Reader Mailbag: Handwritten Notes

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. Rapid paydown of debts
2. Following sports
3. Bread making issues
4. Games played over and over
5. Homemade soap in efficient washer
6. Rounding and the penny
7. Children’s haircuts
8. Political volunteerism
9. GMO corn
10. Bargain tablet or not?

A few days ago, I unexpectedly received a handwritten note in the mail. It was just a couple of small pages filled with writing, but it put a smile on my face that lasted the entire day.

Handwritten notes seem kind of anachronistic today, when most people communicate largely by text message or by internet. There’s just something charming and very personal about a handwritten note.

I think I’ll write a few today.

Q1: Rapid paydown of debts
I’m trying to recover from my few Credit Cards 1st- $6,000 @ 9.9% (paying $199 monthly) 2nd- $1,600 @ 13.9% (paying $145) 3rd- $1.200 @ 0% (paying $100) All of my payment are about 100% more than the minimum. I’m trying to pay these off with the least amount towards interest and most at the principle. I thought about getting a personal loan and consolidating these dept if the interest would be lower on the loan. I don’t have any issue paying more as I have more than 45% of my salary as my play money (I play too much, I swear I’m trying to recover!) There cards I’ve had since I was in the military and as making like 13K a year. Now that I’m actually getting a real paycheck, I’m recently married and surprise I’m going to be a dad in December (!!!) I’m not in such a rush to pay, I’m trying to make a savings or do things with the wifey (by trying I have like $30). I know I need to focus on this debt but with no direction I just think I can pay double and watch it go down but it just doesn’t I read about you and the guy that paid his Harvard debt in 2 year and think well I can do something too… but how?

– Ron

When you read stories like my own or the other that you mentioned, you’ve got to know that there is a lot of work involved in making that happen. In both cases (and many others), we cut spending back to a pretty extreme level, doing things like making our own soap and such. We both also put a ton of effort into bringing in every dime of possible income.

There was a period from about 2006 to about 2008 where the effort to alleviate our financial situation was pretty much all-consuming in my life. Almost every moment I wasn’t at work or spending time with my family (and even that was limited more than I would like), I was either finding ways to fix our finances or working on The Simple Dollar. That was my life, around the clock, for most of two years.

There is no magic trick to a quick debt payoff. You can make it happen, but you’re going to have to work hard for it. The harder you work, the faster it will arrive.

Q2: Following sports
What tools do you use to follow sports without paying an arm and a leg for cable or satellite sports packages?

– Evan

There’s a big gap between “following” sports and watching every possible game live on television.

I consider myself a sports follower. I listen to some games on the internet and watch others on a basic cable package. I catch the highlights of other games. I also enjoy reading about it and looking at statistics. I can do all of that for free online or with a basic cable package.

However, I don’t consider it essential to watch every single game, even from my favorite teams. If you want that, you’re going to have to pay. There’s no real way around that.

Q3: Bread making issues
Hey, I used your recipe to bake some homemade bread. I made sure to buy all the ingredients that you said and it took 3 times to get the dough just right, the first 2 times it was too crumbly so I realized I had to use less flour. Everything was great except it didn’t rise at all both times. I wanted to ask if there was something else I could do or if I did something wrong. I followed the recipe exactly and used the Kroger brand of the active dry yeast, and enriched, unbleached all purpose flour. Should I try something else?

– Monica

There are several things that could be the case here.

My first reaction is that you need a longer rise time. Depending on the temperature of your home and of the water you’re using, the dough might be slow to rise. Try using water that’s about 80 or 90 F instead of cold out of the tap, for starters, and extend the rise time by an hour or two.

If that still doesn’t solve it, your yeast might be the culprit, particularly if you’ve had it for more than a year. Ditch that old yeast and replace it with fresh(er) yeast.

Q4: Games played over and over
My roommates and I play a lot of games. Most evenings, you’ll find us playing some board game or video game at our apartment.

Our problem is that after a dozen evenings of play or so, we get tired of a particular game and end up buying a new one. I’d like to find a game that can stand up to a lot of plays.
– Andrew

For my gaming group, the games that have stood up the most to repeated play are the ones with significant variety in setup, more so than Settlers provides.

A good example of this is Agricola. In that game, there is an incredible amount of variation from game to game. The order of the appearance of the roles varies from game to game, as does the hand full of cards each player starts the game with. The basic structure of the game remains the same, but it varies widely from game to game because of the varying components and actions available to the player each game.

