Updated on 08.09.11

Reader Mailbag: Ghosts

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. House now or later?
2. Blender recommendation
3. Long term care insurance question
4. Enjoying music at low cost
5. Protecting a family property
6. Finding the right home
7. Birthdays and charities
8. Keeping food
9. Graduate school planning
10. Found money

Several people have asked me recently if I believe in ghosts. I can honestly say that I’m unsure. I won’t say that I disbelieve in them, nor will I say that I absolutely believe in them.

I will say that I believe that there are a lot of natural phenomena here on Earth that we don’t understand and don’t have any sort of a good explanation for. I’ve witnessed several extremely odd things in my life that have no good explanation as far as I could ever tell.

I am probably willing to believe in a broader definition of ghosts, in that there is some sort of natural visual phenomenon that appears to take on something of a human form. If you start talking about reincarnation and spirits, then I’m far more doubtful.

Q1: House now or later?
I’m entering unfamiliar territory here in contemplating a house purchase. There’s not much recent info online about what it means to do it without a mortgage. You wrote recently about how specific advice changes over time given changing markets. Here goes:

My boyfriend and I set a goal to move to a different part of the country closer to our families where we felt the quality of life is better. His company transferred him in January, and I accepted a job in our new city this month. Our salaries are roughly the same, and while the cost of living is reportedly 5% higher in our new city than in our old, so far almost all of our expenses have stayed the same or decreased. We’ve been saving for a house and have a healthy down payment (a bit more than 50%) in savings accounts because we lived so long in a city where we didn’t want to sink roots. We had been thinking about buying a house when our apartment lease ends in a few months. With the housing market predicted to decline further, we’re now talking about saving up enough to just pay cash. We think we could do this fairly easily by 2013 or 2014 if we focus on that as a stretch goal. We’ve talked about perhaps contributing less to our retirement funds for a while (we have both been fully funding our 401Ks at $16,500/yr and our Roths at $5000/yr for several years). We’re in our mid-30s and neither of us has ever owned a house or had children. We are both savers, not spenders.

In doing research about paying cash for a house, it seems like the two biggest arguments AGAINST cash and FOR having a mortgage are 1) diversification of assets and liquidity – not putting all your money into a house, and 2) using the mortgage as a hedge against inflation.

If we’ll have MORE in our retirement funds than in our house fund (plus a 6-month emergency fund and a house maintenance fund), does reason 1 even apply to us? And does reason 2 matter in a declining market, or am I reading “old news”? If we buy now, we may be able to avoid rising interest rates, but we’ll likely pay a higher purchase price. If we wait until the market bottoms out, we can get a lower price and let inflation (maybe) increase the value of our paid-for house. I’m wondering if I really understand what inflation means to the housing market, and if this is a market we should try to “time”. We don’t really view home ownership as an investment, but appreciate the security of not having to make payments. We’d also appreciate not having to pay an artificially high “bubble” price. Our new city is NOT one of the foreclosure capitals and actually has a fairly stable housing market, considering.
– Stacia

There is a huge reason for not owning a mortgage: if you don’t have one, your cash flow each month is free, meaning that you can much more easily survive a job loss or other major unexpected event. If you have a mortgage payment to cover, that’s just another minimum requirement in your monthly finances.

You just can’t predict your future. It might be as smooth as your imagination makes it out to be, but it also has a strong likelihood of including a job loss or a severe illness or a major injury or even a spectacular opportunity at a lower initial pay rate (like a startup that offers equity along with salary or instead of salary).

As for concerns about market timing, it’s not something I would put too much weight into. Making financial bets based on market timing mean that you’re betting your money largely on predictions of the future. Instead, look at what you know about the future – namely, that if you have a mortgage, you’ll have more demands on your monthly finances than if you do not have a mortgage.

Q2: Blender recommendation
I’m a big believer (as you are) in trying out a new hobby with inexpensive equipment and then upgrading if you find it’s becoming a major part of your life. About two years ago, I started making daily fruit smoothies with a cheap blender I got at Goodwill. Now, I have one of these for breakfast almost every day but the blender just stopped working. I’ve poked around online for recommendations. Do you have a suggestion for a great blender for this or at least a resource to look at?

– James

I’ve owned several blenders over the years. Much as you, I really enjoy making fruit smoothies and, beyond that, we use blenders for other things, such as making salmon burgers and making mixed drinks, so a really good blender with a lot of diverse uses was the best choice for us.

While I can’t comparatively comment across a wide range of blenders, we own a Blendtec HP3A that we found on sale a while ago. I absolutely love the thing. It blends everything perfectly, from fruit smoothies to milkshakes to salmon puree to peanut butter without skipping a beat. The only minor complaint I would have about the device is that it’s loud, but you’re only going to be running it in small amounts.

It’s a great device and if you find yourself using a blender daily (meaning that a blender is a heavy-use item in your life), I highly recommend it.

Q3: Long term care insurance question
Can you explain anything about insurance for long-term-care? Is this an add-on to life insurance? Do you have to have insurance for a number of years before you could claim on it? How does it work? How much coverage is recommended?

– Chris

Long term care policies are insurance policies that kick into effect to pay for the long term care of someone who cannot complete some number of activities of daily living (usually referring to personal hygiene, dressing, feeding, transferring such as getting out of bed, continence, and ambulation) and undressing). This number varies from policy to policy, but usually a person has to be unable to complete two of these things to receive long term care. Typically, a doctor has to certify that a person is unable to complete these tasks for a period of ninety days or longer in order for the policy to come into effect.

