Updated on 06.13.13

Reader Mailbag: Lack of Snow

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. Credit card limits
2. Pest control option
3. Returning to work
4. Watching football without television
5. Hint of identity theft
6. Daytime heating and cooling
7. Value of a Kindle?
8. First budgeting steps
9. My budget
10. Movie night

It’s mid-December and we’ve had barely a dusting of snow. This is in complete contrast to the last few winters, when I had already run the snowblower several times.

I went back and looked through my journals and it looks like winters are really on a seven year cycle. We happen to be on the “mild” end of that cycle, which should include next winter as well.

My journals noted that the winter of 1997 and 1998 were bad ones, 2003 and 2004 were bad ones, and 2010 and 2011 were bad ones. In between them were mild winters, so we may be in for a pretty mild one.

Q1: Credit card limits
I have three credit cards at the moment. Two with balances that I am paying down as quickly as I can and one without a balance that I use occasionally for things I will pay off immediately. Recently two of my cards’ limits were increased. I am wondering if that affects me negatively at all. Should I call them and ask to have it lowered? (Both went from around $5,000 to $7,000). I know at one point in the past I had a huge limit of $18,000 on a card with no balance and I was almost denied a car refinance because of the potential to go into debt there. At that time I lowered the limit to $5,000. What do you think?

– Emily

This is a prime example of where credit scores and credit reports can be really confusing.

Normally, an increase in your credit limit is good for your credit score. It improves your debt-to-credit ratio, which makes up a big component of how your score is calculated.

However, some lenders do manual underwriting, where they just pull your credit report and do their own analysis of it, not relying on credit scores. In those situations, one thing they often look for is a comparison of your total credit limit to your salary, and if you have a lot of potential room to borrow and a relatively low salary, that will look bad to them.

What’s the solution? I’d probably keep my total credit limit to somewhere between 25% and 50% of my income.

Q2: Pest control options
I am constantly trying to cut back some of the expenses that we have so that we live within our means. We have a Pest control company come and inspect our house once every 3 months for pest and termite. They spray the outside of the house and lawn at each visit(to kill roaches and fire ants). They do spot treatment inside the house if there are any pests. This costs me about $85 every 3 months A few months back they inspected the attic and found some rat poop.They set up traps and caught a couple of rats.. The sealing of the house and setting up the rat traps cost me $500! Now this is one expense I am trying to cut out. Also I am concerned about the health impact of all the spraying they do out of the house and inside the house. Will you be able to suggest how I could prevent pests in my house without employing a pest control company. I am hoping to save some money and also eliminate use of harmful chemicals from our lives.

– Leon

There are lots of home remedies for getting rid of pests. The problem with them is that they generally don’t work as well as the stronger methods that pest removal services use.

If you have consistent problems with pests, you should probably keep hiring an expert to deal with them. However, if you’ve gone a period without any pest problems, you can certainly look into methods for preventing the types of pests you have.

For example, if you’re having a roach problem, boric acid and catnip are common solutions to send them scurrying away. Orange oil is often a good measure against ants. For rats, the best solution is what they did – trapping and sealing holes.

Q3: Returning to work
My husband and I live very frugally, but the cost of living in our area is quite high. It’s a rural area, but rent is $1100/month (cheap for around here), food is expensive (we live in Alaska), and electricity is even more expensive. So all of my pay (just under $2000/month) goes toward living, with maybe a few hundred dollars into savings every couple of months. We rarely drive, and the vehicle we do have (an old truck, in great condition but very fuel inefficient) is on long-term loan from my in-laws so we don’t pay anything other than fuel.

We have a decent emergency fund built up (just under $10,000) and my husband has about $35,000 in student loans. We also have about $35,000 in investments, which are making more in interest than the student loans are so we’ve decided to keep that money invested.

After being unemployed for most of the last year (minus 3 1/2 months during the summer–most of that money went to savings or paying off some medical bills), my husband has decided to go to graduate school and will be taking some classes in the spring. I work for the university so we won’t have to take out more loans. Additionally, he’s also been promised a part-time student job at $10.50/hour.