It really depends on your game group, though. There are thousands of people who enjoy playing chess over and over and over again. The same is true with go. You just have to find a game that everyone involved enjoys exploring.

Q5: Homemade soap in efficient washer
The person I talked to from Lowe’s about my front loader [washer] told me that the front loaders (the Energy Efficient ones) use less detergent, and the reason is the machine can’t handle the sudsing issue. He told me to only use 1 TBS of powder, and I’ve never had a problem, even with really really REALLY dirty clothes.

– Allie

No matter whether you’re using store-purchased laundry detergent or homemade laundry soap, you don’t need to use a whole lot in a high efficiency washer. If you put in too much, you’ll have a sudsing issue.

I’ve had several readers over the years say similar things: you only need a tablespoon or two of powder in a high efficiency washer to get the job done. Good tip.

Allie had a question on a different subject, too.

Q6: Rounding and the penny
Since most stores make their own prices, wouldn’t they just round UP so they don’t lose any money? So wouldn’t it just cost the consumer even more than it does now? I’ve been able to tell that grocery prices have gone up drastically in the past few years, and if the price hasn’t changed, the amount you get per serving has, in that it’s gone down. So, if something normally costs $1.39, wouldn’t the stores round up to $1.5 so they don’t lose the $.39?

– Allie

Most stores round up to the nearest penny now on purchases. We just don’t notice it because we’re used to it.

Take a look at gasoline prices. They’re listed as being $3.399 (for example). Over a typical purchase, this number is rounded up to the nearest penny.

If you eliminate the penny and the nickel, then the same techniques just go up to the dime instead of the penny.

It’s all rather moot anyway, because businesses will set prices at whatever point will maximize their profits. If they set it too low, they don’t make enough profit no matter how much they sell. If they set it too high, they don’t sell enough to make a good profit. Businesses always seek out that sweet spot where they can sell a lot and earn a good profit. Rounding really doesn’t enter into that equation very much.

Q7: Children’s haircuts
I’ve been having an argument with my mother-in-law that I thought you might be able to resolve. I cut my children’s hair at home with clippers and scissors (I have three boys and one girl). My mother-in-law says that they should be going to an actual salon so their haircuts don’t all look more or less the same. My thought is that I’ll just keep doing it this way until the kids want something different. What do you think?

– Chloe

I think your approach is the correct one. If you’re happy with the haircut results and your children are, too, then stick with what works.

Of course, there will come a time when your children start wanting different hairstyles. Perhaps you will be able to accomodate them. Maybe you won’t. That’s a bridge to cross when you get there.

For now, save the money and cut yourself.

Q8: Political volunteerism
Is volunteering for a political campaign an effective use of a person’s time? My husband volunteers several hours a week for Mitt Romney, but I don’t think it’s making a bit of difference since most everyone seems to have already made up their mind.

– Jane

It’s worthwhile if it’s something you believe in.

The entire purpose of doing campaign work for a candidate is to identify undecided voters and sway them toward your candidate. That’s kind of like searching for a needle in a haystack, because you’ll have a large group that really doesn’t care and another large group that’s already completely decided who they’re supporting.

It’s that remaining group, the ones who care at least a little but are still undecided, that make campaigning worthwhile. That little group swings elections. If you talk to a hundred people and find one undecided voter and then are able to sway that undecided voter at least a little, you’ve done your job.

Q9: GMO corn
What about GMO corn? the majority of corn is GMO so unless there is a source near where you live selling non-GMO corn you are out of luck.

– Andrew

If GMO is something you’re concerned about, then I wouldn’t buy corn from a roadside stand.

However, I think GMOs are basically impossible to avoid. Horizontal gene transfer happens all the time, even over surprising distances. There have been farmers that have been sued due to horizontal gene transfer because of the presence of new genetic material in their previously clean stock.

I really don’t worry about it. I’m much more concerned about avoiding pesticides and herbicides, to tell the truth.

Q10: Bargain tablet or not?
I’ve been saving up to buy a tablet computer. I have about $500 saved and I was planning on buying an iPad, but I’ve been looking at a lot of other tablets on the market. What do you think is the best one for the buck?

– Jolene

It depends on what you want to do with it.

An iPad can essentially be a desktop computer replacement for many people. You can get an external Bluetooth keyboard that works wonderfully with it. With the right apps, you can create long documents, do spreadsheets, create presentations, write computer programs, and countless other things.

However, that’s not really the use case most people are concerned with. If your only use for a personal computer is reading web sites and jotting off an occasional email, then almost any tablet will work for you.

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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