Usually, this is purchased as a distinct policy on its own. Policies often come with fairly high premiums because typically people who are interested in such a policy tend to be facing some concern of a long term care condition in their future.

How quickly you can claim the care depends on the policy, but there is usually a waiting period of some length. As with other insurances, you’ll have to be screened first in order to set the premium price and also to determine if insurance can even be offered.

If you’re looking at long-term care insurance as a miracle that will help you pay for a long term care situation that you know is coming, it’s not going to work like that. It will be difficult to get a policy, and even if you do, the premiums will be painfully high.

Q4: Enjoying music at low cost
I’m trying to find a balance between my desire to enjoy music at a low cost along with my feeling that music piracy is wrong. What are sources for low cost music that actually has a decent selection?

– Kelly

A few options immediately come to mind.

The first one is Pandora, which essentially lets you listen to high quality streaming audio for free. Typically, it works like this: you type in the name of an artist you like and Pandora creates a station based around that artist and similar artists. As new songs appear, you vote them up or down depending on your tastes and, gradually, the station becomes more and more customized to your particular tastes. Pandora is free for a small amount of listening per month and there is an inexpensive pay service if you want to listen more than that.

Another option is Grooveshark, which functions a lot like an mp3 player inside of your browser. You can listen to the tracks you want within the service and then optionally purchase them for offline use. The selection isn’t perfect here, but it’s pretty solid all around and I can always find something to listen to.

A third option is simply using Youtube, which has tons of music videos and performances available for viewing and listening.

Q5: Protecting a family property
My 2 siblings & I will be inheriting a family cottage when our parents pass away. I don’t anticipate this happening for awhile, but I want to be prepared when that day comes along. When my father’s parents passed away, they left the cottage to my parents & his siblings. Long story short, the fund they had set up, dried out & my father bought out his siblings. Some of them were okay with this, others were not. I don’t want another buy out situation to happen to me and my sisters in the future. We’ve talked about this and all agree, that starting something sooner is a better plan than trying to catch up later. I’m thinking we’d collect about $600 a year ea. for starters and need these funds in about 15+ years. The funds would be used for taxes, utilities and upkeep around the cottage. I anticipate the mortgage being paid off when it gets handed down. Ideally, all 3 of us would have access to the account. So what I’m looking for is some feedback on what type of account would you start for these funds we’d like to start setting aside?

– Tim

Your plan sounds good except for the “all three of us would have access to the account.” This sets up a situation where you are all relying on the individual honesty of each other and that’s never a good situation.

The best situation is to put the cottage into a trust with rules defined that allow only people who contribute to the trust to be able to use the cabin. Then, set up a single person to manage that trust and make sure bills and such are paid on the cottage.

This provides a legal backbone for everyone to rely on instead of just having some account that a bunch of people have access to (which, in my experience, smells like a lawsuit in the making).

If you want guidance in doing this, contact a property lawyer.

Q6: Finding the right home
My husband and I recently started looking into buying a home. As we see places we like, but don’t love, we find ourselves wondering how much we should buy into the idea that we’ll find a house that’s “the one” and we’ll know right away versus a house that meets most of our major criteria. Lots of variables here, of course, but generally speaking perhaps you have some input? Side note: We are looking around the Greater Boston area, so the number of decent houses on the market that we can (responsibly) afford is lower than it would be in many other markets.

– Jen

The idea of “the one” relies heavily on the person doing the search. For some people, there will be a house that just clicks for them. For other people, they’ll simply see a lot of houses that match some of the features they want. I find myself in the latter camp. I don’t think there is “one” house that is “perfect” for me.

Our house search mostly involved us seeking out the house that had a significant majority of the features we wanted within our price range. When we found one that had several of the features, we struck. It’s the house we’re living in now. Is it “the one,” the house that’s just perfect? No. Does it have a lot of features that we value? Absolutely.

In your shoes, I’d just spend some time identifying what things a house must have and what things you’d like to see in a house, define a price range, and jump on any house that has the musts with some of the likes without having any features that scare you off.

Q7: Birthdays and charities
My daughter recently had her first birthday. We kept her party small and simple (thanks to me searching your blog for some good advice) but she still received a huge pile of presents. I am not a fan of electronic toys, plus she can only play with one thing at a time. I’ve also really started to simplify our life and feel “less is more.” Thus, I returned a lot of stuff and bought a few things we really needed. Right after her birthday we opened up her own savings account. And it occurred to me that next year I’d like to say, “please help us celebrate L’s birthday. Instead of a gift, we would appreciate a $10 donation to her college fund.” $10 is less than what most of these people spent on these presents and I would much rather have the money than more stuff cluttering up my house. So how do I do this politely? Or do I resign myself to a lifetime of stuff? Or do I include a list of suggested gift ideas with the invitation?

– Alissa

My general feeling is that if you’re having a party where gifts are welcome, you have to allow the gift-givers some control over their gifts. They’re not offerings of appeasement. They’re gifts selected by the giver because they believe the recipient will like them.

If you have a good relationship with the person you’re inviting, have a chat with them about it. Explain your situation and give some informal ideas.

If you don’t have a good enough relationship with the person you’re inviting to do this, then either don’t invite them or accept that you may receive a gift that you don’t like. There’s absolutely no harm in quietly returning them later on or donating the toys to a charity.

