Updated on 12.10.11

Reader Mailbag: Hand in Glove

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. Investing in a taxable account
2. Pushy mother of child’s friend
3. Buying furniture
4. Going back to school
5. The burden of care
6. Idle computer energy drain
7. Consaidering a job change
8. Low interest debt?
9. Secret Santa difficulty
10. Road trip music

Sometimes, when you see someone you once spent a lot of time with but haven’t seen in a while, the interactions can be awkward.

At other times, you’ll fit together like nothing ever changed.

I’ve experienced both in the last few days.

Q1: Investing in a taxable account
I match my employers contribution of 5% in my 401k (started last year I’m currently 29). I’m planning to open a Roth IRA with Vanguard on my 30th birthday. I have a checking account with Charles Schwab which includes a brokerage account the question is what kind of funds do I invest in? My 401k has an asset allocation of 30/70 Pimco Total Return Bond Fund/Spartan 500 index fund, for the Roth I was thinking of using a target fund, but I’m clueless as to how to use the Schwab brokerage account, I was interested in something that would give me passive income. I’m 29 with a 401k, Schwab brokerage account, and soon to be established Vanguard Roth IRA and I’m earning about $30k/year, less than $180 in debt, and maybe $7k in precious metals, my emergency fund is less than $300 but I’m working on it. What do you say? I started late but am I on track? I’m tired of spending I want to be a saver. Again what do I invest in a taxable account? Thanks

– Ron

The first thing I’d do is figure out what my goals are. Why are you saving? Do you want an early retirement? Do you want a well-off retirement? Do you want a nice home in ten years?

Investing without a goal in mind is like spending four years at a university without a major. You’ll have accumulated a lot, but you won’t necessarily be ready to take the next step.

I’d suggest figuring out your goals before you do anything else. A taxable investment account may be a big part of achieving those goals, but it’s not a goal in and of itself.

Q2: Pushy mother of child’s friend
I left my job earlier this year to stay at home with my two daughters. I left a well paying career because of stress and in order to spend more time with my girls. I’ve taken on a number of volunteer roles as well as enrolled in a co-op preschool with my youngest daughter which takes up two days of my week. Suffice it to say that I’m busy during the week. My older daughter has a friend at school who really likes to come over and spend time at our house so much so that she routinely asks if she can come over after school. This bothers me because I’ve always believed that you wait to be asked over to someone’s house.

Recently, the friend’s mother has started asking me to watch her daughter for several hours at a time sometimes multiple times a week. She is in college and has recently broken up with her fiancee who helped with her childcare. She also waits to ask me until an hour or so before school lets out. This has really started to bother me on multiple levels. She has never offered to pay me or even watch my children in return. I don’t mind helping out but it doesn’t seem fair that she asks me so often. I also don’t like being put on the spot at the last minute. So I started not answering the phone when she calls or making up excuses about why I can’t watch her daughter. However, I feel bad about it. She is in a tough spot right now. I’ve tried to explain to her that I don’t mind helping but I need advance notice but that doesn’t seem to do anything. I’m starting to feel rather resentful. So what should I do? I quit my job for a less stressful life not so I can be the on-call, unpaid babysitter for other people. Do you ever find yourself in a similar situation since you do not have a normal 9am to 5pm job?
– Carla

The mother is taking advantage of the situation, no doubt about it. The solution is for you to simply put your foot down and say that you’re not available to babysit at her convenience.

One thing worth noting, though, is the impact this is all having on the young friend of your daughter’s. She’s clearly got to be aware that her mother is going through a hard time right now and may be looking for some steadiness in her life, something you might be providing for her.

If I were you, I’d help out some, but I would not do it at the drop of a hat. That’s the role of a paid babysitter, which you’re not.

Q3: Buying furniture
My husband and I recently moved into a 3-bedroom house, which we are renting. We have very little furniture – a mattress, a hutch, a couple bookshelves – because we recently finished an extended travel sabbatical, and we gave away all our old furniture before we left. We are in our mid-30’s, have no debt, and no kids (though we hope to start a family in the next year or two). One well-behaved dog. Our 401Ks and IRAs are funded, and our emergency fund is stocked. We plan to eventually buy a home, probably in the next five years, but haven’t chosen exactly where we want to settle down yet (the 20%+ deposit is already in the bank) and we live in an area where the housing costs are very high. We are allergic to debt, and prefer to spend our money on experiences over material things…which leads to our dilemma: spending money on furniture.

Our challenge right now is figuring out our strategy for furnishing the place. Do we buy a few quality pieces that we plan to keep for our future home (sofa, dining table, dresser, end tables) and furnish the rest with inexpensive and/or “disposable” furniture? Or do we furnish the whole place as inexpensively as possible, saving our cash for when we do buy a home? Since you live in a house that is not your long-term dream home and have children, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on acquiring furniture.
– Anne

Our method for this was to furnish our entire home as cheaply as possible, then start upgrading pieces as they wore out or opportunity struck us with higher quality pieces.