So here’s my quandary: what should we do with the extra money? We have quite a few goals. I’m investing the maximum amount to my retirement fund (I get a 50% match), but since I’m the only one with retirement savings I feel like it’s not enough for our future goals. (We’re in our mid-to-late 20s.) We would also like to buy a house sometime soon, since we like our area and want to stay here long-term. (After pricing it out, a mortgage would be comparable to our rent, although utilities are included in the rent so we’d have to figure those into the price.) We’d also like to start a family in the next year or two, and we love to travel so we’d like to go to Europe again in the next few years. Finally, I’d like to save up some money and buy a vehicle of our own. I know my in-laws have loaned us this truck in the best spirit and with no hard feelings (when we give it back, it will mostly be sitting in their driveway as a backup vehicle since the selling price wouldn’t be worth their time and effort) but I feel like I’m taking advantage of their generosity. Additionally, when we do drive it costs us a lot to fill up the tank. (We’ve got it down to about one tank each month at about $80-90 to fill it up.)

When we start getting the extra money, would it be best to split up our savings into different goals accounts? After all is said and done, we’d be saving around $800/month, probably a little more during the summer. Should we keep our investments as a sort of backup retirement savings and focus on our other goals? Or would it be best to open a RothIRA and fully fund that during the year, keeping the investments for a down payment on a house? Or should we plan to wait on buying a house until after my husband has completed graduate school? Should we fund our goals in any order, or just put a little bit of money toward each of them all at once? I’m certain that we’ll be making much more money within the next 2-4 years.
– Monica

The one statement that causes me worry is the last one. “I’m certain that we’ll be making much more money within the next 2-4 years.”

It is always a mistake to make personal finance moves based on what you think your future self will be doing. Your future self is incredibly unreliable. Careers change, health changes, personal circumstances change.

What would your life look like if your current income level remained the same for the next ten years? I would plan for that, and then treat any raise in income as a big bonus.

Q4: Watching football without television
I’m on board with your idea of eliminating cable except for one thing: football. I love watching football on Sundays and Mondays (and Thursdays) and I’d hate to lose that. Any ideas?

– Shane

I like watching football, too, but I almost never watch it on television any more.

What I usually do is use something like ESPN.com. I’ll watch the “gamecast” of a game and participate in the messageboard discussions while the game is going on. Plus, I have easy access to statistics for my fantasy football team.

If you’re willing to pay some for it, NFL.com offers some pretty good streaming packages. I have a friend who uses this – the only thing he watches on television is football.

There isn’t a legal way to watch football online for free, though. Yet. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an ad-supported NFL stream in the future online.

Q5: Hints of identity theft
I recently received a bill in the mail for $69 from a scooter store in Dallas, TX. I do not have and have never had a scooter, live in NY, was not in Dallas on the date specified. I have visited TX twice a year for the past 5 years to see my son, although not Dallas.On the bill, my address was slightly off, the street name had an extra e at the end and my PO Box was not listed, but everything else was my info. I called the store and they said they would take my name off the account, but that was the name and address given to them by a customer. I am very careful with all my info, shred all mail, check my one credit card each month ( paid off in full every month) and credit report. Since someone is obviously using my name and address, is there anything else I could be doing? This has kept me awake nights, thank you very much for your input.

– Cindy

My immediate suspicion is that someone connected to your son somehow got your address and tried to use it. I’m not saying that your son did it at all, but that someone your son knows got your address and somehow managed to use it at that store.

If I were you, I’d start keeping a close watch on my credit report. You can do that for free through the federal government at annualcreditreport.com. Just examine everything on it and make sure you know where those statements are coming from.

That’s far and away your best defense against some kind of fraud.

