Updated on 10.08.11

Reader Mailbag: Listening

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. Saving for future dream home
2. Setting a budget
3. Forgiving loans to stimulate economy
4. Should we buy a house?
5. Best book of 2011
6. Repaying an old debt
7. Baby life insurance
8. Paying off no-interest loan
9. Mortgage payoff paperwork
10. Vegan to vegetarian

I’ve learned some things and gained some new insights from the Occupy Wall Street movement. They encouraged me to learn more about the issues they’re protesting about and made me reconsider some of my political ideas.

The thing is, I could make the same exact statement about the Tea Party movement.

You can always learn something and grow from anyone, particularly when people congregate under the same banner. Something is making them do this. Why? What makes them so passionate about the idea that they take action? There’s usually something valuable there if you take the time to learn about it instead of just discarding it.

Q1: Saving for future dream home
I was just wondering how you and your family save for your future dream home? Do you put it in a Index fund? If so, at what point would you move it out from that and into a cash account? I remember reading unless my goal is greater than 10 years away, to just keep it as cash. Does that mean 10 years out from your goal you would move it into a savings?

– Fred

For us, we sat down and asked ourselves what needed to be in place for us to move forward with our plans for a dream home. We decided that we needed to be able to pay cash for the land and have our current house completely paid for before we decided to move forward with the plan. Mostly, this is because we’re pretty debt-averse. Ideally, we would like to buy the land with cash, then use the future sale of our house as collateral to build, then put our house onto the market as soon as (or just before) we’re able to move.

Once we had that set in mind, we asked ourselves what financial moves would get us to our goal as quickly as possible. After playing around with several investment and debt calculators, we came to the conclusion that the approach that would lead to success most effectively was a split approach, where we made larger-than-average payments on our mortgage while also contributing a small amount each month to some sort of investment.

Since our timeline for this is a little more than a decade off, we elected to use an index fund for this savings. We are placing half of our savings into Vanguard Total Stock Market Index, which basically indexes most domestic stocks, and half in Vanguard Total International Stock Index, which indexes a wide variety of international stocks.

We re-evaluate these choices every year, watching how the investment grows and adjusting our splitting of our “savings” on an annual basis. As we get closer to the date where we’re able to do this (a date that’s inching earlier and earlier, actually), we’ll move the stock investments into something more conservative that won’t lose value.

Q2: Setting a budget
A friend of mine (she’s 23 and single, part time student with a good paying job and benefits) asked me about budgeting. She said she looks up to my frugal ways and wanted to know if her budget was good percentage wise. I was embarrassed to tell her that other than making sure that housing is no more that 25% of your gross and saving AT LEAST 10% per month, I didn’t know what the “rules” were for percentage of income in the other areas (needs, wants, debt repayment, etc). My personal method is to list my fixed expenses first (of which I include tithe, retirement and regular savings as fixed expenses) and then I try to keep all my other stuff (gas, groceries, entertainment, etc) as low as humanly possible, and then either save the remainder at the end of the month for short term stuff or other things we are working towards (home improvement, vacation). Can you tell me the rule of thumb for budgets? What percentage should be housing, savings, transportation, needs, wants, etc?

– Jill

The problem with sticking to someone else’s recipe for percentages is that they vary widely. The proportion of housing costs, for example, depends heavily on where you live, your housing requirements, and your total salary. For example, a single person making $30,000 a year in New York City is going to have a lot higher percentage of their annual income devoted to housing than a married couple making $120,000 a year in rural Iowa.

The best way to budget is to simply track all of your expenses for a few months, then use that data to calculate the percentages of what you’re actually spending. Then, spend some time thinking about that data. What can you actually cut? What percentages would you like to see elsewhere?

You can categorize all of your spending however you’d like. Just make sure that it’s grouped in ways that make easy sense to you.

Q3: Forgiving loans to stimulate economy
I keep seeing posts on Facebook about asking the government to forgive student loan debts. I’m no economist, but I cannot understand how not repaying the government could prove to be a good idea (though it would benefit me). I’d be interested to read your thoughts on the matter.

– Andy

The idea is that if the government forgave student loan debt, a lot of people under the age of 40 would suddenly have a lot more discretionary income. They would of course then spend that discretionary income, thus stimulating the economy.

Think of it in terms of your situation. If your student loans vanished, you’d probably use that money in other ways. You might buy some things you’ve wanted. You might make a down payment on a house much sooner rather than later.

All of those things would help out the economic recovery. It would be a huge economic boon at the sake of some significant government income over the next few decades. It would increase personal income tax a bit and also increase business revenue a bit too so the government would get to recoup some of it in the form of tax revenues.

