Updated on 06.05.14

Reader Mailbag: Halloween Treats

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. Sharing too much information online
2. How do ARMs work?
3. World Series prediction
4. First time apartment hunting
5. Saving for a wedding
6. Workbook for missions/goals
7. In-person insurance agent?
8. Moving up at difficult workplace
9. Trying board games
10. Roth IRA as emergency fund

In our neighborhood, trick-or-treat night is a pretty significant event. We receive approximately 300 trick-or-treaters to our door each year, which means that we have almost a nonstop stream for about two and a half hours. Add onto that the presence of friends of our own children who tend to stick around for a bit and you have a busy evening.

Our technique for handing out treats is to hit a warehouse store beforehand, buying them in bulk. Fruit Roll-Ups tend to be a pretty big hit, actually, and they’re better than a chunk o’ chocolate.

Q1: Sharing too much information online
(How) would you tell an acquaintance or distant relative that they (or even worse yet, their children) are giving away too much information about themselves openly in the Internet (and especially in Facebook)?

I’ve got a tendency of sounding like Miss Know-it-all and smacking the facts on peoples faces, and being afraid of looking like a stalker or scaremonger I’ve not yet said anything to friends-of-a-friend in Facebook about how they are compromising their own or their immediate family’s privacy. I’ve not asked why do they allow their children to be on Facebook (sometimes the kids are under 13, which is under TOS of FB!) nor why their profiles are so unprotected. I’ve considered different ways of asking, but every time I end up thinking I sound like outside meddler that noses other people’s business, while I like to think of myself only meaning good. Should I continue my silence and if not, what would seem to you as the best way of conveying my genuine concern?
– Mia

I agree with you that privacy is a real concern with sites like Facebook. There is quite clearly a greatly exaggerated sense of privacy on the site, causing people to say and post things that are not exactly the types of things that they want future employers or polite acquaintances to know about them.

The best approach, I think, is to simply show them some of the tools and techniques people use to see other people’s “private” information. Like this one, for example. Your information on Facebook is only as secure as the most gullible of your friends, in other words.

Yes, such approaches have dodgy ethics, but isn’t it the people with dodgy ethics that we don’t want seeing our private information?

Q2: How do ARMs work?
How do ARMs work? The reason I ask is that they seem to have very low interest rates, for a limited time, i.e., 5 or 7 years. If you were planning on paying off your house in 5 or 7 years, and paid extra each month (or sat the extra aside for a lump sum payment before the balloon)…would that work? On ING’s website I couldn’t figure out what penalty (if any) there is for doing this. Is the APR calculated differently than a fixed mortgage?

– Melissa

An ARM is an adjustable rate mortgage. As you state, such mortgages offer great rates for the first few years of the mortgage, then the rate adjusts upwards according to the specific guidelines set forth in the mortgage agreement.

For example, an 5/1 ARM might offer a 1.99% interest rate for the first five years, then adjust upwards annually by 1% a year until it reaches a specified cap, such as the prime lending rate plus 4% (currently, that rate is 3.25%, so that would put a cap at 7.25% right now). So, assuming the prime lending rate doesn’t change, you’d pay 1.99% the first five years, 2.99% the sixth year, 3.99% the seventh year, and so on.

The reason people take out mortgages like this is that they believe they will sell the home before the rate begins to adjust.

As for early payment, it entirely depends on the specific mortgage as well as the state you’re in. Some states and companies allow penalty-free prepayment; others have other rules for early payment. Get this specified before you sign anything.

I generally think ARMs are very risky and not worth taking out. You might have the best intentions of paying off the ARM early, but you’re banking on your future self to pull off a major financial accomplishment. If you get sick, you’re in deep trouble.

Q3: World Series prediction
I know you’re a fantasy baseball player. What’s your pick for the World Series?

– Kevin

Rangers in 7.

If you had asked me without having watched any of the American League Championship Series, I would have picked the Giants. However, the Rangers spent that series dismantling the Yankees in stunning fashion. I just don’t think they will be denied.

I wouldn’t be biased by the fact that I have family in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and I’ve been to the Rangers’ ballpark last year, of course.

Q4: First time apartment hunting
A new job prospect could possibly have me moving out of my family’s house for the first time. I’ll almost certainly be getting an apartment, preferably one I can live in alone.

None of my family has lived in apartments for many, many years, and can’t offer much in the way of helpful advice. It’s not really the financial end I’m concerned with here – I really have no idea how to read a lease, check to make sure the apartment is actually a good apartment or just any general things I should look out for, be it shady landlords or renting practices and so on. I feel really clueless and overwhelmed by the whole process.

Most information I’ve got off the internet seems more anecdotal than useful, and I was hoping you could offer a few tips, a checklist or point me to a website to put me in the right direction.

If it’s relevant in any way, I live in Alabama.
– Pete

Listing such advice here would be pretty redundant, so I went around the internet and looked for good checklists of such advice. This is the best one I’ve found.

My experience has been that the quality of the landlord is the most important factor in apartment rental. A good landlord will be there when you need them and help you with resolving the inevitable problems that will crop up. A bad landlord? If something bad happens, you’re pretty much on your own. That makes a huge difference in my book.

I would suggest, if at all possible, asking around your more extended social network for suggestions for landlords and people to avoid. The best advice you’re going to get is from people in your area who are actually renting.

Q5: Saving for a wedding
I have a son that is nearly two, and I have been putting $50/month in a 529 account since he was born. I would like to do something similar for my daughter (who is arriving in the next week or so!). However, in the case that she may not want to pursue college – taking the family route and becoming a stay-at-home mom instead (as my wife and mother have done), I would like to have the money that I saved for her to be available for something else, particularly a wedding. Is there a savings vehicle that is similar to the 529 that would serve as a multi-purpose investing option? Ideally, it would be age-based (similar to the 529, with risk going down as she gets older) and yield dividends similar to the 529. Obviously, I would be missing out on the tax benefits, but that would be the price to pay for flexibility. Please understand that I am not trying to make these big decisions (college, marriage, etc.) for my daughter, I just want to plan ahead and put her in the best place no matter what she chooses to do. Any advice would be much appreciated!

– Drew

It sounds like you’re just looking for a simple brokerage account where you can invest and withdraw money as you please and owe taxes only on the dividends earned and the amount gained when you sell.

I use Vanguard for this purpose. Right now, I’m using it to save for our next home, as we would eventually like to pay cash for a piece of land in the country and eventually build on it. Since this is a long way off and it’s not relying on having a certain balance at any certain point, the money is heavily invested in stocks.

Given you want such flexibility with the money, this is probably where I would go with it. Almost every other option has some sort of drawback that takes away from what you’re trying to do.

Q6: Workbook for missions/goals
Throughout school and in my professional development, I’ve been required to write a personal mission statement, vision statement, set goals, etc. many times. I don’t feel like I got a lot out of these activities because of the place I was at in my life. Now I’m really ready to work on this and set some personal and professional goals for myself. Can you recommend a workbook (in print or ebook) that someone like me could use as a guide? I’ve read a lot about personal development lately, but I’m looking for something very interactive and activity-driven.

– Alex

I agree – activities like this are useless if you’re not open to them. I really don’t understand why such activities are pushed on people when the vast majority of them are going to get nothing out of such activities.

That being said, David Kinard has a great free workbook for coming up with your personal mission statement and developing goals for yourself.

I think once you get the ball rolling on a process like this, it’s much easier to lead yourself than to follow a workbook. That workbook, though, should provide all the start that you need.