Q6: Daytime heating and cooling
We’re first-time homeowners and i also work for a major water heater/HVAC company. Daily, customers ask me for tips on reducing their hydro/gas bill with respect to the water heater which, according to industry estimates, makes up about 60% of the hydro bill (electric water heaters, I mean; I don’t know about natural gas) until the winter when heating costs factor in.

Our hydro bill can easily hit 3-400 in the winter if we had to heat with electricity.

Right now, we have a dual electric/wood furnace which is *highly* efficient. we’ve been burning wood and 4 to 6 pieces a day is enough to keep our house nice and toasty but the hydro bill is still around 200 which is far too much for a couple with 1 child (4-1/2yrs old).

Hydro has a program called “peaksaver” which sends a signal to major appliances such as the AC to turn things down by x% (i think it’s 15) but i’m wondering if it would be worth it to shut the WH off completely during the day – i’m on the phone working all day and there’s only my husband who is off doing his own thing. wouldn’t be difficult to reschedule showers, baths, etc to bef 7am or after 7pm and we already do all our laundry in cold water and wait until after 7pm to dry if we have to use the dryer.

Currently, the rates are as follow:
Mon-Fri 7am-11am and 5pm-7pm = 10.8c/KWh, 11am – 5pm = 9.2c/KWh
Mon-Fri 7pm-7am and all wkend = 6.2c/KWh

The water heater is 3000KW, takes roughly an hour to an hour and a half to fully heat.
– Reg

If you have an opportunity to shut such things off, it’s almost always worth it.

Think about it: doesn’t it make sense that it takes a lot less energy to heat up water once than to keep it hot during the day? Instead of having your heater kick on for, say, ten minutes every hour, it would just run for twenty minutes or so at the end of a much longer period.

Unless the temperature is extreme, for example, I turn off both the heating and cooling in our house during the daytime and just flip it back on for a comfortable evening for our family.

Q7: Value of a Kindle?
I’ve been considering getting one of the $79 Kindles. I read quite a lot and I’m trying to figure out if it would save me money over the long run.

– Shannon

It depends on what you read. If you’re very picky about your books and will only read one or two specific books when choosing a new one to read, you probably won’t save a whole lot of money.

However, if you’re willing to mix it up a lot and try out new authors and patiently wait for and then pounce on sales, you can get a lot of great reading in for not much money.

For example, I keep a close eye on the Kindle Daily Deal and check out books from my library all the time using my Kindle. I don’t always get the book I want to read, but I always have something worthwhile to read.

Q8: First budgeting steps
I’m 25 years old and just started my first job. I’m married and was wondering what do you reccomend i do to start budgeting? Alot of people i talk to have no clue what to do and where to start, are there programs that are better then others. My parents never worried about budgeting and now im stuck. PLEASE HELP!!!!!

– Bill

The first step is to simply keep track of every dime you spend for a while. Every cent that leaves your pocket, whether it’s a bill or a soda at the gas station, needs to be recorded for a whole month.

Once you’ve got enough information, sort all of that spending into groups that make sense to you. Rent, utilities, entertainment, food, and impulse expenses are all good categories, but use what you like.

Total up each of those categories, then figure out which ones you could control a little better (like your entertainment spending or your impulse spending). Then, at the start of the month, just withdraw the cash for those categories you’re trying to cut back on and use only that cash for those expenses until the end of the month.

That’s budgeting in a nutshell.

Q9: My budget
I would love to know what other people’s budgets are, for those with certain lifestyles. For example, my husband and I do not have children but our food budget is still higher than the FDA charts because we eat organic, free-range meats and local. And as a reformed bookworm, I’ve tried hard to curb my spending at Amazon but what do average people spend on books and magazines? I find this information educational and fascinating.

– Camille

Here is a great infographic that depicts the budget of the average American family, both in raw dollars and percentages.

Of course, that’s the average. You’ll probably never find anyone that perfectly matches it.

Having said that, I don’t think our family’s budget is too terribly different than that one.

Q10: Movie night
You’ve mentioned before that your family regularly has a “movie night.” How on earth do you pull that off with three young kids? Doesn’t it just turn into chaos?