Q4: Should we buy a house?
My husband and I are in our early 30’s. We are both from India and have been working in the United States (Texas) for 6 years now. We have no debts and are pretty disciplined about savings. We are on H1b (work) visas and hope to get our Green Card in the next 2 or 3 years.

We have been renting and would like to know if its a good idea to buy a house in the current market? Does it make sense to buy if there is chance that for some reason our GC is not approved and we have to move back to India? Our concern is that we would most probably end up staying and might be wasting money paying rent when we could already be investing in our house. What additional expenses are we looking at and is there anything we need to keep in mind if there is a need to sell in the next 1, 2 or 3 yrs?
– Claire

The best time to buy a house is when you can afford one and it meets your housing needs. If you’re buying a home as a residence, that’s the primary consideration.

Market timing on a home purchase is only a good idea if you’re able to move it easily as an investment. That’s much harder to do if it’s your primary residence. Besides, the future is notoriously difficult to predict. I wouldn’t make a house-buying decision based on the arcane art of market timing.

One point of advice, though. Without a green card, you may find that some lending institutions are hesitant to offer you a mortgage, even if you have a full down payment and good credit, as you might be a risk of just disappearing back into your home country. Don’t let it get you down and shop around.

Q5: Best book of 2011
Your list of your favorite authors was a bit overwhelming. How about just sharing your favorite book so far this year?

– Leslie

I’ll name two books. No, three.

The most enjoyable book I’ve read this year so far, at least in terms of keeping me entertained and keeping me turning the pages, was The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. It’s a fantasy novel that centers around a small handful of really compelling characters, plus Sanderson has a particular gift for making it all come to life.

The most thought-provoking book I’ve read this year so far, in terms of making me reflect on it and altering my way of thinking, was Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, which focuses on the neuroscience of memory and how to improve one’s own memory. I’ve also got to give a nod to Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, the best book on running I’ve ever read.

Q6: Repaying an old debt
I have about $6000 in debt on my credit report, most of it over 5 years old. I started saving in order to pay it off but someone mentioned to me and I think you wrote that making a payment will bring the debt current. If in fact the debt falls off after 7 years, is it worth it to may payments on it and in essence bring the debt current or just let it fade away?

– Ryan

In terms of honesty and repaying money you borrowed from someone, of course it’s not the right thing to do.

In terms of strictly looking at your credit report, the debt is probably best left unpaid.

To me, this is really backwards. The current credit score system in this country encourages people to do the dishonest thing if debts have gone unpaid for more than a year or two. I am not a fan of the current way in which credit is evaluated in the United States.

Q7: Baby life insurance
My husband and I just had our first child. We are young newlyweds and are looking for advice on what type of life insurance to buy for our baby and also the easiest way to create a will. Thank you!

– Jill

The easiest way to create a legal will is a service like LegalZoom. They’re perfect for a relatively simple process like creating a basic legal will.

As for buying life insurance for a baby, I generally don’t think it’s a good idea. The purpose of having a life insurance policy is to protect the family in the event of the demise of a breadwinner. The passing of a child doesn’t fall under this category. If it does happen, it’s an expense that you can easily manage and keep moving forward.

If you’re worried about a situation where your child is uninsurable in their twenties or thirties because of a medical condition, these situations are quite rare. Virtually everyone in their twenties or thirties is insurable to at least some level, and most everyone is insurable at a pretty reasonable cost.

Take the money you would have put into life insurance for your baby and apply it to something else, like a college savings plan.

Q8: Paying off no interest loan
I’ve been reading your blog along with several others and all have the same ideas about debt (bad) and savings (good) and how debt can inhibit your ability to save; I’m totally into it. I have no high interest credit card debt as of this month (woot!) and now only have three sources of debt, my mortgage, my wife’s student loan, and a no-interest loan from my parents. They sold me a Toyota Highlander for $9,000 and asked for a monthly payment of $200 until the loan is paid off. I’m about $3,000 into paying it off at this rate. Is there any conceivable benefit to paying it off earlier? To me it seems like free money. Thanks.

– Carl

If you’re looking at it strictly as a debt, there’s no benefit in paying it off early. If you have a zero-interest loan, you’re always better off paying it as slowly as you can.

The catch here is that it’s a loan between family members. A loan between family members is one that’s often made possible because of the strength of a pre-existing relationship. In essence, that relationship is extra collateral on the loan. If you don’t pay that loan off, you can damage the relationship. On the other hand, if you pay that loan off with expedience, you often can strengthen that relationship.

I’m pretty strongly opposed to loans between family members. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably debt snowball this family loan just like the rest of my loans.