Q8: Keeping food
How long do you keep leftovers and still feel safe using them?

– Andy

It depends heavily on the food. If I’m unsure, I use a constant “three and out” rule. If I prepared the meal within the last three days, I consider it okay if it’s kept in the refrigerator.

Some foods are obviously exceptions to this. For example, I will eat bread as long as it’s mold free, for example. I often make homemade bread and homemade bread tends to form molds on the surface fairly easily – after all, there are no preservatives in it.

Another big key in this equation is freezing. If I know that I’m not going to use an item within that three day period, I usually freeze it if I think there’s any chance I’d use it again. I usually try to freeze leftovers in individual meal sizes so that I can easily pull out a package and eat it for lunch in a pinch.

Q9: Graduate school planning
I work in an unchallenging, boring nonprofit job that underutilizes me, yet pays me a comfortable salary with benefits. I’ve been wanting to leave for a year now, but since my living situation is so comfortable, I only wanted to leave for a really, really good opportunity in my desired field. Despite getting to the final round of a few of those potentially wonderful opportunities, I haven’t landed anything new.

I also recently moved in with my boyfriend, which drops my expenses a great deal. We’ve discussed splitting costs and bills and the mortgage (he owns a condo), but because he earns a decent salary and is financially stable, he doesn’t need any of my income to maintain his lifestyle.

I’ve decided to apply for graduate school in my desired field for the next academic year, which leaves me with a full year to either languish at this job while socking away money for school (I may or may not receive funding and a stipend, depending on if I go for a masters or PhD), or looking for a part time job in my field that will not pay very much, but will let me get more work experience in that field (with the possibility of combining with a part time retail or other job just for money). I would probably lack health insurance benefits with this option.

My question falls into two parts: Firstly, is it stupid to leave a cozy job with benefits because it’s boring and unchallenging and not taking me where I want to go for a poorly-paid part time job in a field I plan to pursue?

Secondly, living with my boyfriend makes the part-time option much more financially feasible, but I’m reluctant to depend on him for this, even though he’s said he’s fine with it and wants me to be happier and more fulfilled–I don’t want to come to resent him for any reason. I could probably do this on my own, but having him around makes it much easier on me. Would it be wrong to take advantage of the happy accident of falling in love with someone who can support me while I follow my passion?

Final background: I carry no debt and have a small savings account and some retirement savings; he has only a mortgage as debt and has (what I consider to be) substantial savings. We have no plans to break up, but no solid plans to get married in the future (though it’s been discussed as a happy possibility in a few years). My field will never be a high-paying one. (It’s education, if you’re curious.)
– Margery

As long as you’re in a situation with no dependents and you can keep the minimum bills paid, it’s never stupid to leave a cozy job with benefits because it’s boring and unchallenging and not taking me where I want to go for a poorly-paid part time job in a field I plan to pursue. I would always recommend that people do that very thing. You’re far better off being engaged with your work and on an upward trajectory than earning more money at a job you hate in the short term.

As for the situation with your boyfriend, my only advice is this: if you take this new job and then you guys break up, would you be in truly dire straits or would it be a livable situation? I’m not sure from your description which is the case.

If you’re putting yourself in a situation where you literally could not pay the bills without your boyfriend’s help, I would be nervous about doing this unless this relationship is strongly committed for the long term. If you would be able to survive, then I wouldn’t worry about it for another second.

Q10: Found money
I found a bank envelope with [unusual writing] on the envelope but without any sort of receipt on the ground outside of my grocery store. It had [$300] in cash in it (ed: I changed the content of the writing and the exact amount of cash, but kept the order of magnitude correct.) I didn’t return it to the grocery store because I was pretty sure that the person at the customer service desk would just pocket the cash. So I kept it. Now I feel guilty about it and I’m not sure what to do. What would you do?

– Emily

If I were you, I would put up a couple of signs saying “I found an unusual envelope in the parking lot of this store. I would like to return it to its rightful owner. If you think I may have your envelope, contact me by some date” and include your contact info on the sign.

If no one contacts you by that date, consider it a windfall and keep the money. Take down the signs and move on with life.

If someone does contact you, make them describe the envelope to you so that you’re sure they’re not trying to scam you out of whatever it is that you have.

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. Mister E says:

    If you find money and it bears some identifiable mark (such as an unusual envelope) then I think there is an obligation to put some good faith effort into finding the owner. Maybe not for very small amounts – if I find $10 on the street I’m pocketing it. But I would personally never turn it in to anyone at all, if I can’t find the owner then that means that I’m the owner and I’m not about to involve any third party opinion on that.

  2. Amy says:

    Another option for Kelly and music is to borrow CDs from the library, listen to them a few times to see which songs she likes, and then purchase those songs as singles on iTunes or Amazon. That way, instead of paying $13.99-$18.99 for an entire CD when she only really likes two songs well enough to pay for them, she can spend $1.98 for those two songs and gradually build up a collection.

    Also, if friends or relatives ask her what she wants for birthday/Christmas/etc., iTunes gift cards are a good option.

  3. Johanna says:

    Q4, Kelly: I’m a fan of eMusic (and I know Trent’s mentioned in the past that he is too, so I don’t know why he didn’t mention it here). An up-front payment of $100 gets you approximately two albums worth of MP3s every month for a year. That’s “low cost” in my book. They don’t have everything, but they way my particular tastes run, they usually have most of what I want. On the rare occasions that I want something they don’t have, I’ll get it from some other source (amazon, CD Baby, my local bricks-and-mortar used music store).