– Kim

Our six year old often sits through a full movie, and our four year old will if it’s a movie that really draws her in (like The Princess and the Frog). It’s really our one year old that makes for challenges.

If the one year old is nowhere close to a nap time, we’ll often just choose a shorter program for our “movie night.” We’ll watch an episode of Sesame Street or something like that. If he is napping, we’ll try to get him to nap during a lot of the movie.

Mostly, it’s just an excuse for all of us to cuddle together in the basement.

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. Ryan says:

    Q4: NBC, CBS, and ABC are all available without a cable subscription. You’ll only miss MNF on ESPN and 6-10 NFL network games.

  2. Johanna says:

    Q8: I understand that the “track every dime” approach is useful for some people, but I don’t think it’s always necessary. If you keep your big, committed expenses (rent/mortgage, utilities, transportation, insurance, basic groceries, minimum payments on loans) to a reasonable portion of your income (50% of your after-tax income is a good target to aim for), then you will have plenty of money left for day-to-day spending, without having to worry about every dime.

  3. Misha says:

    Ryan, not all areas or neighborhoods have good reception for over-the-air channels.

  4. Kate says:

    RE: Pest control. I hired the least toxic based pest control company and here’s what I learned:

    Seal up cracks where pests come in.
    Clean often—pests love food crumbs!

    Spread diatomaceous earth—a mechanical insecticide that ants and other pests ingest and it kills them. I spread it around the outside of my house as a barrier method. Works great and doesn’t harm pets. You can buy a 25lb bag of it at pool supply places (it’s used in pool filters)

    Use TomCat Glue Boards. The only place I can find them is at Wal-mart. They trap every kind of pest. The pest control guy said to avoid sprays—these mechanical methods are healthier and they catch all of the pests. And they do!

  5. George says:

    Q4: friends or sportsbar or TV store. TV is everywhere, if you want to watch the games.

  6. valleycat1 says:

    Q7 – Kindles will save you money if you normally purchase new books, as the Kindle price is usually (though not always) discounted from the hardcover and paperback price. Though, if you buy at a store that discounts book prices, you’d want to do a comparison. You can easily do that at Amazon, as they list the price for all formats.

    If you mostly read library books or buy at yard sales, then a Kindle probably won’t save you much money.

    Many Kindle owners seem to make a decision not to ever pay more than $X for an ebook. I still use the library in addition to purchasing, usually for light reading I know I’ll read through quickly. Check out the KindleBoards forum for great discussions on pros/cons and newbie advice.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    Q4 – I just saw a report that the superbowl will be watchable on cell phones this year. So if you have a great magnifying glass….

  8. Jackowick says:

    Q4: a few years ago, I was traveling overseas and bought a yahoo based nfl streaming package. In 2005 it was choppy and not great, and the stream stuttered during a game winning fieldgoal in the Eagles-Bucs game. Casts today are much much better.

    NFL.com also has via the free fantasy football page a gamecast stream where every scoring play by your fantasy team cuts to a video replay. After using nfl.com this year, I would put all my eggs in that basket, the service was excellent.

  9. Suzanne says:

    For #3, one way to approach your savings goals is to simply prioritize. You can’t predict the future in what your income, your interests, your husband’s interests, the economy, etc will be. It sounds like you stress more about having a loaned car than you do about owning your own home. Maybe that should be a first priority for you…saving for a car. Or, you can save for each thing at a percentage of your available savings.

    As a new homeowner (2 years), I think you should take your time and not rush to get a house. Not only do you have to think of the mortgage costs and utilities, but there are costs like repairs, sewer rental (if you have that), property taxes that go up yearly, etc.etc. Repairs and maintenance, I find, is tough to estimate because you don’t know when something might break. At least when you rent, that is sortof built into the price and you don’t have to worry about finding a reputable plumber, handyman, etc.