Q7: In-person insurance agent?
Do I really need an actual person with a name and a face as my insurance (car & home) agent? I’ve been very happy with GEICO for 15+ years, though I have never had any major claims. Maybe it is because I’m an introvert, but I rather enjoy the convenience of calling at 2am to talk to a faceless voice or doing everything online. I’m under the assumption that a real face to face meeting in someone’s office is where I will get swindled into coverage I don’t need. I recently started meeting with a financial planner and she hooked me up with an independent agent for car & home. Over the phone, the agent gabbed on and on about a personal relationship. I wanted to gag over all that cheesy “relationship” talk. Are claims with the big faceless national companies really all that horrid?

– Lisa

I think it’s just a different approach for different people. Some people value that kind of personal relationship with their agent – others can easily do without it.

I’m basically in the “without” camp like you are. I actually prefer to just call a national number and get quickly through any business with the agent on the other end. I don’t want to spend time being “buddies” with a person I view largely as being a mix of salesperson and service person.

Having said that, I do understand why some people want someone that they feel comfortable calling with their own situation, someone that they have an established relationship with.

I think it has more to do with the customer than anything else. Some customers just want different things.

Q8: Moving up at difficult workplace
My husband hates his job, and I really just don’t know how to help him. We moved here to LA and he got an entry level job at a entertainment company in 2007, a typical way to break into the industry for an aspiring writer or producer. The problem is that the firm he works for is run by a bunch of old has-beens on the verge of retirement who sit back and count their money and don’t care about the people under them. Now, three years in, he really hates his job, and the people he works for, and I’m scared he’s either going to quit, or get so pissed off that he’ll say something to get him fired (and this town is NOT about burning bridges…). My salary combined with his is enough for us to live well enough, but we’re just finally starting to climb out of debt and build an emergency fund. We don’t have enough for one of us to be jobless, but I feel so much compassion for his frustration. Still, the job market is still tough, and I’m running out of ways to encourage him to stick in there. I want to help him but I really just don’t know how. I’m really sick of his complaining as well as the fact that his talent as a writer is being squandered by spending his days making dry cleaning deliveries. Do you have any advice for me/him/us?

– Michelle

I know exactly where he’s at because I was in more or less the same place once upon a time.

He has to make two changes in his mindset. First, the day job is just a day job. It’s a way to make cash, nothing else. Pick up your deliveries, drop them off, and spend your brain cells thinking about the writing, not about the grunt work. Yes, sometimes you’ll have to think, but when you’re driving around dropping off clothes, think instead about your writing.

Hand in hand with that is the fact that he’s going to have to spend his spare time writing and sharing that writing. He has to write, of course, because without actually doing it, one can’t be a writer and one can’t have content to sell. Once you have the content, you have to sell it in some way – a blog, selling short stories, and so on. He has to get it out there in front of people.

Spending your time being angry about your situation only ensures that you’re going to be in that same situation tomorrow. Channel that passion into something else.

Q9: Trying board games
You’ve mentioned many times that one of your favorite social events is an evening playing board games with a circle of your friends. I’m interested in giving this a try with my friends but I don’t have any idea what games are good or bad or whether any of them would be enjoyed by my friends. Any ideas?

– Kellie

My suggestion is to just visit any game shops in your area and ask if they have demos or “demo days” to help you find a game that might fit what you’re looking for.

Many game shops have a selection of opened copies of their most popular games and will often have times where they will happily demonstrate those games to customers, often playing the games with interested customers. One local shop in my area will pretty much try out any game with you at any time, provided they have a store copy of it.

Such demos will make it clear pretty quickly which games will click with your group. I would suggest starting on the simpler end of the spectrum – if they try to teach you something like Arkham Horror, you’ll probably be in way over your head.

Q10: Roth IRA as emergency fund?
Would it be prudent to put household emergency reserves in a Roth IRA?

I understand there are no penalties for withdrawal of deposits to a Roth IRA, that monies that remain in the account for 5 years qualify for the lifetime tax exemption and the self-directed nature of the account that would allow any portion to remain invested in cash. This seems like a liquid location to park family cash while allowing for possible tax-free growth of investment returns for funds that are never withdrawn.

Have you heard of this strategy and what’s your opinion?
– Doug

It can work in that regard if that’s how you want it. The only problem with that is that the Roth is a great vehicle for retirement and this will eat up your eligibility.

Each year, you’re only allowed to invest $5,000 in a Roth IRA. If you withdraw money, you don’t get to put that money back into the account later. You get $5,000 a year, period, regardless of whether you take out money. That means that if you’re viewing this as family savings and intend to withdraw from it later, you won’t have that money around for retirement. It’s gone.

If you have no interest in actually using a Roth for retirement, this is certainly another way to use it.

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. Please keep your questions short, as long questions are very difficult to break down and answer in a reasonable format.

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  1. Amanda says:

    About Question 5.

    I understand wanting to give your daughter options and not wanting money to get put somewhere where there will be penalties if you need it for something else. But the idea of starting a college fund for your son, and something else for your daughter rubs me the wrong way.

    I feel like you have different assumptions for your son than your daughter. What if your son is the one who doesn’t choose to do college (or both?). He may choose to go into a trade or be an entreprenuer – or a stay at home dad. Sons get married too.

    Some friends of mine, I met the girl in college and she’s now graduated. Her brother never did college and has gone into wood-furniture making and construction.

  2. Chapeau says:

    @4: This tip has saved me many times when apartment hunting. Turn on the water in all of the sinks and tub/shower. And don’t forget to flush. Not all at once, but to see how much water comes out. The most fabulous apartment in the world will make you crazy if you have bad/no water pressure.

    @7: I have never had an insurance agent (20 years of driving), but I have USAA — one of the best insurance companies in the world (always tops in JD Power’s customer satisfaction survey). When my sister, who also is with USAA, was in an accident several weeks ago, she said “What insurance company can actually make you feel good when you’ve been in an accident. And it was technically my fault, too!” (Someone stopped dead in the middle of a construction zone on an interstate, and she was the second car in a chain reaction crash.)
    USAA is only available to military members (and former members) and their families, but my point is that an in-person relationship with an insurance agent is entirely your choice. If that thrills you, go for it, if not, go with what makes you happy.

  3. Nick says:

    When you say fruit roll ups are better than chocolate, do you mean healthier?

    Just curious as to why you think that’s the case?

  4. Michelle says:

    #1 – How about, “I know I have a tendency to sometimes come off as a know-it-all, and I’ve been hesitant to say anything because I don’t want you to think I’m meddling. However, I have some real concerns over what I’ve seen on your facbook page, especially as it pertains to your children’s privacy and safety. Here’s a link to some information. If you want to discuss with with me, I’m happy to, but unless you bring up the topic further, I’ll step out again.”

    Ick. I now feel like Dr. Phil.

  5. Craig Callender says:

    @5: This rubbed me the wrong way at first two but I decided to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe his experience with a 529 for his son is what caused him to research more flexible options for his daughter. Maybe he only setup a 529 for his son because at the time it was a good option and he didn’t have time to research the perfect option (Trent blogged about good Vs perfect a while ago).

    I think the question was probably just poorly worded. He obviously loves his children and wants only the best for them or else he wouldn’t be so concerned with setting them up with an education.

    Also, he could very well come from a culture where a dowry is expected for a daughter and wants to make sure that he’s prepared for that too.

  6. Julie says:

    Regarding Q5, I think you need to set up a college fund for your daughter. Give her the option of going to college. If you don’t, she will think that you only want her to get married and have babies. Let her know that she can be anything that she wants to be. Don’t put so much pressure on her to get married that she will end up with the first guy she sees.

  7. Lauren says:

    @1: One “trick” that might work is to send out an email to yourself and BCC the people that you are concerned about. Then in the email say something like “Hey everybody! I just found out about these privacy issues on facebook and fixed the settings on my profile. Here’s how you can do the same, so creeps can’t find you.”