    Really, music is not that expensive, if you research your purchases beforehand and buy only what you’re pretty sure you’ll listen to a lot. And unless the artists you listen to are the really big-name superstars (or dead), they probably need the money more than you do. After all, this is how they make a living.

  4. valleycat1 says:

    Q10 – you could also let the customer service desk know you found the envelope, so if the person who lost it contacts them, they would know it had been found & get both parties in touch with each other for the return. If I were a customer service worker, I’d be offended that you’d expect that I’d pocket the cash more readily than you.

    Q7 – I agree with Trent that it’s generally not considered good etiquette to dictate what types of gifts you want brought to a party. In my book, I’d only invite people who know the child well, and if your friends & family know your lifestyle choices over time, they are more likely to give gifts in line with your lifestyle. You can also follow the one-in/one-out rule, so after birthdays/holidays you go through & cull toys/clothing to get back down to the level you are comfortable with – & that could mean getting rid of some of the new items to keep older more-loved items.

  5. Courtney20 says:

    Q6: Price and location are the two most important features. You can change ANYTHING about a house, except its location. Features come in third – you can always remodel, refurbish, or even (on the extreme end) tear the whole thing down and rebuild to your liking. But you can’t move your land parcel.

  6. Kacie says:

    I can relate to Q6.

    We are looking for our first house and have been for about 1.5 months now. I don’t think I will find “the one” especially on our limited budget. And I’m not sure that it’ll be love-at-first-sight for me, either.

    I view it as a place to live that has nicer features than I could get in an apartment. I view it as a place where we can one day live mortgage-free.

    So I doubt that we will walk into a house and instantly know it’s “the one” but hey, it could happen. Right now, we are just seeking a house that fits our basic criteria:

    – burb of choice
    – 3 brm, 2 full baths
    – 2 living spaces inside
    – 2 car garage
    – one-story house

    Those are our musts. We have some ‘likes’ such as a fenced-in yard, and would prefer no HOA. Something that has been maintained. Etc. I hope we find ours soon.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Q7 – I have a close friend who is in a somewhat similar situation to yours. Fortunately we are close enough that I’ve told her to just let us know the type of gift she would prefer for her children, and we’ll gladly follow her suggestion. She isn’t comfortable having the same discussion, however, with her family or most of her other friends, so the kids continue to get piles of toys every year.

    My suggestion would be to have a one on one discussion with each gift giver. I would express my concern with the amount of toys the child receives, and let them know that you’d prefer a different type of gift if they want to buy something. I suspect that some people may not like the suggestion of money for the college fund, as they may feel that the parents are getting more benefit than the child, so they may continue to purchase toys or other material gifts.

  8. TLS says:

    Q10 – Why don’t you turn the envelope and cash in to the police station? In some places, you can claim an item you have turned in after a certain amount of time if no one has picked it up.

    I turned in a diamond ring I found in parking lot. No one claimed it, so after several months, I paid the $10 administration fee and it is now mine.

  9. Other Jonathan says:

    Q1 – Buy the house in a few months when your lease runs out. You have 50% of the purchase price saved up now, and think you could save the other 50% in 2-3 years. Why pay rent for 3 years so you can avoid paying mortgage payments? It is likely that your mortgage payments would be less than your rent, and you could always pay more than the minimum and pay off your mortgage in the next 3-5 years if you choose.

    There is no real reason to think that property values are going to fall significantly from today’s already-low prices. Further, interest rates are historically low. Put 40-50% down, get a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage at around 4%, make sure there’s no pre-payment penalty, and start enjoying your own home now. You’ll also have a level of liquidity that you wouldn’t have if you spent all of your savings paying cash in 3 years.

  10. Andrew says:

    Q6–Finding “the one” house can and does happen. I was looking for a house 2 years ago (also in the Boston area) and fell deeply and instantaneously in love with the 7th house I saw (I know that’s incredible luck).

    It needed about $50,000 worth of work, but fortunately, the base price was $60,000 under what I had budgeted. I’ve never been happier with my living quarters.

    Trent’s advice about identifying what you need in a house is sound, but I would add that if you don’t absolutely HAVE to find a new home right now, I wouldn’t give up and settle for second best. If you have time to spare, use it!

    Also, it’s still a buyers’ market, which means that if you do find the perfect place, you’ll have some leverage that you wouldn’t have had a few years ago.

  11. Riki says:

    Finding the “perfect” house . . .

    This is a really good question and one I have a lot of experience with. My boyfriend and I just purchased our first home after looking for almost two years. Yes, years. In that time, we looked at close to 100 houses. This is what I learned:

    – Look at houses in every price range. We looked at properties well above our budget and well below our budget and everything in between when we first started. Why? Because it helped us understand the market. Make sure you know what you get if you add $20K to your budget and what you’ll lose if you take $20K away. That way, you’ll get a sense of value for dollar.

    – Generate a list of things you MUST have, but try to keep that list as short as possible. Once you’ve done your “research looking”, limit yourself to houses that have what you really need.

    – Keep an open mind when looking at listings. The listings can be misleading and there were times when I thought I’d love a house and it turned out to be crap. There were also listings tthat I almost ignored that turned out to be really fantastic.