  10. Jackowick says:

    Q5 I have an instore card and an online card for purchases after a wait staff member at a favorite bar tried to use my card number to commit fraud (I got a call the next morning about a denied purchase). I would recommend having one specific card for the trips to help limit exposure, or if you can, get a prepaid card with a balance build up over the time between visits to mitigate the chances of a repeat issue.

    Otherwise, just scan the reports. If you haven’t grabbed a free one this year, do it before the calendar end. Despite what the media says, it’s more likely you have just one compromised specific item than your whole identity being blown. It’s easier for someone to obtain one card and the info if they are from the extended circle. My mother lost her purse a few years back and it was basically a teenager that found it, took the cards, and tried to make purchases; it wasn’t some black market scheme where people created new identities.

    So try to rest easier, but get that credit report!

  11. Another Katie says:

    I agree with Johanna that the track every dime method doesn’t work for everyone. I grew up thinking that was the only way to budget. I tried to budget that way many times as an adult, but I was never disciplined enough to actually make it work.

    The first budget I had that actually worked didn’t track expenses at all. Every time I got a paycheck I paid all of the bills that would be due before the next paycheck. Then I would look at how much money I had left and keep that in mind as I spent it. It went against a lot of what I have heard about budgeting, but it was the first time that I actually lived within my means.

    My only goal was to not spend more than I earned. I had no savings or debt repayment or any other long-term goals. Once I got a handle spending within my income, then I started to incorporate other goals.

    Bill, I recommend you read as much as you can about budgeting and just try things. If something doesn’t work for you, try something else. I found trial and error was the only way for me to learn a budgeting technique that worked for me. Also, it’s okay if the way you budget changes over time.

  12. Jackowick says:

    Q8: Married, eh? When you go through your first month of tracking (yes, this is absolutely the best first step), make sure you and your spouse are totally honest about what you spend on. Gum, haircuts, new shoes, fantasy football dues, whatever, be totally honest and figure it out.

    When it comes to the extra/discretionary spending, I recommend an allowance factor or “petty cash” for each of you; the kind of money that is allowable for the free spending/miscellaneous items. I’ve seen married friends who are on budgets so tight that they “scrape” from the grocery budget or other areas like a lower-than-expected electric bill to get money for things like… fantasy football dues. Nothing creepier than having a friend hand you an enevelope full of singles they have been skimming out of the budget for months.

    Remember to round up on bills, if you can, to give you a buffer. My home electric and gas runs from 80-125 a month for my house, so I “plan” on 150 a month.

    Also depending on your living arrangements, be aware of tax/condo association/rent increases. I had an escrow adjustment due to taxes (New Jersey) that bumped my mortgage “total” by $150 for a year end adjustment. That put an unexpected dent in the wallet.

    And if possible, have fun with it. Do you buy joint gifts for your folks/in-laws? It’s an expected recurring item; maybe put any surpluses towards those items, and see if you can make your gift budgets ahead of schedule. Set goals such as when you come in X dollars below budget, half goes into the bank and the other half is for a night out. Little rewards for savings can be a fun motivator.

    And make sure you are BOTH in agreement. You have to check your egos at the door when you are at the budget table, and do not take anything personally if you and your spouse disagree on your extra purchases. Talking it out and covering your basics goes a long way.

  13. Deborah says:

    Q4 – I’m right there with you. I don’t receive any digital signals for my local channels, and I’ve been told I would need a pretty hefty antenna added to my roof to get them (the signals are 30+ miles away with small mountains in between). And college football is the main reason I still have a satellite subscription. We easily keep up with 8-10 games per week. If we just watched NFL games, I’d probably get an online subscription…but it’s the college games I want to keep.

  14. PawPrint says:

    Q9 – I quit buying books (except occasionally at the Friends of the Library sale for $1) and instead use the library. I go to Amazon, find what my favorite author has recently written, then put a hold on them at the library. That way I still get to read the new book, but don’t buy it. I also quit buying magazines–again, I use the library. My only subscription is to the daily newspaper.