Q9: Mortgage payoff paperwork
I’d love to get your advice on a mortgage issue. After much aggressive prepayment of principal, I’ll be sending in my last mortgage check next month. It’s a birthday present to me to pay a 30-year mortgage off in 13 years. Many might call it crazy, but I’m thrilled. So here’s the question:

What papers does the mortgage company need to send me to prove I’ve paid off the mortgage? Are there any documents they (or I) should file with the county where I live in Virginia? I seem to recall my mortgage company sending some notice that you must PAY them to get the payoff papers. That would be outrageous. They’ve made a handsome profit on me, and I’ll fight any additional fees. I thought I’d try the high road first, by calling for the exact payout, sending the check, and then writing them a nice letter asking them to register and send the paid documents to me as soon as possible. Problem is, I’m not sure what to ask for. Please let me know what I must get from them and add info on any optional things it would be nice to get.

You know the saying: a happy customer tells 3-5 friends, and a unhappy customer tells a dozen. Don’t recall the numbers in the saying, but I’m ready to rain a boatload of bad publicity down on them if a responsible customer is ripped off by a bogus money-grubbing policy. Sorry I’m so vehement, but I really want to do this right. I’ll start with a positive letter and ratchet up as needed.
– Alan

The process for this varies from state to state. The usual procedure is that when you pay off a loan in full, the mortgage company then contacts the state, releasing their lien from your home mortgage, at which point the county clerk mails you a copy of your lien-free house title.

If I were you, I’d contact both the mortgage company and the county recorder of deeds to find out what’s next. If you’ve paid off your mortgage, your county’s recorder of deeds should be aware of this and should be able to help you with the next step.

Usually, what will happen is that you’ll have to get a notarized copy of your lien-free deed from the county recorder. That’s legal proof that you own the house free and clear.

Q10: Vegan to vegetarian
I’ve noticed lately that you seem to have switched from being vegan to being vegetarian. What gives?

– Chloe

Last October, I started a vegan diet due to the suggestions of a dietitian who was advising me on some minor medical concerns. This lasted for about nine months, at which point my health was in a better place.

The biggest reason I switched back to vegetarianism is that being vegan – meaning that I eat no meat nor any foods containing animal protein like eggs and cheese – is an incredibly difficult diet with three young children. For a long time, we simply followed their pediatrician’s recommendation that we feed them normally by essentially preparing two different meals each day or by serving them a vegan meal with a heavy protein component to it. This meant lots and lots and lots of beans.

Vegetarianism is simply more flexible, while retaining most of the health-oriented reasons for my original dietary switch. I’m pretty happy with how things are going with it.

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

    Trent, I’m just wondering about Q3, Forgiving loans to stimulate economy. While I agree with what you are saying about student loans and having the extra cash for spending, aren’t some student loans from private banks? Or are they all from the government? And being a taxpayer that doesn’t have any kind of student loans, how does this affect me and how the government says they will be paying for things when there is no income from the interest of student loans?

  2. valleycat1 says:

    Q7 & Q8 – Great answers.

    For Q7, I’d add that you will want to set up a living revocable trust in addition to the basic will, as minors generally can’t inherit property even if so specified solely in a will; and you will want to name a guardian for your child(ren)- you can even name separate people to manage finances vs someone they’d live with. Many lawyers will give you a free initial consult, with no obligation if you think you don’t need to move forward with them to finalize the paperwork. Also, Suze Orman’s website has good information, plus a kit of downloadable forms if you’re interested.

  3. Johanna says:

    Q8: You know what else can strengthen a relationship? Communication. Talk to the other person about their needs, wants, and expectations, and really listen to what they say.

    Maybe your parents loaned you the money on generous terms because they wanted to give you space to pay of your credit card debt, and now that that’s paid off, they’d appreciate it if you started paying them back at a faster rate. Or maybe they loaned you the money on generous terms because they felt like being generous, and they’re happy to continue with the schedule you agreed to at the start. But you’ll never know unless you ask, and it’s their opinion – not Trent’s, and not ours – that you should be seeking.

    Loans between family and friends are not inherently bad or dangerous – they only become so when the people involved don’t communicate.

  4. Amy says:

    Q7 – I think one major reason people have insurance on children is to cover burial expenses should the unthinkable happen. Funerals are VERY expensive, and having to figure out how to pay for it in the midst of your intense grief is a terrible thing.

  5. Annie says:

    I agree with Amy #4. I have life insurance on both of my children thru my employer (as a rider on my own life insurance). It costs less than a dollar every paycheck for $10,000 in coverage. If I keep it until they turn 18, I will have only paid in around $500. If the unthinkable should happen and the life insurance pays out, I will not have to worry about trying to pay for a funeral.

  6. Johanna says:

    Q10: “For a long time, we simply followed their pediatrician’s recommendation that we feed them normally by essentially preparing two different meals each day or by serving them a vegan meal with a heavy protein component to it.”