    This way no one will be put on the spot, and it will sound like you’re just trying to relay information for everyone. Because no one can see who the letter is sent to, they might think you just sent it to everyone you knew. There’s a greater chance of them blowing something like this off, but it may be the information they need.

  8. Marilyn says:

    I too was very much rubbed the wrong way about saving for college for the son and not the daughter. What is this? 1962? Anyway, my husband was starting a plumbing business just after our second child, a son, was born. He wanted to name the business “Smith & Son”. I totally refused. What if our son wanted to be a ballerina and our daughter wanted to be a plumber? As it turned out, 19 years later, neither of our children are interested in plumbing. You can’t predict or dictate your childrens future.

  9. Lauren says:

    Amanda, I totally agree with you about question 5 — that question just made me shudder. It seems so weird/sexist to me to have a “college” fund set up for a son, but a “wedding” fund set up for your daughter. I think it would be really weird to find out as a teenager that your older brother had a college fund, but you, as the daughter, had a wedding fund. I would feel like I wasn’t as deserving of an education as my brother.

    I’m currently pregnant with my first child, and we are not finding out the baby’s gender before birth. My hasband and I are setting up a college fund no matter what. I expect all of my children, regardless of gender, to pursue some type of higher education.

    I also have to mention, in my circle of friends (early 30s), it is almost always the woman who has the college or higher degree. My friend who is a stay-at-home mom and part-time opera singer has a MFA in vocal performance. My own mom was a stay-at-home mom for a number of years raising me, but has a college education.

  10. valleycat1 says:

    My take on q5: I would set up savings/college funds for both children. And if you’re expecting to have to pay the majority of her wedding costs (&, by the way, rehearsal dinner expenses for your son if he gets married), also set up an additional savings fund for these or other future major expenses, but keep that $ in the parents’ names. When financial aid is calculated for your kids, the schools count on 100% of the child’s money but only a portion of parents’ money.

  11. valleycat1 says:

    Q9/Kellie – We used to do game nights & just invited everyone to bring their own favorite game. Or, ask around the group of friends & see what they might suggest. Different groups (over the years) had their favorites. Sometimes we all played the same game, or larger groups would split up to play different ones.

    I remember most fondly the nights with some of the old favorites that engage your attention, friendly competition & interaction but leave plenty of mental room for casual conversation too, rather than the intricate strategy-heavy type. But that’s just me.

  12. Deborah says:

    #5 is one of the most appallingly sexist things I’ve read in a long time. Thought this generation was moving past that kind of thinking.

  13. Courtney20 says:

    Drew – please please please set up the 529 for your daughter. Even the most well-intentioned SAHM/W plans can fall through. She should strongly be encouraged to attend college and get a degree (or a trade, if that’s what she’s more interested in) even if she never intends to work a day. She may not get married at all, may find herself widowed or divorced with children to care for, etc. Having a degree or skills in her back pocket will help her immensely and you do her no favors by setting her up with different expectations before she’s even born.

  14. Hope D says:

    Q5- The father just wants to give his daughter the choice. He has looked around at his own family and probably others and realizes woman sometimes become stay at home moms. What if she marries young, what if she wants to go to college, or maybe wants to start a business. Who knows? He even says he doesn’t want to make those decisions for her. He just wants it covered. He is not pigeonholing her. I think people are pigeonholing him.

  15. Marle says:

    Hope @14: That logic would make sense, if she was his first child. But what was the thought process when he had his son? What if his son wants to start a business? What if his son starts a career without college, and would rather use the money to buy a house? Or what if his son wants to have an expensive wedding and be a stay-a-home dad (unlikely, but not that much less practical in reality than for girls. Hello, no-fault divorce)? If he gives his daughter those options and not the son, it’s going to look pretty silly if the daughter goes to college and the son doesn’t.

  16. Sharon says:

    Q5–Okay, we can say he isn’t pigeonholing the daughter but what about the son?
    I think you should have more flexible accounts for both kids. Start a small business, down payment on a house or college, child’s choice.

  17. Des says:

    Q5 – Modern etiquette is heading in the direction of both families splitting the cost of the wedding, rather than the bride’s family paying for it all. You might think about starting a wedding fund for your son as well.

  18. Courtney20 says:

    Hope D – Yes, women become stay at home moms. They also become single moms, sometimes through no fault of their own. Sexism aside, Drew would be doing his daughter a huge disservice by subtly discouraging her from getting post-secondary education (in any form). I have several friends who decided to be stay at home moms. They all have college degrees and will be in a much better place if they should happen to find themselves raising their children alone, or decide to work again after their children are older.

  19. Hope D says:

    Marle- The father just might not have thought about it. He’s gonna be a father. Everyone says save for their college. He does. He finds out he’s going to be a father again, this time it’s a girl. He thinks about saving for college, but then thinks about the 2 most wonderful women in his life, his wife and mother. They didn’t go to college. He thinks about what they would have needed money for. He then wants more flexibility for his daughter for whatever she decides. He might do the same for his son in the future. I don’t know, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  20. Johanna says:

    Question 5 makes me feel very sad for Drew’s children. Regardless of what Drew decides to do with the college/wedding funds, unless he and the rest of his family seriously rethink their assumptions about gender roles, it sounds like his daughter, son, and any future children are all going to be growing up in an environment of sexist BS. You can say all you want that your children are free to make their own decisions, but everything they see/hear/learn from you is going to be shaping those decisions.

  21. Jeremy says:

    Apples to Apples is an instant hit —- good for mixed company too. Can get it at Target.

  22. LB says:

    Q4- We recently moved from a rental house to an apartment in a big complex because our landlord (who started off good) got into financial troubles and stopped paying utility bills and is now in foreclosure. If you live in an area that is having serious foreclosure issues, I would recommend going with an apartment complex over a private landlord who owns just a couple of houses.

    Drive around the parking lot on a weekend or evening before you visit the leasing office and look at the vehicles- are they mostly junkers? Mostly minivans and family vehicles? If there are tons of families and you like to have loud parties, this might be a consideration. Check whether the outdoor spaces appear to be well maintained. We saw evidence of a broken car window in an otherwise okay complex and decided against living there. If you are considering an older building, look at the front door and any stairs and assess whether you can get your furniture around strange corners or through narrow doors.

    Make the leasing agent show you the actual unit you will be renting so that you can open all of the cabinets, try out light switches, check if there is a dishwasher, etc. Ask about who pays utilities, where you can pick up packages, whether you need parking stickers, etc. Are you limited to a single cable company? When is trash day? Is there a limit on pets? On how long guests can stay? If they give you a rent “special” for signing a one year lease, consider whether you will want to stay for a second year and whether you could afford full price rent.

    Before you move in, take pictures of ALL damage in your unit, in case the landlord tries to charge you for it when you move out. And buy renter’s insurance. It’s under $15 a month, and will cover your possessions if your dumbass neighbor floods or burns down your apartment. Good luck!

  23. Wes says:

    One of my favorite games is Settlers of Catan. It’s become a pretty big hit, and it’s a ton of fun. It’s a bit pricey (~$40), but totally worth it. I think one of the best aspects of the game is that it’s very true to economics: on Catan, you are free to enter into any kind of trade you want, and everyone is subject to the same market forces of supply and demand. It’s fascinating.

    The only problem is that it’s strictly a 3-4 person game, unless you buy the $20 expansion which will let you play with up to 6 players.

    There’s also add-ons to the game, which can spice things up. All around, an excellent investment.

  24. momof4 says:

    My dentist says no way to fruit roll ups and fruit snacks and yes to chocolate.

  25. Honey says:

    I was completely appalled by the fellow in question 5. How dare he insult his soon-to-be daughter, and disrespect the possible future choices of his son that way?