  15. jim says:

    Q3 : I think that expecting your income to increase after finishing a grad degree is reasonable. I don’t agree with Trents reply that younger people should plan on near poverty wages forever. Getting a grad degree should certainly increase your income.
    Your savings goals sound relatively short term so I’d plan to save it in something safe & liquid like CDs.
    It sounds like you’re in a pretty low tax bracket right now. You may be in the 10% bracket unless I’m missing something. Could be a good idea for you to liquidate some of your investments right now and lock in very low tax rate. You could feasibly sell off $10k of investment with most gains and then fully fund 2 Roth IRAs and lock in 0% taxes on it.
    IMHO, I wouldn’t buy a house til your husband graduates. Keep it flexible till he settles on a job.

    Q4 Some things are worth paying for. If you *love* watching football then maybe its worth you paying for .. if you can afford it. If you’re cash strapped and really need to cut costs then watching football over the air or going to a sports bar or over the internet or at friends homes, are all possible. One trick to look into is to get cable service then put it into ‘vacation mode’ when its not football season.

    Q6 Reg : First, yes you can turn off the hot water heater via a timer. You can buy and install a timer that automatically turns the hot water tank on and off to coincide with peak times. You may also want to install a water heater blanket which is an insulator wrap for the tank. That should help cut your costs. However I wouldn’t expect a ton of savings. That 60% figure is not for people with electric/wood furnaces in the frozen north. Your $200 electric bill in winter is most likely a lot of heat. Whats your electric bill in the summer? Probably more like $100-150? Your hot water heater probably uses around $30-50/month of electricity. Turning it off some of the time will help but not a ton. I’d guess you might save maybe $10-20/month. Worth doing but not close to 60% of $200 by any means.

    Q7 If you want to save money then use the library or buy used books. Kindles may be cheaper than new books but they aren’t cheap. If you want a Kindle cause they’re cool and you can afford to treat yourself to a neat toy then OK, but don’t buy it by rationalizing to yourself that its a money saver.

    Q9 – The average American household spent $110 on ‘reading’ in 2009 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and their Consumer Expenditure Survey. But that just reflects that few Americans read books much. And you may make more money than average households too. So its not really a useful benchmark to decide if you’re spending ‘too much’ on books.

  16. jackie says:

    I’m an avid avid book reader and library user. For comparison-sake, I have spent $93 in 2011 on books, which is a lot more than I would have guessed if I didn’t have mint.com at my fingertips to look it up. (The most expensive book purchase was actually a library fine because I left a library book in a rental car.)

    According to my goodreads stats, I’ve read 68 books this year (not, whatever happened to be on sale, but whatever I wanted to read from my collection, friends’ collections, the library and occasional bookstores) and I expect to finish 4 more in the next two weeks. So as a mostly-library, sometimes bookstore buyer, that puts me at $1.29/book. Which is cheaper than the average kindle book.

    I have to admit though that I too am coveting a kindle, but I won’t be actually buying one any time soon.

  17. jackie says:

    I realize that part of my comment didn’t make sense. I was trying to say that unlike Trent’s suggestion for how to cheaply use a kindle, I didn’t just happen to read whatever amazon decided to put on sale even it it didn’t interest me. I read lots of books that I was eager to read. I read some off my own shelves, which are full of unread books from years past when I was active on bookmooch and collected more than I could read, I read some from my boyfriend’s bookshelf that he thought I might like and we might like to discuss, I borrowed others from friends, I downloaded a few free classics to my iPhone but most came from the library (holds are great and my library lets you freeze your holds to stagger their arrival and read in certain order or not have a book come up before your ready for it. I use the feature a lot. When my book club list comes out in December I reserve the whole next year’s list of books and time them so I get them at the start of the appropriate month).

  18. Riki says:

    I asked for an e-reader for Christmas and I’m so excited to get one!

    I love to borrow from the library but getting downtown just isn’t that convenient so I don’t often go. I’m really looking forward to borrowing e-books and eliminating the requirement of physically going to the library. Also, although I love to read, I actually hate book clutter. So keeping everything in an electronic format is incredibly appealing.