For example, our original dining room table was an ancient and well-worn hand-me-down from my great grandmother. One of the legs was a bit wobbly and when it reached a very bad state, we replaced it with a much more long-term dining room table.

I can tell a very similar story about our couches, our chairs, and so forth. Of our first batch, many came from Goodwill or were hand-me-downs. Over time, we replaced them with much better versions, but not all at once.

Q4: Going back to school
I am a 25 (soon to be 26) year old who graduated from my undergrad about 2 years ago. I originally went with the intent to get a degree in education and along the way became involved with a residence life organization (a group of students who work with college students who live in the residence halls on campus) and decided to look for graduate assistantships that would pay for graduate schooling while I worked with residence life and college students. I dropped my education major and graduated with Spanish and English majors.

I received a graduate assistantship in another state (I am originally from the Midwest) and decided to go work out East and enjoyed my time working with the college students. However because of the heavy workload, homesickness and an unwavering feeling that I should be working with different students I decided to leave after one year. Following that decision, I decided to move back to my home-state and take a year off and figure things out.

During that year I decided that I wanted to go back to school to get that education degree but more specifically for Special Education. There have been numerous instances that have pointed me in the direction of working with students that have disabilities. This upcoming year I will be attending graduate school for Special Education. I have started to pay off (very slowly) student loans that I acquired while I was taking my undergraduate degree. I guess I am wondering (since I know that Special Education won’t make money) what the best way about getting funding is. Or if you think this is a wise decision financially? I guess any direction would be greatly appreciated.
– Emily

You can’t make your career choice based on finance alone unless you want your career to be mired in unhappiness. A career that you solely get into for the money will either lead you to a life you don’t like or to a wasted degree.

If you’ve figured out what you want to do, then I would go for that degree. Go for it with relish, get every valuable bit of education and experience you can, and put yourself in the best position you can to get the job you want.

As for funding it, your best route would be to start seeking out scholarships and aid specifically for that area. There tends to be aid available for people who want to take on educational and career paths such as these. Start with the education department at your institution and also check with the financial aid office.

Q5: The burden of care
If everyone takes steps to prevent health care facilities from “taking all their money” then who is supposed to pay for all of that very expensive care? Are you and I supposed to help bear the burden of someone’s care (should he need it) while his children benefit from his […] windfall? I have a parent who is in Assisted Living which costs almost $4000 per month. Because my parents were frugal there was money in the bank as well as a home that will be sold to pay for my Mother’s care for as long as possible. This is her money—not mine – not an inheritance for the Grandchildren. If she did not have these resources she would be (and will be if she outlives her money) receiving Medicaid and living in a Nursing Home although she does not need to be in a Nursing Home – she just needs some help with daily living. My family was not wealthy—they scrimped and saved all their lives and I am sure paid their fair share of taxes to help take care of those people who somehow made sure their children would inherit their money..

Have you considered this aspect of people trying to “hide” or gift that money so that healthcare facilities don’t “get it”? Who IS supposed to pay those (underpaid) medical professionals who care for us when we are old and infirm – especially if we do not or cannot move our parents into our own homes and care for them ourselves?

I could not live with myself if I knew I had all of my Mother’s money while she was forced to live in a Nursing Home when she could no longer live alone but did not need 24 hour nursing care. And Medicaid will NOT pay for Assisted Living – only Nursing Homes.
– Rhonda

It really doesn’t bother me too much, to be honest. If a person has accumulated significant wealth in their life, then they’ve had to pay taxes during that accumulation, likely at a higher rate than people with less wealth. They’ve often paid a lot of taxes over the course of their life.

That money they’ve accumulated is their after-tax money and they should feel free to spend it as they wish. If they choose to spend it by gifting it to family members, then rely on a lower level of senior care as is made available through government programs, that’s their choice. If they want to hang onto that money and have a higher level of care, that’s also their choice.

There’s also the case that you’d be punishing the frugal. If someone can blow every dime they’ve earned throughout their life and then the state takes care of them at the end, but someone who carefully saved throughout their life has to pay for that care out of pocket, the situation is encouraging people to just blow their money.

Q6: Idle computer energy drain
I have become very intent on saving electricity where ever I am able to. Several blogs have told me that saving electricity by unpluging or switching off devices with a constant power draw, such as laptop and phone charger, can save me a few dollars from my power bill every month. All of my devices are on one power strip, but it is a pain to switch it off every time I am not using it (under the desk, hard to get to, etc etc). Am I really saving a significant amount of money by doing this? Or am I crawling under the desk for nothing?

– Craig

It will save you a few dollars every month, but just a few dollars. Is it worth it for you to climb under that desk several times a month to save $2 or $3 or $4? I can’t really answer that for you.