  26. Tyler says:

    Q4: Your city may allow you to find out the number of police calls/stops at a particular address. I did this when checking out a particular apartment complex, and found out the police had averaged 1 visit/stop every 3 days for the past year. That was enough to make me look elsewhere!

  27. Johanna says:

    @Hope D (#19): In cases like this, I don’t think the benefit of the doubt means much. Whether his intentions are good or bad, the effect his actions have on his children is the same.

  28. nuri says:

    Full disclosure: I work for an insurance company that really only goes through agents. It is also my insurance company, long before I worked at it.

    It really depends on your personalty. I like having the flexibility of working through internet and phone but also having someone I can go to to explain things to me.

    (the industry answer in me is: You’ll see the difference when it gets to a bigger claim. I’ve seen amazing things come out of agents.)

    But really, YMMV. I can’t stand talking to people over the phone myself!

  29. chacha1 says:

    Re: choosing a rental: Trent’s advice to ask other renters in the area is solid (specifically with regard to landlords), but it helps to also know what you are looking at.

    LB’s tips at #22 are very good. See the places you’re considering in all lights and at all times of day, see them in the rain if you can so you can see where water runoff goes, see how the traffic is nearby, see whether there are any amenities in walking distance (coffee shop, convenience store).

    A few years ago when DH and I were looking for a new place (after a year in one that was and is literally falling apart), I got a book called “How to Inspect a House.” Reading this helped me know what is a safety/security issue and what is just cosmetic, what we could fix up for ourselves and what would be beyond us, and what the absolute minimum acceptable move-in condition is.

    I don’t know about every state, but I live in CA where regulations tend to be stricter than most places. And even here, landlords are not required to bring properties up to code as long as the ownership is the same. Which is why you find apartments built in the 1930s that still have plug and fuse wiring, no insulation, and wall-mounted gas heaters.

    In Alabama, you’re going to want EXCELLENT insulation and weatherproofing – and pest control.

  30. 8sml says:

    @ #23 Wes: You can also play a 2-person variant of Settlers using the base edition and a few counters (poker chips, etc.). My husband and I have played this version countless times and it works really well. Not so much for parties, but still useful information I hope.

  31. cv says:

    Q4 – Ask any prospective landlords about who pays the utility bills, and if you’re responsible for them, how much they typically run. I’ve been lucky, but I’ve had several friends who thought they were getting great deals until it turned out that in winter the gas bill spiked to $300/month to keep the place moderately warm. Also look out for things that wouldn’t show up in a 15-minute visit, like nearby (i.e. loud) train lines, an overhead flight path for the airport down the road, a nightclub or loud bar next door, etc.

    Also, pay attention to the surrounding area. If you don’t have a car, is there a grocery store in easy walking distance? What about public transit lines to other places you go frequently? If you do have a car, how many city streets to you have to navigate to get to the freeway, and is that important for places you want to go? How close are you to other things that might be important to you, like a branch of your bank or the local library?

    Depending on the situation, it can be perfectly acceptable to ask for references or to speak to other current or prior tenants. I’ve only done this once, but I was renting an in-law apartment that required walking through my landlord’s living room to access, so I wanted to be sure he wasn’t a creep. I lived there for two years in the end, and it worked out well.

    One thing I learned from apartment-hunting several times is that unless you’re willing to spend a lot, no place is perfect. As you look at a few different apartments, think about what’s important to you and what’s not. Are you willing to live somewhere more run-down to be close to a certain neighborhood? Are you willing to have street parking be a chore to live in the place with the shiny new kitchen? Be honest with yourself about what’s important to you and what trade-offs you can live with.

  32. Starla says:

    Q5 – What if your son wants to be a stay-at-home Dad? Mine did.

  33. Pnut says:

    #5: As far as I know, you can transfer the 529 funds to either child. Put more money in. divide it between your children. Instead of a wedding fund, just start a savings account for each child in addition to the 529, and you won’t have to worry about planning for any specific events in the future. I believe the 529 money can be transferred through generations, so if it’s not all used, it can be saved for a grandchild. Or, you can pull it out of the 529 and pay the penalties. You don’t have to decide based on “what ifs.”

  34. Kristine says:

    Happy to see some actionable responses to the apartment hunter, as the advice to find a good landlord by asking around was so obvious as to be almost pointless.

    Other tips:

    Google your landlords name- look for complaints or lawsuits. Google the name of the rental company, your realtor (if you use one), and the actual address.

    If you give a security deposit, make sure the landlord puts it into an account, and every quarter gives you a statement of the interest earned. You entitled to the interest by law.

    Go through a real estate person if you can afford it. It means an extra month fee, but they generally don’t represent slumlords.

    Go to the building day and night, weekday and weekend before you commit, make sure you would not be afraid to be on that street at night to go to the store. Also pay attention to availability of parking, traffic, etc. Public transportation matters as well-what if your car is n for repair? Maybe you can’t get a rental that fast, but have to get to work.

    Test everything- all faucets (let the hot run for 10 min to see if it stays hot). Flush every toilet several times, flip all the light switches. Let the tub run for a while, make sure it drains well.

    Bring your won lightbulb. If they say it is no working because the bulb is out- test it with your own bulb. I have had problems with poor electricity in rentals.

    If there is anything the landlord says that they will fix before you move in, add it to the rental agreement, longhand, BEFORE you sign. Have both you and your landlord initial and date the addition of the repair. Promises mean absolutely nothing-you need contractual obligation most of the time for the repair to actually happen. (Doorbells, doorknobs, leak, broken bannister, new carpet, new paint, whatever.)

    Read the agreement thoroughly before you sign.

    Take pictures of the apartment when it is empty, before you move in. Otherwise, you can be held accountable for any pre-renting damage, even slight, and denied your security deposit when you move out. You have to be able show the damage was there before you moved in.

    A local landlord is best. If your landlord lives an hour away, ask for a phone number, and address, and the kind of timeframe in which you can expect a response. Test the phone number before you sign. Get contact info for another party, in case the landlord is on vacation, or ill.

    Find out what utilities are used- what oil company, etc. Ask if any of the utilities, phone, or cable, for the address have been left unpaid by previous tenant. Ask if there are existing service contracts, and who pays for them. This can be a headache. Find out if there are existing connections for internet and cable.

    Scope the neighborhood for all the amenities you might need: grocery store, pharmacy, laundromat, bank. Make sure you feel safe at them.

    Finally- ask if you can paint it any color you like. If the place needs a paint job anyway, but the landlord was not planning to paint it for another year, the landlord might spring for the paint cost now, if you do the painting.

  35. Kristine says:

    Drew should allow the same flexibility for his son. Other wise, it definitely sends a message that the boy will attend college, and the girl…well…her higher education is less imperative.

    For goodness sakes- she’ll make up her mind what she wants to do anyway!

    Perhaps Drew is of a mind that a son must go to college, to be provider, but a woman need not. If this is the case, then he is not up on events in our country, and how families need to maintain more flexibility than traditional gender roles allow, so they can remain self-sustaining in hard times. A woman should always have the ability to support herself, possible a family as well, because she may just have to one day.

  36. Jackie says:

    Q5 Rubbed me the wrong way too. I can totally understand wanting the flexibility, as not everyone wants to go to college. But with women outnumbering men on college campuses these days, the idea that only the daughter needs flexibility is not only insulting, but provably outdated.

  37. Jackie says:

    q7. I wouldn’t trust a personal insurance agent as far as I could throw them. This is based on one particularly bad experience, but it was a bad enough experience to influence my opinion of the insurance industry as well as a particular agency. A personal insurance agent is a high pressure sales person. An individual agent can lie, cheat, steal and do all kinds of illegal or disreputable things without the company caring too much. But they couldn’t dare to lie in such a way or refuse to follow your instructions on their websites or phone banks becuase systematic abuse is so much easier to detect and call to authorities.