  19. Telephus44 says:

    Q3 – I also take issue with Trent’s worry about your potential increasing income. I think it’s highly likely that having a degree will increase your husband’s income and it’s ok to plan for that. I would max out a ROTH IRA first. You can take out $10,000 with no penalty to purchase your first home (subject to some limitations, just look them up first). If you don’t end up using it to buy a house then you just have more in retirement. After that I’d figure out if you want to travel before or after kids – if you want to do it before, then save for that next. I’d put house and kids last because you’d be better off waiting to see what your husband’s job/income situation is first.

  20. Katie says:

    I’ve said it before, but there’s also something to be said – if you’re an avid reader and you can afford it – for supporting authors you want to write more by buying their books new (electronically or physically). It’s not a terribly profitable business to begin with, and it’s very common for authors whose books underperform to not be able to sell future books. And even authors who are doing relatively well – well, it’s nice to think that I’m contributing to them being able to write instead of wasting their time at a day job.

    I mean, not that libraries, used books, and book exchanges aren’t great resources, just that this is one area where sometimes it makes sense to spend more to encourage what you want published.

  21. Julie says:

    I love my kindle. I can read with one hand while going to/from work on a busy subway car. You can borrow ebooks from the library, Amazon has a great selection of cheap/free books, and you can borrow free books on Amazon if you have an Amazon prime membership. I find that I read even more now that I have a Kindle. I was really skeptical at first, and I refused to buy one. Then I got one for my birthday, and I fell in love.

  22. R S says:

    @Q4 – I’m not sure if it was made clear by the other commenters, but to get Sunday Football via NBC, CBS, ABC you would use an antenna hooked up to your TV.
    Depending on where you’re located this will be easier, or harder. But even an expensive antenna installation will quickly pay itself back compared to the recurring costs of cable tv.
    A couple of my friends who could not live without cable got satellite tv because it was cheaper, but for broadcast channels like NBC etc, they’d switch to their antenna because the satellite broadcast was not in HD, and the free over-the-air antenna broadcast. :)

  23. Jonathan says:

    Q3 – I agree with Trent’s suggestion regarding making financial plans based on known numbers, not what you hope you’ll be making down the road. Yes, it is reasonable to expect that Monica and her husband will have a greater income in 2-4 years than today, especially with a completed graduate degree. I see no issue with having such an expectation. Making future plans, however, based on those expectations can lead to problems. As Trent mentioned, there are too many variables that could impact earning income during that timeframe to count on the additional funds being available.

    Think about the people who financed a new house with a 5 year adjustable rate mortgage in 2006. Maybe the ARM is the only way they could afford the payments on the house. Many likely believed they would have a higher income by 2011, so knew they could afford the increased payments at that time. Fast forward 5 years and some of those same people are now unemployed, working only part time, or if they still have a full time job may be making the same or even less than in 2006. They can’t afford the new payment on their current income, so end up losing the house. Would making the decision based on their 2006 income instead of potential future income prevented them from losing the house? In some cases the answer is probably yes; in other cases the answer is probably no. Regardless, the person would have been more likely to have been able to make the payment on the house had they been planning based on a known, real, income number, rather than a potential future, hoped for, income number.

  24. SwingCheese says:

    As someone else above mentioned, when it comes to football, you can (assuming good reception) watch it for free on either CBS or FOX (for Sunday afternoon games) and NBC (Sunday night games). And playoff games are always televised. The drawback is that not all games are televised, since they are run simultaneously. If you were, say, a Miami Dolphins fan living in Iowa, it is unlikely that you will find a Dolphins game televised on your affiliate. My husband (said Dolphins fan) used to go to sports bars where they had NFL Sunday ticket, and many, many tvs, in order to see the games. (This can also be done cheaply – most restaurants run food and drink specials during the games, and if you forego alcohol, any bill you accumulate will be reasonable. I can say that the cost of eating/drinking out one Sunday a week was far cheaper than a monthly cable + NFL sunday ticket bill.)