For me, it would be worth it to rewire things so that such a switch is easily available without a lot of effort. What I did with my main computer setup is get a power strip with a “master” plug-in where if the device on the “master” plug-in isn’t drawing electricity, then nothing else on the strip gets any power. I plugged my main computer into the “master” and devices like the monitor and the printer and the USB hub into the other slots.

If the only option is to crawl under the desk repeatedly for $3 a month, it wouldn’t be worth it for me. I would probably look for other solutions to the problem, though.

Q7: Considering a job change
I am in an interesting position right now as a full-time graduate student. I cut back on my hours at my loan servicing job to go to school full-time this fall. (Library Science) I absolutely love my program and being a student again, but I’m struggling because I am very unhappy with my current job. I’ve been at the same job for three years due to the bad economy and the safety net of a job with health insurance. To be perfectly honest, this job also helped me decide to return to school after I realized how unhappy I was working there!

I seem to run into the same problem every few months. I’ll tell myself I need to count my blessings because I have a job with insurance and can go to school full-time. Having this job takes off some of the financial stress as a student, and I’m able to volunteer to gain experience in my graduate field of study. But then I run into a stressful period or become upset with something that happened at work and I find myself dreading the next work day. I’m very frustrated with some aspects of my job that are beyond my control, but it mainly boils down to some business practices emphasizing quantity over quality and the lack of opportunities to advance in my current position. It’s strange because I consistently receive good reviews from my managers but I just hate the job itself. I don’t find very much personal satisfaction with my work, and I don’t like working for a large corporation.

I feel terribly guilty complaining about my job when so many people do not have jobs or health insurance. I also feel that since I repeat this same cycle every few months, I should try to address these feelings and at least think about finding a different job. But I just don’t know if it is smart to try and find something else now that I am a student.

Do you have any advice for me on how I can improve my attitude? Or is it really just a better idea to try and find a different part-time job that will be more tolerable?
– Louise

In your situation, this job is a blessing, but I think you’re looking at it from the wrong perspective. This job is a paycheck. It’s nothing more and nothing less. It is not furthering your career ambitions. It is merely making your path to the degree you want much more comfortable.

Compare it to the other part-time options you have, such as working at Burger King or being a checkout person at your local Target. The compensation would most assuredly be less, you would be without insurance, and you’d probably have many of the same complaints.

Go there, do your work, and conserve your energy and thoughts for your Library Science degree and your career after that. Ignore the politics of the job and other factors. Just do the work, but keep your focus on what your passions are.

Q8: Low interest debt?
I work full time and go to college part time. I have to work in order to pay for school. I am faithful in saving for my tuition every semester, as well as saving for retirement and putting towards an emergency fund. Since I am 27 years old, I know that now is the time to save for retirement in order to take advantage of compounding interest. This is my question: Since my income is not high and I qualify for financial aid, should I just use the financial aid (at a low interest) to pay for school – even though I have the money saved up for it. Furthermore, I would use the saved money to max out my Roth IRA for the year. I think of this because I feel I will be able to pay back my loans when I graduate while taking advantage of about 2 more years of compound interest. On the other hand, I am nervous about having a student debt. What do you think?

– Mike

I would avoid going into debt, even with relatively low rates. Having that debt after you graduate will restrict your options and your career mobility by raising your monthly required bills. This is not something you want to have freshly out of college.

My single biggest financial regret in my life is taking out more student loans than I needed. Student loans became an albatross around my neck for the last decade.

If I were you, I wouldn’t sweat the retirement savings at this point. If you get out of college with a degree and without debts, you’ll be far ahead of the financial game anyway.

Q9: Secret Santa difficulty
At my office, we have a “Secret Santa” exchange each year. Rather than drawing names, everyone puts a $20 gift into a box, then everyone draws a gift out of the box.

This seems like a waste of money to me and I don’t want to participate in it this year. How exactly can I get out of this tactfully?
– Megan

It depends greatly on the culture of your office environment. At many offices, such a gift exchange is just a way to have a social encounter with coworkers, often a lengthy one. The gifts are secondary – the reason for doing it is coworker relationships. If this is a job you value, that kind of relationship building is well worth the $20.

This is also a great opportunity for “regifting.” If you have an item around your home that’s unused that you could easily put into the exchange, do so.

Of course, there are other offices where this is just something people do very casually, without much social interaction or a big deal made of it. If that’s the case, just simply bow out with the person running it. Talk to them privately and just say that Christmas means something different to you.

Q10: Road trip music
Like you and Sarah, my wife and I go on lengthy road trips when we visit family. Along the way, we listen to music. However, my wife and I have very different tastes in music. I like Muse, she likes Adele. I like Tool, she likes Norah Jones.

To put it frankly, I’m not a big fan of “her” music, nor she mine. How do you guys handle music selection on your road trips?