    – Location really does matter. It’s the only thing you can’t change about a house. Location, location, location!

    – We held out for a house that really knocked our socks off. I walked in the front door, looked at the living room, and knew instantly it was the house I wanted. As long as you don’t have a time limit, waiting for a house that really sings to you is TOTALLY worth it.

    – Once you start looking enough, you’ll definitely get a sense of whether or not a house works for you. I walked into some houses and knew automatically it wasn’t for me, even if it technically had all of my requirements taken care of.

    It’s a lot of work to buy a house (and it’s really expensive). Make sure you have money saved for a down-payment AND closing costs (which can really add up), not to mention some extra cash to add some personal touches like painting or changing a light fixture.

    But don’t take Trent’s advice to just jump on any house that meets your needs. This is a big purchase and patience really, really does pay off. In my search, there were probably 4 homes that I really liked, but I’m so happy we waited for the house we have. It’s your home. It’s a big deal. This is a purchase worth doing right.

  12. Riki says:

    And I just thought I’d add . . .

    I’ve been living in my house for less than two months and I still wake up every single day feeling incredibly lucky that this home is mine. I. Love. My. House.

    I found searching for and buying a house to be frustrating, exhausting, and overwhelming at times . . . but man was it ever worth it.

  13. AnnJo says:

    Riki’s advice on house-buying is spot-on – and I’ve been living in my house for 26 years and still love it.

    A couple of things I’d add:

    Yes, make a short list of must-have characteristics, but include must-not-have items as well. You probably know what you really hate about where you are now, but also notice what turns you off about houses you look at. When I did my search, I came to realize that my agent, who was an excellent resource, loved houses surrounded by beautiful trees, but I found them way too dark. When I figured that out, we saved a lot of time, and I revised my must-have criteria to include lots of natural light.

    Also, I wouldn’t rule out looking at a house just because it fails to meet one single criterion, if it scores high on the rest. Having lived for over a decade in a house with no garage or driveway and limited on-street parking, my must-have list included an attached garage. Yet the house I fell in love with has a detached one-car garage. I’m so glad I decided to check it out!

    Also, location is so important that it’s worth looking into the trends affecting an area, if you’re buying for the long-term. What kind of development is going on? Is the community dependent on a single employer and if so, what are its long-term prospects? Has the politics or demographics of the local community been changing and how will that affect regulations, property taxes, law enforcement, school quality, traffic, community services? (Sadly, because I still love my house, these things have changed so much in my community I’m seriously considering moving both my home and my business to another state or another part of my state.)

    Talk to people who live near a house that you like. They will be your new neighbors and that’s hugely important. Ask them how the area has changed over the last few years. (Pick the ones whose houses show pride of ownership. They’re probably most observant of changes.)

  14. kristine says:

    The blender link goes to a blender that cost 600, 400 on Amazon, and if really lucky, maybe 200 on clearance somewhere.

    Let’s assume you pay 300- good guess. The going rate for a blender at goodwill is 10 bucks. It would 30 years to amortize the other blender, not including shipping and handling and higher tax.

    I have had 2 free freecycle blenders- each lasted 5 years. I just posted on freecycle for another-I’ll probably have a 1 week wait. I used an abused them without a thought or care, for everything.

    Even expensive blenders break. But at the rate I am going, I will have saved major bucks, and if you factor in that I invest all my unused money, I will work about a week less in life by not buying that blender.

    To each his own.

    But I will always hand chop pesto from my garden basil- I recently found out the way I do it is more traditional. It is certainly more flavorful, and has a much better texture!

  15. Amanda says:

    question 7. Why don’t you just say, “no gifts”? Otherwise, you ARE trying to personally benefit by getting the $10. I can see how you’re trying to help others but there’s possibly an aspect of personal benefit.

  16. Johanna says:

    Q9: Trent talks about “a job you hate,” but do you really hate your job? Do you dread going in to work every day, or are you just not as excited by it as you wish you were? There are worse things in life than being bored and unchallenged.

    When you say you’d be without health insurance benefits with the part-time job, does that mean you’d go without health insurance at all? If so, then yes, I think it would be stupid to go with the part-time job. Going without health insurance, when you have a reasonable option to have it, is very risky and a very bad idea.

  17. PF says:

    Q4: My brother bought 10 commercial Hamilton Beach Blenders off ebay and that is what we use. Even the $200 Kitchen Aid blender couldn’t stand up to frozen fruit every morning. It is annoying to have to return a blender every two months.

    Q7: Next time just say no gifts. That’s what we did. The party was a lot more fun without the gift opening ritual anyway and I can’t tell you how happy I was that I didn’t have a 45 gallon bag full of cardboard and plastic packaging to landfill.

    Requesting $10 for her college fund is TACKY and low-brow.

  18. Jessica says:

    Q7: Suggest consumables or experience gifts whenever possible. A family zoo or science museum membership (one set of grandparents does that for my kids), pay for swim or gymnastics or ballet classes & costume & shoes, tickets to the latest kids movie, or other consumables like crayons & construction paper, stickers that won’t accumulate and will get used regularly.