  38. MattJ says:

    Q10 Doug:

    Trent seems to have a real blind spot on this issue. Most people never have an emergency that requires them to use their emergency fund, and as you hint, you are unlikely to ever withdraw from it.

    If you don’t have enough cash to both save for your emergency fund and max out your Roth IRA contributions, then max out the Roth IRA every year and save for the emergency fund with whatever’s left over, while considering the IRA contributions to be a part of the emergency fund. Eventually you will be able to save enough ‘non-Roth’ money to make up your emergency fund and afterward leave the Roth alone, but in the meantime, at least you won’t be throwing away that precious eligibility Trent’s talking about.

    As an example, assume you have a goal of $24k as an emergency fund, and you have $8k / year to save.

    If you put the $8k into a non-Roth emergency fund, you lose three years of Roth eligibility forever, but after those 3 years, you can start saving $5k in your Roth (because your e-fund goal has been met) and do whatever else you want to with the other $3k.

    If you put $5k into the Roth and $3k into a separeat, non-Roth account, then after 3 years, you stil have the same $24k e-fund, but you’ve captured 3 years of eligibility that you otherwise wouldn’t have. After 8 years, you’ll be able to stop considering your Roth as part of your e-fund, because you’ll reach $24k e-fund goal in the non-Roth account.

    What it boils down to is that any assets you have should always be considered a part of your emergency fund – for sufficiently large emergencies – and there is zero wrong in capturing your Roth eligibility by putting your e-fund savings into a Roth if you otherwise wouldn’t have the money to save for a Roth as well as the e-fund. One assumes that if you had sufficient funds for both, you wouldn’t have sent in the question.

  39. Amanda B. says:

    I think the majority of the responses to Q5 are by hypersensitive spoiled brats. You guys are looking for fault in a man who is just trying to do the best he can for his kids. I heard once that what your first child gets in undivided attention, your next child makes up in experience. So I don’t think it is beyond the realm of possibility that he would do things differently with his son, if he could.
    However, I would like to point out that any money he save for either child is a GIFT! He is not responsible to pay for either child’s higher education, house, wedding (although it is traditional for him to pay for his daughter’s) or anything else that they are supposed to acquire in their ADULT life. I get so sick of people of (sadly) my generation assuming that their parents should have given them everything and thus we should give everything to our kids. Let them figure out how to go to school or start their business. Then, once they have proven they are committed to that goal by putting in their own money on sweat, feel free to surprise them with the gift of your support. Only ungrateful harpies would berate a man for saving tens of thousands of dollars for gifts for his children because they don’t think it’s fair.
    I suppose if I was looking for fault the other way I could infer that he thinks his son is to stupid to pay for his own college, while his gifted and resourceful daughter will obviously find a way on her own.

  40. Josh says:

    Agree completely with both #38 and #39 regarding questions 5 & 10.

  41. Johanna says:

    @Amanda B.: “I think the majority of the responses to Q5 are by hypersensitive spoiled brats.”

    Well, *that’s* a great way to get people to listen to you.

    Also, way to miss the point. This has nothing to do with assuming that parents are obligated to pay for their children’s futures. Drew has already decided that he does want to save for his children’s future, and given that, I do think he’s obligated to do so fairly.

    “So I don’t think it is beyond the realm of possibility that he would do things differently with his son, if he could.”

    Just because he’s already set up a 529 for his son doesn’t mean he can’t put other money in a different account for his son. If he thought the 529 was a mistake in general, he’d be asking about alternative accounts for both his children. But he only asked about his daughter.

  42. Interested Reader says:

    @39. The only reason he gave for not setting up a 529 for his youngest child is that she’s girl. And she’ll get married and never go to college.

    People are pointing out that it’s not fair to assume his daughter won’t go to college and his son will soley based on their gender.

  43. Angie says:

    I think the investment fund #5 was referring to is called a “dowry.” I would diversify with a few goats, some nice reams of silk and perhaps a flock of chickens.

  44. Ruth says:

    Q4: A few pieces of advice – in addition to the water pressure, check the number of outlets in each room against your needs, particularly grounded (three-prong) outlets. They are only legally required, in my state at least, in the bathroom and kitchen, but you are likely to want them behind your computer and TV as well.

    Check the windows also, they should be easy to open and secure against cold/hot air and forced entry.

    This may not apply if you don’t plan on cooking, but in a small apartment sometimes the appliances are not full size. Be sure the stove is big enough for your pans, etc, before you sign the dotted line.

    Finally, BE SURE to keep the move-in paperwork, particularly regarding the condition of the apartment. Even if you management seems trustworthy, it could change multiple times while you are living there. They may try to charge you at move-out for damage that was there when you moved in.

  45. Interested Reader says:

    Q4 – check with your city’s website for information some cities have information for renters as well as homeowners.

    Also check the website for the utility company. See if there’s a way to check the utilities for any address for a history of the bills. For example on my city’s website you can search by street address and look at the last 12 months worth of information for electricity, water and sewer.

    You can’t see an owners name but if you are moving into a building with multiple units you can check the surrounding units to see if everyone’s usage is in line and give you an idea of how much it is going to cost.

    Also if you have furniture you want to move with you measure it before hand and take a tape measure and make sure it will fit. Not just in the rooms but also in the door. I didn’t measure the doors and ended up having to take a part a desk and put it back together again.

  46. Johanna says:

    @Amanda B again: “I suppose if I was looking for fault the other way I could infer that he thinks his son is to stupid to pay for his own college, while his gifted and resourceful daughter will obviously find a way on her own.”

    First of all, no you couldn’t infer that, because it’s directly contradicted by what Drew said. He gave his rationale for not wanting to commit money to his daughter’s college expenses: That his daughter might not go to college because she’s a girl. Not that she’s so gifted that she doesn’t need his help.

    Second, I don’t know why you think that “finding fault the other way” would be any better. Assuming that a girl who hasn’t even been born yet will be smarter and more resourceful than a boy who hasn’t yet started school is just as unjustified as assuming that the girl won’t want to go to college and the boy will.

  47. Kate says:

    RE: Facebook—I no longer am on FB (time waster)but when I was, I noted that often people would post suggestions for all to see about how to use privacy controls on FB—new ways to protect oneself from the ever-changing FB. I found this very helpful and it was a nice way to get the info out to all without seeming nosy.

  48. Michelle says:

    @ Drew #5: “Please understand that I am not trying to make these big decisions (college, marriage, etc.) for my daughter, I just want to plan ahead and put her in the best place no matter what she chooses to do.”

    I know you believe you aren’t making plans for your daughter and you’re maintaining flexibility, but your comments show that in your heart you have a different expectation of what a girl is supposed to do vs. a boy. And that belief system alone will influence her as she grows. There is nothing wrong with being a homemaker, but if you are subconsciously delivering the message that girls become wives, you are taking some of her choices away. If you give her the message that all your children – sons and daughters – are to be educated, that will indeed give her the flexibility she needs.

    My parents had never once said to me “if you go to college” it was “when you go to college.” Somewhere around my junior year it dawned on me that not going to college had even been an option.

  49. jim says:

    Q4 Pete : I’m a landlord. I’ve also been a tenant in several rentals in the past.

    Make sure you understand the terms and rules of the lease before you sign it. You’re agreeing to a legal contract. So you need to be clear exactly the terms of the deal: how much rent is and when its due, if there are late fees, if pets are allowed, can you smoke or not, how many people can live there, who pays for each bill, what the process is if you want to move out before the lease ends, etc.