I know this isn’t a typical “reader mailbag” question, but it’s something that we’ve bickered about off and on over the years.
– Andrew

Sarah and I do have different tastes in music, and this causes occasional difficulties on road trips. We have two solutions.

First, we often listen to podcasts. While we don’t like the same music, we do have other interests in common, such as current events. I’ll just get a bunch of podcasts on current events and other shared interests before we go and we listen to those.

Another thing we do is seek out artists that we both like. The way we do that is that we both occasionally build eclectic lists of stuff we each like, then we listen to these together and the other person listens for things that they like. Through this, we’ve built at least one good-sized list of stuff we both like.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (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. Snowy Heron says:

    Q10 – Another option for road trips is audio books. Public libraries, at least where we live, have a great selection and my husband and I can find books that we will both enjoy. When our kids were little we listened to the Harry Potter books whose reader, Jim Dale, is absolutely the best of any narrator out there. Nowadays, we gravitate to mysteries, but there is something for everyone out there. Histories, biographies, novels, science – they are great!

  2. Liz says:

    Q10 – My husband and I listen to old radio shows on an mp3 player. However, we both like to sleep in the car as well, so the driver gets to select his or her music (at a reasonable volume) when the other is asleep.
    And try not to have a closed mind about music. We have both found things we can at least live with, if not really love, about each others music with a few exceptions (I hate certain kinds of rap music, he can’t stand Gilbert and Sullivan). I even caught him singing along to one of the folk songs he claims not to like on our last trip. And we can spend hours in the car without listening to anything except each other.

  3. Karen says:

    Q5: Seriously, Trent? Q5 presented an ethical question. By your logic, if my very wealthy parents gave all their money to me right now and went on food stamps and Medicaid, that would be their choice and that type of thing “doesn’t bother [you] too much”


    If I’ve missed something logically, would some commenter point it out to me. It’s still early here…

  4. Steven says:

    Q10: Whoever’s driving picks the music. Problem solved.

  5. Johanna says:

    Q2: This sounds like a clash between ask culture and guess culture. The other mother probably feels like there’s no harm in asking, but you feel bad about saying no. You resent that she hasn’t offered to watch your children, but maybe she feels that it’s up to you to ask for that.

    You need to set some clear, specific boundaries. Maybe tell her, “I’m happy to help you out once in a while, but it’s hard for me to plan my schedule when you don’t give me 24 hours notice. Is that something you can do?” Then, if she continues to ask on short notice, say, “No, I’m sorry, I told you I need 24 hours notice.” Or maybe tell her you’re limiting it to once a week, for three hours at a time. Whatever it is, make it a specific number, so that she knows what’s acceptable to you and what’s not.

    Q3: About two years ago, I had to buy a whole apartment’s worth of furniture. I went to Ikea – fortunately, there’s one just a couple of miles from me, so I could make several trips and think about which pieces I wanted. I focused on their mid-range to higher-end items: all solid woods, avoiding softer woods like pine and spruce as much as possible. Every item at Ikea has a tag that says exactly what it’s made of, which is really helpful – many other furniture stores aren’t as up-front about that.

    I spent about $3000 for the whole apartment (including $600 for a mattress and $150 for delivery charges). I was very glad to get everything in one trip, rather than hunting things down one by one from thrift stores and yard sales. If I need to replace anything in the years to come, I might get something a little pricier. But in general, it’s not that important to me to have furniture that’s going to last for generations – if something lasts 15-20 years, I’ll feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

  6. Baley says:

    Q2) Maybe you could approach the child’s mom with, “You know, I’m happy to babysit your daughter! The going rate in this area for babysitters is usually $X/hour/day, and I’d be glad to do it for $X. I really need X # of hours notice, though, because my schedule is generally quite full. If you don’t need a regular babysitter, I’d be glad to have your daughter over for a few hours one day a week.” Or something along those lines. You don’t have to just put up with her mother taking advantage of you. On the other hand, I know that I went over to my friend’s house often after school just so we could have play time. It was fun, and my parents didn’t consider it babysitting. I don’t think my friend’s mom minded much, either, because her daughter was occupied and we weren’t much trouble. I wasn’t really “extra” for her to deal with, rather I was helping entertain her daughter. I guess it’s all about how your daughter and her friend behave and what you feel is reasonable.

  7. Lesley says:

    Q4: If you are going into special ed., there may be programs that will let you start teaching and go to school at the same time, which significantly helps with funding. I know Milwaukee has a program like this (I have a few friends that graduated from it and they are making decent money and no debt, although they are committed to work in the Milwaukee school district for a few years, which can be rough.) I’m fairly cetain other cities in the Midwest have similar work-study programs, particularly for math, science and special ed. Good luck!

  8. valleycat1 says:

    Q10 – what Steven said. Driver picks air temp, whatever entertainment (music, podcast, audiobook) & when/where to stop next (unless one of the passengers needs a pit stop sooner).