  19. AndreaS says:

    Q2. I agree with Kristine about used/cheap blenders. I buy used Hamilton Beach blenders, because it seems to be the most common on the secondhand market, and the bases and jars are interchangeable. When I see a baseless jar, or a jarless base at a yard sale I buy it for something like 50 cents. I bought a glass jar just this weekend. I stash these away in a garage cabinet I have for surplus small appliances and kitchen things I find real cheap. So when a kid gets an apartment, or my current blender dies, or I break a blender jar, I just go out to my cabinet. I do sometimes end up with an avocado jar lid with a almond-colored base, but so so what.

    I make smoothies almost daily, so these blenders are sturdy enough. Some people make smoothies by grinding up ice cubes with milk and fruit, which is hard on any blender. I keep a stash of “smoothie fruit” in my freezer. When I have some fruit that is going by, I freeze it in small chunks and then add it to my mixed bag of fruit. I also freeze things in ice-cube trays, like the juice from a pineapple can. Frozen juice is much softer than regular ice cubes.

    I also agree with prior sentiments about house buying. It is worth the work and waiting to shop hard and hold out for something you love. Twenty-odd years ago a friend bought her house in the winter when there was still snow. When the snow melted she realized her neighbor was a major slob who disassembles cars for parts. She put up a board fence, but they really hate the location. They hate it so much that they have a camp on a lake near by so they can escape. They looked into selling and buying a different house but were discouraged. They would not get much from this house in a bad location. So now they are building a permanent structure at their camp site. If you love where you live, you feel way less need to “get away.” Vacations are expensive. It is worth waiting.

  20. josh says:

    @kristine #14

    I would venture a guess that a Blendtec blender will still be working in 30 years. They blend iPhones, golf balls, broom handles, etc….. willitblend.com

  21. Jonathan says:

    I can’t comment on blenders specifically, because I have very little experience with them. I can say, however, that I agree with Trent’s approach of buying a few high-quality items, rather than many cheaper products. If you’re goal is to spend the least amount of money possible, then garage sale or thrift store appliances probably make a lot of sense. There are other reasons, however, to value a high-quality product over cheaper products, and that, of course, will vary from person to person.

  22. Tamara says:

    Q4: Obviously I don’t know your music tastes but I can recommend last (dot) fm and rcrdlbl (dot) com. They offer free downloads of indie music, I’ve discovered a few great bands this way! And seeing that it’s free, if you hate it it’s no great loss to delete it.

    Q7: As an advice column and etiquette junkie, this is easy to answer: NEVER EVER on pain of DEATH suggest or recommend presents. Even though everyone knows giving gifts is the norm on birthdays, showers, etc. they are in no way to be expected. Asking for cash, even for a good cause, is the tackiest thing you can do. Accept the gifts with grace, then do as you will with them (return, donate, etc.). The flip side of giving a gift is that once it is given the giver cannot dictate what you do with it!

  23. Krista says:


    I did exactly what you are proposing. I do not regret it, but I would have done things a bit differently and I was admittedly a bit naive. I quit a job I hated to apply to grad school and work part time to gain experience in a new field. That was a year ago. I didn’t get into grad school (admissions said they had a record number of applicants at my school of choice) and I STILL haven’t found a job in the new field after applying for about 30 jobs. I volunteer in this field (at a library and museum) but can’t find a paying gig. Now, if I hadn’t loathed my job, I would have stayed and volunteered for at least a few months, socking money away. So here I am…a year later, happier and healthier, but not really closer to my goal of transitioning. It’s rough out there, especially for someone with little or no experience in the new field. So I think transitioning to something you will get more satisfaction from is definitely a good idea, just go in with your eyes open and know that it can be frustrating and disappointing.

  24. Meg says:

    Hmm, is Grooveshark and Youtube that different from piracy? AFAIK Most of the music on both sites is uploaded by users who do not have permission to do so (although on YT this may be changing). Not much different from the users who upload their music folders to Piratebay.

  25. SwingCheese says:

    I’ve had bad luck with blenders and didn’t bother to replace our last one when it went out years ago. We sunk our money into the food processor and now, when I need something blended, I just use that. (I don’t do anything with ice in it, though, and I’m not sure how it would work with a smoothie.)

  26. valleycat1 says:

    Q9 – I agree with those who disagree with Trent. You can tough out any job for one more year, maintain your health benefits & make more money. If you don’t want to ‘languish’ I recommend finding the book ‘The Joy of Working’ & working your way through it. Although I would suggest it’s preferred & probably more morally responsible to make your very best effort at the current job, you could also just expend the least effort required for them to keep you there with decent job evaluations, & use the energy saved on doing something more fun & exciting after hours.

  27. kristine says:


    My math was incorrect- her Goodwill blender lasted 2 years, not 1. So the expensive blender would amortize in 60 years. I’ll be dead by then, barring cryonic rejuvenation.

    Willitblend is a great site- my kids love it! So that’s the Blendtech? Impressive. I must admit- I have no such extreme blending needs.

  28. David says:

    @Meg – Those sites are streaming for the consumer, so you don’t actually possess it. Pirate Bay you actually download it. That’s how I see it anyway.

  29. mary w says:

    Q1. I agree with Johanthan#9, buy the house when your lease is up. If you already have a 50% down and can save the rest within a couple of years, you can certainly afford the mortgage payment now since you’ll no longer be paying rent.

    Even if you decide to wait, I would not forgo/reduce 401k or IRA contributions to save money for the house. Both of these retirement vehicles have annual contribuition caps. If you cut back now you can’t exceed those limits later to make up the difference.