    I agree with others who suggest visiting the property at different times of day and checking out the neighborhood, etc.

    I would find the landlord / tenant laws applicable to your state and read up on the rules a little. That will help you understand rights and responsibilities. The rules vary in every state and even local city.

    For example Kristine said above : “If you give a security deposit, make sure the landlord puts it into an account, and every quarter gives you a statement of the interest earned. You entitled to the interest by law.” The details of that all depend on local/state laws. IN my state theres no requirement to pay anyone interest on a security deposit.

    I would not make any general assumptions about individual landlords versus management companies versus real estate agents. You can find good or bad landlords among each group.

    If the owner / landlord has a lot of rules or requirements then don’t think that means they’re a ‘bad’ landlord. Often those rules are there for good reason and to help the landlord and tenant be clear on expectations. Landlords who care about their property are going to have more rules and going to be better landlords in general.

  50. Des says:

    @ MattJ #38 – YES! Trent’s rationale is way off on this one. You can only put $5k a year in a Roth and its a “use it or lose it” deal. That is incentive *in favor* of using a Roth as an e-fund, not the other way around. As you point out, if one must choose between funding their Roth and their e-fund, it would be better to fund the Roth first. That way you maximize your chances that you won’t lose that year’s worth of contributions. Trent’s answer on this one doesn’t line up logically with his reasoning.

  51. Marsha says:

    300 trick-or-treaters? Wow, Halloween’s really out of control. Are there that many young kids in your immediate neighborhood or do parents truck them in?

  52. Laundry Lady says:

    In regards to Drew #5: I think most of you jumped down Drew’s throat rather unfairly. Yes, of course his daughter should go to college if she wants to. I don’t think that what kind of financial situation he sets up with for her is likely to create a subliminal message for or against a college education. I don’t think I even knew what college savings options my parents used for my tuition. Their finances were private and not my business. That being said, I believe an earlier commenter pointed out that you really only need one 529 plan for your entire family. That’s what my financial planner recommends. That way as long as at least one child attends college, the money doesn’t go to waste. I would recommend that Drew increase his contributions to the 529 to include his daughter’s education in the savings formula and additionally start a separate savings fund for his children’s other future expenses such as weddings (if he feels he would like to help with that expense). It sounds like he sees two potential major expenses in the future’s of his children: college education or a wedding and if he puts all the money in a 529 and no one goes to college, then money gets wasted paying penalties. Maybe his son will start a business, but perhaps Drew doesn’t see a small business loan as something he’s looking to provide. My parents paid for a portion of my college tuition and a portion of my wedding. But I didn’t expect them to foot the complete bill for either. I also didn’t expect them to fund my first housing down payment or help my husband start his business.

  53. Mister E says:

    When it comes to Auto or Personal Lines Property Insurance there is usually little need for a broker if you don’t *want* to go through one.

    That stuff is so regulated that it’s all pretty much the same and can be treated as a commodity more or less. Buy the cheapest that you can find.

    It’s the more complicated commercial or professional stuff that you really _need_ a broker for.

  54. Reader says:

    Since Drew was asking for recommendations on investment options isn’t condemning him for ‘gender bias’ beside the point? Since he threw out college as an option he obviously isn’t opposed to her attending, he just sees her as having a different set of options which in his locale and culture may/may not be more/less likely. While the comment about being able to split or re-assign the 529 was helpful the rest seem kinda judgemental and mean for a flimsy reason. The guy writes a paragraph and people demand a pound of flesh for his blatant child abuse. Lots of cultures feel very strongly about gender roles, and as long as he isn’t beating the devil out of her I am not concerned as I have a feeling she will be exposed to lots of ‘girl power’ messages from other areas. I know I got a lot of ‘girls can do anything’ messages outside the home. If she’s smart enough for college her high school teachers will assume she’s going and her counselors will push her to apply, no matter what label her dad has put on the savings.

    That assumes he meant it exactly how it came across. As others have pointed out he could have meant “I started this 529 for my son because it seemed like the thing to do at the time, but having a girl made me realize how many other coming of age experiences will cost money for either/any of my children.” I know I have expressed myself poorly on numerous occasions, and in this case it had little bearing on the question: what investment vehicles would you recommend in order to save for my child[ren]’s future?

    Personally I don’t save for my kids’ college. I save for myself and intend to have enough money to help them out when the time comes. The 529s I have looked at for my state are almost laughable as investment vehicles due to their fees and options. I also don’t plan to push my kids into college. I push my kids to succeed. I would rather have an entrepreneur that doesn’t attend college, or one that goes back at 30 for the degree he/she intends to use than a kid that goes at 18 because it’s expected and gets a general studies degree and then works in stock at JCPenny. There is nothing wrong with working at JCP, but you don’t typically need a degree for it. So I say: abandon the 529 and use it for whatever college expenses you can, and save future money in a way that is more flexible for you and your kids.

  55. kristine says:

    Wow. I just noticed that noone jumped on Q#5 stating that the money was for a wedding, not a wedding gift or nest egg. I do not begrudge any oarental gift, but heck, blowing what would be equivalent to a college savings on a single day, for a party- seems so contrary to everything I’ve ever read here. To each his own.

    Oh, and someone previously, brilliantly, mentioned the huge difference in when one child hears “When” you go to college, and the other hears “If” you go to college.

  56. Riki says:

    Re: #5
    Marriage and university are not mutually exclusive. Drew seems to assume his daughter will do one or the other, not both.

    As a teacher, I find it very frustrating that a parent would make such assumptions about his children, particularly about his daughter. Statistically, universities are filled with more young women than young men. Post-secondary education is a beneficial experience, even if she ends up making the decision to stay at home to raise children. A well-educated parent will tend to raise well-educated children.

    I might be too modern for my own good, but I also believe couples should pay for their own weddings.

  57. Jennifer says:

    #43, marry me? I have no silk, but I went to college.

    I don’t think anyone is being unfair towards Q5. Now, perhaps the guy is simply terrible at expressing himself- but I have no idea how we are supposed to read that as anything other than “weddings are more important than college for girls.” Dude, the days of uneducated women are over. What would your (apparently) non-college educated, possibly SAHM wife do if you died tomorrow? She might be ok, and maybe she has work experience, or is currently employed- but I know many women who were completely financially slammed by divorce or death. Don’t assume your daughter will graduate high school and get married. She has a better chance of making it in the world with a degree or a skill, and marriages are more likely to survive the more educated the woman is!

  58. Charles Cohn says:

    I thoroughly agree with #55 that a wedding is a very useless place to blow a lot of money. I have never seen any correlation between the lavishness of a wedding and the durability of the marriage.

    I liked the way my mother-in-law arranged our wedding — she got in all the essentials and no frills. I especially liked it that she declared that there would be no liquor at the wedding. I am a lifelong teetotaler, so that declaration got me off the hook for buying liquor for other people, which the groom is supposed to be responsible for.

  59. Amanda B. says:

    @Riki – He didn’t say she will either get married or go to college, he said he was will to pay for one or the other.

    @Johanna and Interested Reader – I feel we have gotten off on the wrong foot and I would like to send you each a gift to express my sincere apology.
    Johanna, I have been reading your comments on TSD for a long time and I can tell you are very educated and have strong opinion. I happen to have a book I really think you’ll love. In fact, I know you have wanted it for some time, but haven’t gotten around to getting it. I even had it signed by the author, I really hope that you get joy from reading it as I spent a lot of time picking it out.
    IR, I don’t know much about you, so I’m just going to send you $1,000.
    Now, which of you is mad? I would argue that neither should be. Neither of you are entitled to the gift and any perceived or actual inequality in expense or thoughtfulness of the gifts is irrelevant. If you were going to be happy with the gift before you knew the gifts given to others, then you should be happy either way. Anything less, in my opinion, is a character flaw. It is my responsibility to address the possible character flaws in my children.
    @Drew – you are hosed. No matter what you do at this point you are sexist and have already irrevocable damaged the psyche of your unborn daughter. You might as well take the money you were going to give to both children and travel Europe. After all, giving both of them nothing is the only fair thing to do.
    (and I’m not send Interested reader $1,000, but if either of you want any books I have I would be happy to send them.)