  9. valleycat1 says:

    Q5 – is it just me, or does Trent contradict himself in his response? Or is it just that it’s ok to be frugal and then give everything away or otherwise hide the money at the end, but not ok to blow through it (i.e., enjoy the things money can buy) during your lifetime?

    And, having had several relatives in care facilities, I’d much rather pay for it if possible instead of relying on what Medicaid will cover. First, you have more choice/control over where you will live. Second, Trent kind of glosses over it in his answer, but Medicaid covered nursing care is usually not in the greatest of facilities.

  10. Misha says:

    If driver picks air temp, driver is also picking up a blanket for me.

  11. R S says:

    @Q3 – I feel the same way about spending lots of money on furniture, especially when I see so much set outside people’s homes, ready for bulk trash pickup.
    I’ve had a good experience with getting things about 50 – 75% cheaper than retail (a couple items were still available in stores, so I was able to directly price compare) by people selling things on Craiglist. I even picked up a really nice dining set from Craigslist for free.
    As a personal comfort thing, I am a bit squeamish when it comes to second hand non-wood products such as couches, mattresses, etc.. I ended getting those new. But tables, chairs, coffee tables, tv stand, dressers, lamps, etc – all second hand.

  12. Kate says:

    I totally agree about Craigslist! We have gotten awesome furniture in excellent condition at a fraction of what it would have cost at a store. Solid cherry writing desk, solid oak dining table w/ six matching chairs, nifty antique murphy bed (also solid oak) that folds up into a cabinet, several nice microfiber armchairs (pristine – I’m also very careful about upholstered stuff). The desk and armchairs were each under $100, just to give you a feel for the price range. Two rules for success: 1) look at CL every day and 2) if you see something you want, go make the deal immediately “to avoid disappointment and future regret.”

  13. Riki says:

    When furnishing our house, we used a hybrid approach. There were a few things we needed right away so, because we had planned ahead, we had cash to buy them new fairly quickly after moving in. Couch + loveseat for the rec room, and some important furniture for my home office. We considered getting hand-me-downs or used furniture but having relatively finished spaces as quickly as possible was very important to us.

    The rest we’ve been getting used as we find it. I got a beautiful sideboard (6 feet long!) from the Habitat Restore that I refinished. I also found a desk and a few other small tables, as well as a stylish chair for the front hall. I really like the hunt and I enjoy refinishing my finds. I want our house to have an eclectic, fun feel rather than cookie-cutter-big-box so this works very well for me. Every piece is unique and I take care to find real wood, so the quality is there too. The savings are significant.

  14. lurker carl says:

    Q5 – Best of luck hiding money from the government, they look at where it has gone for the previous five years. I don’t know of anyone in their right mind who would liquidate their life savings that far in advance just to be accepted into Medicaid. I’m sure someone, somewhere has figured out ways to make investments invisible but anyone with real wealth is already self-insured.

  15. David says:

    Gilbert and Sullivan is rap music. If you don’t believe me, listen to “My Eyes Are Fully Open” from Ruddigore.

  16. valleycat1 says:

    Q9 – Just don’t bring a gift for the exchange if you don’t want to participate. Your choice, depending on the peer pressure level in the office, whether you are up front about this or just ‘forget’ until it’s too late to add in.

    In my office we have a person who admits he can’t tolerate the ambiguity of pulling a random gift out of a bag, or dealing with the yankee swap activities, so he bows out every year. No big deal.

  17. Lesley says:

    I think Trent does have a point that Secret Santa’s can be a team building experience, but if you have already have strong relationships, why don’t you bow out and say you just don’t have the time and resources to participate this year. I just decided to skip my department’s ornament exchange–I do plenty of other team building activities and the stress of having to buy and wrap one more gift I didn’t are about was getting to me. Having said “No, thank you,” I feel much better.
    But as for the regifting…please don’t! If it’s not something you want, why would someone else want it. I’ve done several exchanges where I put thought into the gift and wound up with old church cookbooks or hideous Christmas decorations with the tags from other exchanges still on them. It doesn’t do much team building to gift someone your garbage.

  18. Mister E says:

    RE: Secret Santa

    At least you don’t work in my office – I’m expected to do Secret Santa, Adopt a Family, kick in for a gift for my superiors, and kick in for a gift for my subordinates to the tune of about $25 each.

    Trying to opt out of any of the above wouldn’t fly here in the slightest, I’ve tried.

    There’s also a homemade cookie exchange that IS optional, sort of. Some people do opt out of that one but it’s definitely to your benefit to take part.

    On top of that we have a rotating “treat day” on Thursday’s where once every couple of months you need to supply a treat for the entire office (this runs $10-30 usually depending on your treat, and tongues will wag if you’re seen as cheaping out very often) and that can get pricey. Lately there’s beeen a movement towards both morning and afternoon treats but I’ve resisted that as yet.