  30. Dee says:

    Q9: Bored at job

    Do not quit your job. Unless you have a huge emergency fund, have some certainty that you will get into grad school, already have that part time job lined up and have a plan for maintaining health insurance coverage.

    Being bored at work is not great, not ideal, but is also not the end of the world. Being broke, not having health insurance and getting sick/injured … that’s closer to the end of the world.

    Also, your BF, love you as he may, does not owe you anything so if you two break up, you will need to be able to fend for yourself. Your plan has to work financially without him.

  31. deRuiter says:

    I’m with the used blender recycling faction. When our blender dies, I cruise a few yard, house, estate or flea market sales and come home with an almost new blender for $2.-$6. The blender will last for years, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for America’s balance of trade, it’s a good deal for the person who doesn’t want the blender, it keeps moneny out of the hands of our Chinese enemies. It’s even good for the “hate Walmart” crowd because Walmart doesn’t sell a new blender. Recycle and buy pre owned! And to those of you who think the Chinese Communists, with their slave labor camps, one child policy are our friends, you are sadly mistaken.
    Q9, Stay with the non challenging job and the health care. What if you don’t get into grad school? Save up money so you have independence, and don’t have to take out student loans which will criple you for years after graduation. Volunteer in your chosen field while you keep your day job. Maybe your chosen filed won’t turn out to be as interesting as you think?

  32. kc says:

    re blenders…

    The Blendtec is rated 12th out of ~50 blenders evaluated by Consumer Reports. The Vita Mix was ranked #1, but is also absurdly expensive. And large.

    The 2nd rated blender – which had the same exact scores as the Blendtec (other than noise – it was much better than the Blendtec) – is the $60 Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004.

    User reviews of the Blendtec compare its noise level to lawn mowers and wet dry vacs. Plus it’s $400. On a positive note, you can use it to blend hockey pucks and golf balls.

    I’m surprised that someone who “trusts Consumer Reports completely,” and is frugal, would opt for the Blendtec.

  33. Jonathan says:

    @deRuiter (#31) – I agree that buying a used blender is preferable to buying a cheap blender. All of the reasons you list are good ones for making that decision. However, this does not apply to the discussion of buying a cheap used blender over a high-quality blender that should last must longer.

    “It’s good for the environment” – Yes, but so is buying a single item that will last for many years. One can debate which is better. If the used item would otherwise go to the landfill, then buying it might be better for the environment. If someone else would come along, however, instead of buying a new cheap blender, then that’s not necessarily the case.

    “It’s good for America’s balance of trade” – This is only true when the alternative is buying a new blender not made in the USA. Both the Blendtec that Trent suggested and the VitaMix that kc mentioned are US made, so it can be argued that buying a new US made blender is better in this regard.

    “It’s good for the person who doesn’t want the blender” – Again, only true if no one else is willing to buy the item. Otherwise, the seller doesn’t care who buys it, as long as they get rid of it and make a few dollars.

    “It keeps money out of the hands of our Chinese enemies” – I disagree with the sentiment that the Chinese are our enemies. Regardless, the same applies here as above, as long as the new item is US made, the Chinese are not profiting from the purchase.

    “It’s even good for the “hate Walmart” crowd” – This only applies if the new blender is purchased at Walmart. I seriously doubt that anyone is buying a high quality blender such as Blendtec or VitaMix at Walmart, so for this discussion the Walmart point is irrelevant.

  34. Laura says:

    Q2: I also recommend going used for a blender. I went through several new blenders before picking up an old Osterizer at St. Vincent DePaul. Great machine!

  35. Andrew says:

    deRuiter–While I agree with you that the Chinese government is not our friend, I would quibble with you about your description of it as “communist”. While they call themselves that, their government structure no longer fits any rational or even conceivable definition of the term.

    Ruthless, yes. Un-democaratic, yes. Appalling in their treatment of both their citizens and the environment, yes. Exploitative of the rest of the world–most definitely (read the current Vanity Fair article about Chinese-driven elephant slaughter in Africa). Communist? not at all.

    PS And this is not to argue that communism is a good thing, either!

  36. Kathryn says:

    Q5: The cottage…he should spend the money to work with an attorney to set this up. My friend has a similar set up, and they’ve got a life insurance policy set up that will pay for the taxes when Grandma passes. Also the “sharing” is all written out and out in the open, to minimize disagreements (though there are still some, as with any shared property.)

    Good luck.

  37. slccom says:

    Found money: Advertise, leave info with the customer service rep, yes. Leave money with the customer service rep, no. Sorry, as you will see shortly, I am just not that trusting. If it isn’t claimed, I want it to be mine.

    I was talking with a retired police officer when some women found a valuable ring. DO NOT turn it into the police; if it isn’t claimed, it goes into the City General Fund. It will not be returned to you.

    I agree that being bored at work is a poor reason for leaving a job AND HEALTH INSURANCE!!!!! And doing it with a “boyfriend” who may or may not be there when you get hit by the proverbial bus is absolutely idiotic.

    Talk with your boss and see if you can transfer into a more interesting position; volunteer to take on a major project. Get involved in a community activity. Go to grad school part time. Do anything but quit or you may find that your life becomes far too “interesting.”

    I will never understand all these women willing to pay debts for and rely financially on a shack-up. (Don’t like the term? Get married, then!) You have absolutely zero protection if things go bad, are out any money you may have paid off on his debt, and if you get pregnant, well, you have a very good chance of finding yourself on your own. Buying a house jointly before the wedding is even more stupid. We’ve gotten two houses at fire-sale prices when the shack-ups broke up and had to sell in a hurry. Good for us, though!