  60. Johanna says:

    @Amanda B: Again, way to miss the point. This is not about gifts. This is about the son growing up hearing “when you go to college,” and the daughter growing up hearing “if you go to college.” And that’s what it would be about even if Drew were planning on paying for both educations, or neither.

    P.S.: I was “mad” before I even got to the part about the $1000. The fact of the matter is, even with all I’ve said about myself on this blog, you have no idea what kind of books I like to read. But I have no idea what that was supposed to prove.

  61. Marle says:

    @Amanda B., did you not read any of the other comments before posting “He didn’t say she will either get married or go to college, he said he was will to pay for one or the other.” He’s not giving his son any other options besides college, and he’s saying that college isn’t that important to his daughter, which is unfair to both children. Yes, kids will whine if you accidently give one more cereal than the other, but you shouldn’t actively try to be unfair by giving one a college fund, and the other a “eh, you might not go to college anyway” fund. Also, as #55 brought up, why is a wedding fund being talked about as comparable to a college fund? Why would you spend a similar amount of money on one day that doesn’t affect the rest of your life at all (trust me, you can be just as married for a couple hundred $ or less as you can for thousands) as you’d spend on 4 years that greatly impact the career you will have for the rest of your working life? Saving money specifically for a wedding before the child is born is born is stupid and a waste of money if you do spend it on a wedding. Besides, it’s hard to tell a kid to that you’ll pay for either a wedding or college because they usually have to make a decision on college before they’re old enough to get married. And even if they don’t decide to go to college at 18 it doesn’t mean that they won’t need to go when they’re older (or that the money wouldn’t be a lot better spent on a house or something). I would save for college, because young adults who want to get married can figure out how to afford it, while college is a lot harder to do on your own and will leave often you with decades of debt if you have to.

  62. Interested Reader says:

    Amanda don’t put words in my mouth. I never said Drew was going to do irrevocable damage to his daughter.

  63. getagrip says:

    @ Drew With respect to 529s and saving for the kids future. I also decided that since any of my children might decide not to go to college, that I didn’t want all of the money saved for that primary purpose being hung up in a 529. So as others have suggested, I’ve split it between 529s in the kids names and personal index funds in my name. My first child is currently in college and I’m using the 529 before I use the other funds. I’ve eaten the taxes on the gains that have occured over the time on the index funds, but that’s okay because I wanted the freedom to be able to direct the money as I saw fit.

    I’ve always told all my kids that it was my expectation they would seek some type of education beyond high school, be it trade school, college, culinary school, cosmotology, etc. For that you can use the 529 money for the most part. I also made it clear if they didn’t pursue that, I was fine in that the money was then mine. I’m all for opportunity, and not about free rides. I’ve known a few people who’s children dropped out of college and then a month or so later stuck their hands out and demanded what was left of “their” college savings. My one coworker took his daughter out to the driveway, pointed to his new BMW, kissed and hugged her and said, “thanks for dropping out honey, I always wanted one.”

  64. Riki says:

    Amanda — our issue is not with the idea that Drew wants to give his children a financial gift. Most commenters are bothered by the obvious (and very traditional) gender roles Drew seems to have in mind for his children.

    The idea that a girl might *not* be expected to pursue a post-secondary education in favour of getting married and having children is offensive to me.

    I agree with Johanna — you missed our point entirely.

  65. Johanna says:

    Again to @Amanda B: I didn’t say anything about irrevocable damage to the daughter either. I did say that children are affected by the things their parents say and do. Do you disagree with that?

  66. Bill says:

    #63 getagrip does bring up an interesting point. Once you do build up large 529’s for your children. It kind of put you in a position of hoping at least one of them doesn’t go. I’m leaning towards a around the world cruise!

  67. Roberta says:

    Regarding college vs. wedding: both children should obviously be expected to go to college, and if the parents are investing in the college tuition of the son, they should do so also for the daughter. College and later becoming a wife and stay-at-home mother are not mutually exclusive. That said, if gender bias informs this family’s investment decisions, they are likely to inform many others throughout the girl’s life, making it questionable whether she really will have the same opportunities as her brother.

  68. Josh says:

    Everyone who is saying parent’s should force their kids into college is wrong — going into college without a plan is just wrong and many majors are not worth the price of admission any more. Skilled trades (electrician, hair stylist, etc…. ) you often get paid to learn the trade and then make above-average wages once you are full-time, putting you leaps and bounds ahead of the kids who go to college for 4+ years (and either racking up debt or earning very little during those years) just to graduate with a $30k/year job.

    The key if you go into the trades is to live below your means for awhile and build a huge nest egg — Most kids could buy a house for cash by the time they were 30 and be financially independent very early in life if everyone would just take a step back and crunch some numbers.

  69. Johanna says:

    @Josh: You’re right that there are career paths that don’t involve college, but that’s not what this is about either. Drew is not saying “my daughter might not need to go to college because she might want to be an electrician” – he’s saying “my daughter might not need to go to college because she might find a nice man to take care of her.”

  70. JJ says:

    Re: Q10, the other reason you wouldn’t want to use your Roth IRA as an emergency fund is that the type of investing you’d do with Roth money is often entirely different than the type of investing you’d do with EF money.

    Specifically, your Roth is invested with a long time horizon and little immediate need for liquidity. You can usually afford more risk and need higher returns, so that generally means relatively more volatile asset classes such as stocks, REITs, and intermediate-to-longer-term bonds.

    An emergency fund, on the other hand, needs to be very stable and liquid. It’s not primarily intended to earn returns beyond inflation. You’d normally want that money in less volatile assets such as savings accounts and money market mutual funds.

    They’re two entirely different investment goals, and they therefore require strategies that don’t necessarily mix together well.

  71. Johanna says:

    @JJ: You can put some or all of your Roth IRA money in money market mutual funds or other conservative investments. Then, once you’ve built up an adequate emergency fund outside your Roth IRA, you can move the Roth money into more aggressive investments.

  72. Daniel says:

    Mia (Q1), try minding your own business. This works if given a try.

  73. Jamie says:


    Poor Drew! The only mistake he might have made is that he didn’t consider giving his son a choice as well. I think that many of you are attacking him based on the 5-word summary attached to his question– “Saving for a Wedding”– which was applied to the question by TRENT, not Drew!

    I consider myself a pretty solid equalist (I dislike the term “feminist”), and I think that in this case, as I said previously, that the only real problem is that he is willing to spend more to allow only his daughter a choice.

    Keep in mind that the girl’s mother AND grandmother elected to manage the home instead of the finances, and did not go to college. The truth is, it is much, much easier for hetero women to find a husband to bring home the bacon than it is for a hetero man. Perhaps you should call his WIFE sexist for staying home and “making” Drew go to work!

    Or maybe you should not call anyone sexist, and you should enter responses that pertain to the root of the question itself– “Is there a savings vehicle that is similar to the 529 that would serve as a multi-purpose investing option?”

    Drew– It is wonderful that you are being so proactive with your children’s futures. I hope the negativity in these reader comments didn’t make you feel bad.

  74. Amanda B. says:

    Johanna- I wasn’t trying to make you mad with the book comment; in fact there was a compliment in there. I suppose that supports my point that you are choosing be upset rather than try to hear my point. The point I was trying to make was any gift of value should be appreciated and not automatically nullified by a gift to others.