  25. Amy P says:

    “Use TomCat Glue Boards. The only place I can find them is at Wal-mart. They trap every kind of pest.”

    There’s one problem with the glue boards–they can also trap harmless little animals. When we moved to Texas (home to lots of huge outdoor roaches), my husband put out sticky traps. We were dismayed to discover that we were trapping the cute, bug-eating geckos. We now stick with chemical treatment for roaches and diatomaceous earth for the ants.

    Also, when we first moved south, I heard the recommendation to do a spray every 3 months. In my experience, that is unnecessary in our climate (yours may be different). We can get away with one or two sprays a year, because the big outdoor roaches become inactive during the winter.

  26. deRuiter says:

    Monica didn’t state in what field her husband’s advanced degree will be. If it’s in something useful like math, engineering or science, his income may go higher. If the degree is in something for which there is already more supply than demand, like lawyers from non ivy league schools, English majors, advanced basket weaving, the feel good social sciences, then no, he will not earn any more money. Wake up folks, just getting “a degree” or “an advanced” degree isn’t an automatic ticket to a bigger paycheck. Think of this as sales, if you have something people want they will pay for it, if you are offering something they don’t want / need, they will not buy.
    There have been a rash of articles lately about people who have accumulated massive amounts of student debt, graduated, and are delivering pizzas, waitressing, doing lawn work, because their degree is unsalable. Before you get a degree, find out if there is more demand than supply for people doing that job. Your “passion” for a subject is all well and good, but if your degree is in literature of Chaucer, and the market wants mathmeticians, scientists and engineers, you are going to be disappointed and in debt for the rest of your life.

  27. Pat says:

    Re: Kindles – they became compatible with Overdrive, a service that many libraries offer, a couple months ago. As stated above, many books are not available in this format but the price is right (free through your library) and it is a convenience (lighter, portable, you can increase the font size, etc.) for those who choose to spend the initial outlay. Be advised, that to use the library titles, you need to have access to a computer — you can’t do the 3G downloads like you can for books purchased from Kindle. There are also other, cheaper eBook readers available for a middle ground.

  28. Brittany says:

    I agree that “track every dime” is not a sustainable budgeting strategy for every person over the long=term, but I also think knowing what you’re spending your money on is an important first step. A way to make this tracking near-painless is to go completely cash-free for a month, using only a debit or credit card and then add it all up in categories at the end of the month. Do that for one or two months and you should get a big general idea of where your money is going. Then, take that knowledge to make a budget of any style (keep tracking every penny, aim for percentages, cash envelopes, a more holistic save X amount through automatic withdraw and everything else is okay to spend, etc.)

    Whether you use a debit or card card for this depends on your financial restraint and how you think about money–I prefer to put all my expenses except rent (would if I could) on my credit card and pay it off each month because seeing the total amount I spent (I spent how much during holiday travel and gift season?!) is very psychologically powerful for me. If I were using a debit card, it’s easier for me to spend the money as long as it’s there and not really have a great handle at a glance of how much I’ve spent. Even if it’s still in a comfortable zone (and I only put money in my checking account that is marked for spending), not having a near-exact handle on exactly how much money I’ve spent makes me uncomfortable.

  29. tentaculistic says:

    #27 – Right! You can rent Kindle books for FREE from the library, and if you live in a major city the Kindle selection is good and growing in great bounds. You just
    Google “(your city)” “(your state)” and “Overdrive”. You can rent books for 7, 14, or 21 days.

    At the 4 libraries where I have cards (reciprocity agreements between libraries, not fraud, all of the Kindle books sync using WhisperSync, so you can add and then read Kindle books using your phone. You can’t do that with WMA, MP3, ePub books, you need a computer.

    Note that you can use a Kindle app on your phone or compy too. I read Kindle books on my phone all the time.

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