeanine, “I would imagine that a college-aged woman would be concerned about reliability in a vehicle which many low-end vehicles cannot guarantee.”

    What do you think is going to happen to you? If you’re that concerned about reliability from the “personal safety “perspective, might as well keep a licensed, loaded gun and a spare cellphone in the car.

    In my experience, older cars are plenty reliable. Although I know scores of women who disagree and have vastly overpaid for transportation due to this myth and fear. Frankly. I ave female friends who have ditched perfectly good 5-7 year old cars for a new car from the dealer even though the the 5 year old cars have never actually stranded them. The older cars just had a few minor quirks but had never stranded them or failed to work but this was too nervewracking for them. This is obviously an irrationally based fear motivating this kind of decision.

    I have had used and older/very old cars for my entire life e and can count on my left hand, with fingers left over, the times they have failed me in any sense over the 23 year period of my driving.

  33. AnnJo says:

    Christina, if you alone went through a bankrutpcy and the mortgage debt was disharged, you should be in the clear on this but if your bankruptcy was done jointly with your ex-husband and he reaffirmed, his action may have been binding on you. You DO need to pull your discharge documents and consult a bankruptcy attorney.

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