    Interested reader – I directly attributing a quote to you, just saying the general tone was that Drew’s daughter would never recover from this horrible injustice.

    For clarification, I don’t think a ton of money should be spent on a wedding (mine cost <$200) or a ring. I am a woman (in case the name didn’t give that away) and an engineer. I put myself through college, not because my parents couldn’t afford it, but because I was an adult and adults should make their own way. I was terrible grateful for any support (gifts) my parents gave.

    And I didn’t miss the point that most were making, I just disagree. I don’t think Drew is damaging his daughter (or her future) by saying that she may want to go to college (which he said) or she may want to be a stay at home mom (which is a fine thing to do). I did read all the comments. But the comments don’t change what Drew said and thus should not drastically change my opinion of what he said.
    “However, in the case that she may not want to pursue college…”
    I don’t see anything inherently offensive about that statement nor almost any thing that could be directly followed by it. I suppose some are offended because he wants her to get married? Or is it because he expects his daughter’s future husband (if he exists, because he Drew just made provisions for the possibility) to take care of her? Really the problem is feminism has gotten so radically out of control that any mention of traditional gender roles is considered a slur. I appreciate the comment earlier that said maybe one possible dream Drew has for his daughter is that she grow up to be like one of his two favorite women in the world. Is that really so cruel a dream? “How dare you allow for the possibility that you will want to be like your mother or grandmother!” Drew appears to want to plan to support his daughter in whatever role she chooses. Really the problem is Drew has respect for women who chose to follow traditional gender roles, and those who had a fit do not.

  75. kristine says:

    Saying that anyone who found the questioner’s letter alarming does not respect women who choose a traditional gender role is quite the leap!

    The reality is that 50% of marriages fail. 50% of women will at some point likely have to pay the bills, even if just during divorce proceedings. It is fine to forgo college, and be a SAHM, but the poverty rates for single divorced mothers, and the very real risk of divorce, are enough for me to encourage my daughter to be equally prepared to support herself as my son. If after acquiring a marketable skill (in anything, with or without college) she then decided to stay home with her children, I would be thrilled for her! Same as I would be for my son!

    I hope Drew considers making both savings equally flexible.

  76. Interested Reader says:

    Here is my entire three sentencse about the subject:

    “@39. The only reason he gave for not setting up a 529 for his youngest child is that she’s girl. And she’ll get married and never go to college.

    People are pointing out that it’s not fair to assume his daughter won’t go to college and his son will soley based on their gender.”

    Please point out where I infered/implied that he was going to cause harm to his daughter?

    I misread his question because he did throw college out there as a possilbity but his main focus is that she’s going to want to get married over going to college.

    Look I realize he was basing this on what his wife and mother have done (no mentin of his mother in law though) and that’s fine. But things have changed.

    Not only that but the idea of women getting college degrees and working outside the home is not some new thing. Both my grandmothers worked one went to college the other didn’t. All of my grandparents expected their children, regardless of gender, to go to college and all of them did.

    Many of my great aunts had college degrees as well because it was expected that they would go to college.

    2 of my 4 great grandmothers not only worked to provide for their families (one due to divorce – and this was in the late 20s/early 30s) the other to being widowed.

    Many of my great aunts worked and had college degrees. All of my aunts have college degrees because that’s what their parents encouraged them to do and expected of their children.

    I’ve never experienced these “traditional gender roles” within my family. So my experiences were different. Mom stayed home when until we went to school and then she was back at work. My maternal grandfather shared childraising duties with my grandmother -I grew up hearing about how he would change diapers and feed the babies and go out and by kotex without being bothered by it.

    My paternal grandfather was more traditional but he still wanted his daughters and granddaughters to go to college and have jobs.

  77. Karen says:

    Poor Drew – he sure is getting beat up in the comments!! 300 kids – WOW – I don’t get any due to where I live (condo) so I have all kinds of money on candy!

  78. chacha1 says:

    Sympathy for Drew here, too. Poor guy. When I think of all the deadbeat “dads” out there not paying child support, or not even acknowledging their offspring – and here is a guy trying to build future benefits for BOTH his kids, getting jumped on!

    Drew, if you could even stand to read this far, I agree with the above posters re: 529 for the whole family will probably work best. The “penalties” are not so scary. Just talk to the person who set up the first one for you.

  79. Interested Reader says:

    A bunch of this hasn’t been directed at Drew but between commenters.

  80. Laura says:

    @ Question 4 about apartment hunting:

    Yes, it can be overwhelming to look for an apartment. I would see if your county or town has a housing office where you can read up on housing laws and tenant’s rights. Or check out some local news sites or blogs where people ask questions about housing issues.

    If you can read through a sample lease, and go through it with a leasing agent or landlord, they can probably answer a lot of questions for you. Most leases aren’t really as scary as they seem-they just have a lot of clauses to cover the landlord in case you turn out to be a bad tenant.

    It behooves you to ask about fees and rules that you would have to follow. Find out about amenity and utility fees, move in and move out fees and rules, parking, community regulations and rules, rules about using or reserving common areas, rules about ending your lease and how early you have to notify them. Renters’ insurance is often required. It is legal (at least where I’m from) to charge move-in/move-out fees, often you can only move during certain hours, and you may have to reserve a time. That was probably the most surprising “fine print” thing for me. This may not be in your lease, so ask for a copy of the community rules if they have one.

    One shady practice is when a landlord wants YOU to pay upfront when repairs are needed and says he/she will pay you back. You are not his/her personal loan service, and that is essentially what that kind of arrangement is. I’d stay away from that.

    Find out how personally invested your landlord is in his/her property. Did he/she live there before? Are they planning to return eventually? Is he/she planning to make any upgrades soon? Do they want to rent it for awhile? People like that will have a lot more interest in maintaining the value of their home and thus will probably be more responsive to any concerns you would have. People who want to find out if YOU are a responsible tenant and have a screening process also can make great landlords.

    Leasing agents for apartment complexes can be shady. While apartment complexes can be OK, just know you really have to be on your A game and look around with a good checklist. Don’t believe everything they promise or say. Interpret any guarantees to the very minimum.

    On a final note, to my understanding, landlords and leasing agents aren’t supposed to disclose details about their current tenants. So, if you find a landlord who is offering up all kind of personal information about the current tenant, such as where they work, etc, beware that this landlord does not respect people’s privacy and may do the same to you.

  81. Courtney says:

    My theory is that Trent made up letter #5 because he knew it would yank chains and generate lots of comments.

  82. R S says:

    Regarding Q5, what happens to a 529 plan if a child decides not to go to college? I am curious, while providing for flexibility for one child, is flexibility for the other child being limited due to the 529 plan?

  83. Kai says:

    I don’t believe that parents have any obligation to fund the post-secondary education of their children. I REALLY don’t believe that parents have any obligation to fund the weddings of their children. Expecting it is demanding and entitled.
    But IF a parent does want to set aside some money for a child, that is a wonderful and generous thing to do – but it should be equal for all children. It’s a great idea to put away money for college, but also be able to transfer it to somewhere else if a child does not choose to go. For him to think of that is not a bad idea.

    But the fact that the guy seems to expect that it is only the daughter who might not go (and not because her vocational interest lie elsewhere, but because he would support her having NO other training and simply becoming a mother that would be left with no employable skills should her husband leave or die), and the thought of spending the worth of a college education on a wedding day (of course only on the daughter, not the son) make me very sad for this family. Sure, he’s ‘encouraging choices’, but very different choices based on sex. And that’s not cool.

    A person can be a loving, well-meaning parent who wants the best for their child, and still be sexist. Good intentions don’t always bring good results.

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