    We’re ever so full of spirit.

  19. Suzanne says:

    Q2: I can understand being resentful of being taken advantage of, which this friend’s mother might be doing, but you said yourself that she is having a really hard time right now: college student, suddenly single with a daughter. It can’t be easy. If it is not putting you out and you are home with your daughter anyway, think of it as a charitable gesture for two people who are struggling…the daughter might be having a hard time at home and need a stable environment too. I’m not saying you should say yes 100% of the time, but you are probably really helping her out at a time she needs it most. I hope she expresses appreciation at the very least, because if there aren’t any Thank You’s included, I’d be at the end of my rope too.

    Q3 – My husband and I bought a great sectional sofa in our first apartment and now that we are in our house we are finding it difficult to arrange the furniture/house around it. So I would say, get cheaper furniture now and upgrade later once you know what you want to do with your more permanent space. Ikea’s furniture is cheap, but I have never had anything completely break down on me, so they are durable under normal use.

  20. Cheryl says:

    Q5 When my mom moved into assisted living, we were told that if the time came that she could not pay, they would accept whatever her income was at that time (social security and annuities) and would not make her leave. Fortunately, my parents were frugal and saving, so I think she will be able to continue to pay for the remainder of her life (she’s 97).

  21. Misha says:

    Lesley @ #17: If it’s not something you want, why would someone else want it.
    Because different people have different tastes, desires, and needs. If I receive a decorative soap set, or a package of lotions, or a tin of candy I know I don’t like, what is the harm in passing it on to someone who will like it? It gets it out of the house while keeping it out of the landfill AND while bringing pleasure to someone else.

    That said, I do hate grab-bag stuff because the chances are so slim you’ll get something you want.

  22. jim says:

    Q1 – Maybe you should sell off some of those precious metals? Sounds like almost all your assets are in precious metals. You don’t want to have ALL your money in one kind of asset. Gold/silver has grown considerably in the past few years and honestly I for one think its a bubble soon to burst. You’ve hopefully profited form the gains in metals lately, so cash in some of that profit. Sell high. If you hang on to it forever then its very likely it will plunge 25-50% sooner or later and you’ll lose a large portion of your assets.

    Q3 – Sounds like your able to afford good furniture and you know you want it in the long run. WHy not buy it now? That will save you the cst of the cheaper temporary furniture which you would just replace with good stuff later. Your options appear to be a) buy cheap furniture now and good furniture later or b) buy good furniture now. I don’t see why option a) is better.

    Q5 – This looks like part of an out of context discussion so I feel I’m missing something.
    Trents reply seems awful to me. No just cause you paid taxes at some point in the past doesn’t mean its OK for well off people to exploit any kind of loophole to live off public aid. Public aid is for people who need it. Medicare/ medicaid is not for people who want to give their money to their kids instead.
    BTW, If you all don’t know Medicare looks back several years to see if you gave your money away. That trick is well known and can disqualify you.

    Q6 – The idle state power consumption of computers varies. I’m guessing range is likely 20W up to 100W for the computer alone. Monitors and printers will also use some power and that varies widely too. Lets say your whole system pulls 50W total. If you leave it on and its idle 20 hours a day then that is 50W x 20hrs = 1000 W hr = 1 killoWatt/hr. One kWh costs about 11¢ average. So you’re running about $3.30 per month.
    But as I said it varies depending on the hardware in question. It could be $1 a month or $10 a month.

    Q7 Louise – You need to change your attitude about that job. Stop caring. You are caring too much about it. Its just a job and you should treat it as just a job. What does it really matter to you if things at the job aren’t done right? You’ll not change the company culture anytime soon. You’ll be leaving this job sooner or later. Its just a stopping point for you. This may be easier said than done. But I really think this is the answer. If you don’t let it bother you then all the sudden it doesn’t bother you.. problem solved. Or you could quit and make less money at some other place that also does things wrong and has other things that will upset you.

    Q9 You can’t get out of it tactfully. Just spend the $20 and be happy its not $50.

  23. jim says:

    Sorry I confused medicare and medicaid. Its OK for everyone to use medicare who’s eligible since we all pay for it and its intended for everyone. Medicaid is the handout for poor people which people who have money shouldn’t feel OK purposefully using.

  24. Des says:

    Q10 – I’m not sure the “driver picks the tunes” really resolves the issue. Wouldn’t that just change the fight to who gets to drive? DH and I don’t really like the same music, but we do both like comedy albums. We’ll listen to those, switch off songs, or just keep the music off and talk :)

  25. Rockledge says:

    #2 You are resentful because you feel the mother is taking advantage of you and you are right. But the real question is how your daughter and this child get along.