    On the wedding day, after the contract is signed, is the time to rely on plans based on his income and sustained presence. Not one minute before.

    For what it’s worth, I have seen all kinds of things blow up in the women’s faces, and by being picky and protecting myself, I married a wonderful man and have been married 33 years. Young women who have not had much life experience are welcome to learn from me, or learn their lessons the hard way. Your call!

  38. Julie says:


    I got a good laugh from your post. It reminded me of the old saying, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Things have certainly changed in the past 25 to 50 years…and I believe it is quite naive of the next generation to think that all of the changes have been for the better.

    There is certainly something to be said for making a MEANINGFUL committment to someone for a lifetime, especially if you plan to create a child together.

  39. Julie says:


    I find your comment about ghosts completely bizarre considering you claim to be a Christian. Most Christians believe in God, and thus they don’t need to believe in ghosts to explain why things happen on earth that they don’t understand or can’t explain.

  40. Jonathan says:

    “….considering you claim to be a Christian.”

    Are you questioning Trent’s sincerity in his beliefs? Do you not think it is possible to believe in ghosts and be a true Christian?

  41. Julie says:


    Did I say that? I said that his comment about ghosts was bizarre…not that a believe in ghosts was bizarre. He seems willing to give a ghost credit for something that has happened that he can’t explain, and yet he doesn’t mention that God might be the cause of things that happen that he can’t explain. Most people that have a belief in the God of Christianity really don’t give much thought in the first place to things that happen that they can’t explain….

    Now if you have a belief in a God with no power, this would be fine…but this is NOT the God of Christianity.

  42. Julie says:


    I will actually answer your question….

    I don’t believe that a Christian who has actually read…and believes the Bible as written…will find much (if any support) for a belief in “ghosts.” Demons and angels, yes, but not ghosts. (Ghosts being defined as the spirit of a dead human while demons and angels are spirits created by God that were never humans)

    That being said, I know many Christians that I would consider “true Christian” that have not read vast portions of the Bible and thus they may still believe in ghosts. However I don’t know many Christians who would consider giving a “ghost” credit for an unexplained event while leaving God out of the sentence altogether.

  43. Julie says:

    And finally…to Jonathon…the sincerity of a belief is irrelevant. Many people sincerely believe things that are untrue. I could believe with all of my heart that my mother is a red-head, but your eyes could tell you that she is blonde. I could believe with all of my heart that I am a man, but DNA would tell you that I am a woman. I could believe with all of my heart that I am an attorney, but the State of California will tell you that I am not. I could believe with all of my heart that I am a Christian, and even proclaim it to be true, but there is a very clear set of criteria in the Bible that determines whether someone is a “true Christian” or not. If I don’t agree with the criteria, than I shouldn’t claim to be a Christian. (This is in general…not referring to Trent. I have no idea what he really believes)

  44. Sara says:

    Q9: I think it could be a big mistake to leave your current job. There are a lot of things worse than a boring and unchallenging job that pays well. How about a boring and unchallenging job that doesn’t pay well? Or a highly stressful job that saps all of your energy? I agree with slccom’s advice to try to make your job more interesting. Take some initiative at work. Volunteer to take on more responsibilities or help with a project that interests you. Impress your boss so you’ll be first in line for a promotion where you can better use your skills.

    Personal finance forums are full of people who wasted money on grad school (and remember, even if you get funding that covers tuition, you will be giving up the opportunity to earn money). I know so many people who went to grad school so they could make more money or get a more fulfilling job, and it didn’t work out the way they hoped. What if you spend years — and thousands of dollars — on a graduate degree only to find out that the career path you’re seeking isn’t as fulfilling as you thought? What if you can’t even get a job in that career path?

    You definitely should not count on your boyfriend to support you throughout grad school. Unless and until the two of you are married, make your decisions as though he and his money are not in the picture. What would you do if you were single? Would you still take the part-time, potentially more fulfilling job and reduce your standard of living?

  45. Jonathan says:


    Just so you know the basis for my question. Had you said something to the effect of “I find your comment about ghosts completely bizarre considering you are a Christian.” Perhaps that is what you meant, I don’t know. That is why I questioned it. The phrasing of “…considering you claim to be a christian” makes it seem as though you may not believe Trent’s claim.

  46. almost there says:

    You should watch “Dean Spanley (2008)” to get the low down on the reincarnation message.{At a visiting swami’s lecture, Edwardian gentleman Fisk (Jeremy Northam) meets his district’s strange new clergyman, Dean Spanley (Sam Neill). The dean is a firm believer in reincarnation, which he expounds upon freely when drinking a particular Hungarian wine. Curious, Fisk delivers a case of the stuff to the dean, regaling in the man’s stories about his previous life as a dog. Peter O’Toole co-stars in this offbeat British comedy.} I find it difficult to reason that if one can believe in the god of christianity they cannot believe in spirits.

  47. Matt says:

    Q4: Enjoying music at low cost:

    Another option is to buy used CDs off of Amazon. If the disc is popular, you can generally get it for less than a couple bucks (of course you always pay $3 for shipping). I recently bought a nearly pristine CD (with case and artwork) for a penny (plus S&H of course). Overall, including shipping costs, I believe my average purchase price is about half the price of a new CD.

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