    My daughter had a friend who had a somewhat crazy mom who also owned a business. Since I am currently a stay-at-home mom, this girl would come over almost every day and frequently stay for dinner, to the point that I would accidentally refer to her as my daughter.

    She and my daughter were best friends and she was a sweet child so I was glad to have her. Her mom was definitely borderline personality disorder (read “self-centered, negative, and unpleasant”). Whenever we had to interact with her, we acted very bland. We were definitely a safe haven for this girl. And yes, her mom got free babysitting out of it. But I don’t regret one moment of having that child at my house and we were very sad when they moved far away.

    If you are going to watch this other mom’s child, don’t do it for the mom or you will resent it. If you do it, do it for your child and her friend.

  26. Brittany says:

    Q10– My boy and I do something called “CD Roulette”–we each pick a number of CDs (usually around 1 each per hour of the trip). Then we shuffle the CDs and start at the top of the stack.

    If you picked the CD, you can pick the songs/the order of songs off of it.

    If you didn’t pick the CD, you can veto it after 3 songs.

    We find this is a good balance and I imagine there’s a good compromise for digital media as well (lists instead of CDs).

  27. Rockledge says:

    In my response to Q#2, I forgot to mention that although the mom was frequently unpleasant to others, she was not abusive to her daughter–that would have changed everything.

  28. Gretchen says:

    3, I wouldn’t buy forever furniture until you are in your forever/long term home. It might nto fit or look right in the house, and you’d replace it anyway.

    Road trips: actually, passenger picks the music. Unless he or she is reading or sleeping.

    9: “Talk to them privately and just say that Christmas means something different to you.” No. Just say you aren’t doing it. I also find generic gifts in that price range to be unwelcome- But I would take the other commenter’s Church Cookbooks. Those have the best tried and true recipes.

  29. DaveOR says:

    #6 – Craig

    A friend has a power strip for his computer system that has a small corded “remote” on/off button – so the power strip and all the cord mess stay in the back, on the floor, while the control is just a button on your desktop.

  30. Nancy says:

    #4–Some states-Definitely in Illinois–if you teach in certain areas including special education (math and science are some others) for a minimum number of years, your student loans are forgiven (or something like that). It’s a program to get students into areas where they don’t have as many teachers by providing an incentive to them.

  31. kristine says:

    please use spellboy.

  32. michael bash says:

    Ah! the sounds of silence while driving. Also what about earphones?

  33. Melissa D says:

    Trent, I have to smile at how you answered Q2, because it sounds like what my husband would say, a definition of the problem and a very direct statement. I think the questioner wants more, though:
    – a script for what to say
    – a way to preserve the relationship with her daughter and her friend
    – a way to sympathize with Pushy Mom but lay out her own needs
    – possibly a way to help PM and get help herself for her own burdens

    I’d suggest this: “Hey PM, I can see that you are really stressed out with everything that’s going on. I love to see and playing together. We are *both so busy* — maybe we could trade kids a couple of days a week so we can have a day to crank on our stuff….My best day to take PMD is Tuesday after school until about 5:30, *but I would need to make up work on another day.* When do you think you could watch Daughter? Would Thursday work, maybe til 5:30? *I’d like to plan this out so that we can make this work for both of us.”

    Hope that helps. :-)

  34. Jackowick says:

    Q2 @Johanna I absolutely agree that this is a culture clash. We often use those words as a “bad” thing, but for some people, you would do anything at the drop of a hat for a neighbor, while for others, it’s about complete respect for privacy and time. When I grew up, I had some friends who called me first to ask if I wanted to come over, and some who just left the door open, literally, for me to walk in whenever I wanted.

    The important thing is to set those boundaries. As a single person with no kids, I find that many people assume I can do things at the drop of a hat and that I must have “zero” obligations and “loads” of free time. When a married friend asks me at 8 PM if I want to go hang out at a bar on a weeknight, I’m grateful for the invitation but often decline. So in the case of the neighbor dropping/dumping the babysitting on you, that’s what it is; babysitting. You can’t go using powertools on the roof or paint a room if you have a 30 minute notice that a kid is coming over.

    Go with the 24 hour rule. Or better yet, set up a weekly thing and let her know you have a set day “off” from being available in addition to the 24 hours.

    And I’ll be the one who will throw it out there; lie and say you’re job hunting and less available. I’ll be the bad guy.

  35. Donna says:

    Q5 Regarding long term care and finances. What most people who are unfamiliar with the process don’t understand, is that there is a 5 year look back period for Medicaid. In other words, a person cannot gift away their assets within 5 years of applying for Medicaid. AND after a person’s death, if a person has had their care paid for by Medicaid, the state can go after any remaining assets to try to recoup the money it has spent. There are also maximum income levels which vary by state. If a person has more than a couple of thousand dollars a month in income from all sources, including social security, etc., they will not qualify for Medicaid. Yes, there are people who take advantage of the system, but there are an awful lot of people who don’t. My mother, for example, has a very small retirement/survivor annuity from when my dad passed away, and her social security. Added together, those add up to just enough so she can’t qualify for Medicaid. She was very frugal when my dad died and invested the small insurance payout wisely. She did well with it and now every month I pay her $5500 per month nursing home care from HER OWN investments. I am very grateful that she saved this money and in my mind it is hers and for her care. I never expect to inherit any of it, nor do I want to. She saved it, so it is hers. If she outlives it, she cannot qualify for Medicaid, so she is between the proverbial rock and hard place. The very sad part is that she consumes no state services, but the state taxes her investment income that I have to take out of her accounts to pay her nursing home bills. None of her medical expenses are exempt from state taxes as they are from federal. My point here is that many honest people out there are trying to pay their own way. It is sad that this country doesn’t provide more for the citizens who contributed to making this country great by working hard and paying their taxes. Many elders are in nursing homes as a result of the long term effects of fighting wars.

  36. Johanna says:

    @Jackowick: “And I’ll be the one who will throw it out there; lie and say you’re job hunting and less available. I’ll be the bad guy.”

    My take is that if it would help for you to say “I can’t do XYZ for/with you because I have other plans,” then you should actually go ahead and make other plans – schedule some chore or errand during that time – so that you’re telling the truth. Not because I think the occasional white lie makes you a “bad guy,” but more because most people are worse at lying than they think they are, and the other person will probably catch on sooner or later that you’re lying to them, and is that really something you want to happen?

  37. David says:

    One could go further. If you don’t want to do X or Y, but feel some obligation to do both X and Y, schedule X and Y for the same time. Then: tell those who want you to do X the truth that you have to do Y; tell those who want you to do Y the truth that you have to do X; do neither; and instead sleep the sleep of the just (or go down the pub, according to taste).

  38. gail says:

    To all the people who feel they MUST have an office gift exchange….please do NOT make things uncomfortable for those who do not want to participate. Out of all my coworkers over the years, I have found about a handful who actually enjoy it. But no one wants to stand up to the office bully who always encourages these things. Seriously, in this economy, you have no idea how much $20 means to someone’s budget.

  39. SLCCOM says:

    #7 sounds like she might be dealing with depression. Perhaps a check-in with your doctor might be helpful.

  40. KTHunter says:

    Q10: Well, you could always make up a playlist on an MP3 player with equal amounts of music from both sides (leaving out any songs that make the other one absolutely climb the walls of the car) and put it on random. That way, if someone is listening to something not-their-favorite, it won’t be that way for long. I can usually tolerate 3 – 6 minutes of something I’m not fond of, as long as it’s not something I absolutely hate.

    Be flexible. You might learn to like some music you didn’t know you liked before!

    Also, when my husband drives, I usually read to him for a while from a book we both want to read. We read the entire Harry Potter series this way over several months during our commutes and travel. This makes for a nice break and actually creates some conversation as we stop and make an editorial comment on the bit just read.

  41. Lindsey says:

    My husband and I have taken the inexpensive route when furnishing our home. The only brand new piece of furnature in our house is our box spring and matteress. His dad made the bedroom set for our wedding, and several items were things he brought when he moved out: guest bed, computer desks & chairs, recliner I’ve brought several family pieces in as well: a fainting couch, dining room table/chairs, and twin guest bed. Other items have been purchased at garage sales for very low cost. We probably have only spent about $1500 and most of that was our bed! Surprisingly, our house does not look haphazard at all and is very elegant looking.

    Q10: When we travel by car, we take the time to talk to each other without any other distractions. I don’t think couples talk to each other enough anymore with all the activities and distractions available these days.

  42. Lindsey says:

    My husband and I have taken the inexpensive route when furnishing our home. The only brand new piece of furniture in our house is our box spring and mattress. His dad made the bedroom set for our wedding, and several items were things he brought when he moved out: guest bed, computer desks & chairs, recliner I’ve brought several family pieces in as well: a fainting couch, dining room table/chairs, and twin guest bed. Other items have been purchased at garage sales for very low cost. We probably have only spent about $1500 and most of that was our bed! Surprisingly, our house does not look haphazard at all and is very elegant looking.

    Q10: When we travel by car, we take the time to talk to each other without any other distractions. I don’t think couples talk to each other enough anymore with all the activities and distractions available these days.

  43. Hogan says:

    Q5–Terrible convoluted advice Trent. You basically advised them to commit fraud by hiding assets through gifts and obfuscation. You can give money away as long as you don’t then dump grandmas bill on the taxpayers. The rules change a lot but if give away money within 5 years of going into a nursing home and go on medicaid the government will take all those gifts back. Believe me they will find the money. Finally, the tone of the question tells me they think they are the only ones who work hard and save so that justifies them dumping a potentially 200k to 300k bill on the taxpayers.

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