    I’m confused about how to parse this sentence. If “feeding them normally” means feeding them meat, then I take issue with the implication that a vegan diet is not normal. If “feeding them normally” means feeding them either meat or vegan food, then I have to ask: “feeding them normally” as opposed to what?

    I don’t have kids and don’t know a whole lot about childhood nutrition. But to quote an article from the Vegetarian Resource Group: “Of course it takes time and thought to feed vegan children. Shouldn’t feeding of any child require time and thought?”

    And there are many protein-rich vegan foods other than beans: There’s tofu, tempeh, and other soy foods, plus seitan, all of which can be cooked and seasoned in as many ways as meat can be. There are nuts and seeds (and nut butters and seed butters). There’s quinoa and other protein-rich grains.

    I’d encourage any parent who’s considering raising children on a vegan diet to research the issue thoroughly, and not put too much stock in Trent’s opinion that it’s too hard.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    #6 Johanna & Q10 – also, most Americans focus too much on eating protein (you don’t have to eat meat or even beans every meal, and your body can build the required molecules anyway if you eat a variety of veggies/fruits/grains/nuts). Yes, young children have specific dietary needs, but I have several friends & family members who have raised their children as vegans & the kids are healthy & happy.

  8. Johanna says:

    Q6: Ryan, Trent is misinformed on this issue. By law, a delinquent debt (I’m assuming that’s what these are) is supposed to fall off your credit report seven years after the date of delinquency, regardless of whether you later pay it off. The law is not always followed, though, which is why it’s important to get an agreement in writing with any debt collector about how the debt will appear on your credit report before you give them any money.

    Even if the debt falls off your credit report, though, that doesn’t mean you’re home free, because the debt still may be within the statute of limitations, meaning that you can be legally sued for it. These laws vary by state, and the statute of limitations “clock” can generally be reset.

    See the article “Is there a statute of limitations of debt?” by Liz Weston for more information.

  9. Chris says:

    Q9. We were able to pay off our two homes we have lived in, off early. It is a GREAT Feeling!!

  10. Julia says:

    Q9: The fee to release the lien is something you may be charged. The mortgage holder makes no money off of you, the county you live in requires it to process the paperwork. You can contact the county to see what the fee is and if the bank is higher, ask if they send you the paperwork to release the lien and file the paperwork yourself.

  11. AnnJo says:

    Alan @Q9 –

    The papers you can expect to get back are your original Promissory Note, marked “paid,” and if you signed a Deed of Trust, a recorded Reconveyance; if you signed a Mortgage, a recorded Release of Mortgage Lien; and if you signed a Real Estate Contract, a recorded Warranty Fulfillment Deed. (Titles may vary slightly by state).

    These are handled differently in different states, but in many states, a fee must be paid to a trustee under the Deed of Trust to reconvey the Deed of Trust, signifying that the Promissory Note it secured has been paid off, and a further fee must be paid to the County Recorder to record the reconveyance. If a true mortgage was used instead of a deed of trust, then a release must be prepared and recorded. These tasks are handled by the lender, but when you took out the loan, almost certainly you promised to pay the fees for the lender to do this.

    I’d be very surprised if county recorders would help you sort all this out as Trent suggests. Their task is simply to record documents given to them and then forward the recorded documents to whomever is designated in a “after recording, return to:” box; they do not have any responsibility for making sure your title is clear. They are usually forbidden from giving legal advice.

    There is no rip-off in being charged fees for these tasks, unless you simply resent the fact that a lender was willing to lend you money to buy your house. Before you start making threats, you should read your original loan papers and be clear on who is supposed to pay which fees. If the lender is actually demanding fees to do things they promised to do for free (which I doubt), then you’ll be able to point to page and paragraph number of your documents to support your position.

    Congratulations on paying off your mortgage! Don’t sour the experience by getting in a snit about things that are simply part of the process.

  12. AnnJo says:

    Alan @Q9 –

    I should have mentioned that this whole process often takes two or three months, so don’t expect it to happen next week. The delay is often not the lender’s fault; county recorders can be very slow at mailing things out, although they usually are good at recording them promptly.

  13. Michelle says:

    Hi, a vegan mom here. I’m raising 3 very happy, very healthy, and very energetic vegan kids. I hate to tell you this Trent, but your pediatrician is dead wrong. Kids don’t need “more protein” than adults, they may need different proteins, but not “more”. And a diet rich in fruits and veggies, will give them that. If it’s fats we’re worried about, nut butters, avocados, raw nuts, vegan yogurt, grains, and nut milks give plenty of that. A plant based diet is completely healthy for kids. The only thing that kids (and all vegans) need is a B12 supplement, and my kids get that by taking a gummy vitamin everyday. Not only that, but a vegan diet teaches kids healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.

  14. MattJ says:

    #6 Johanna:

    “For a long time, we simply followed their pediatrician’s recommendation that we feed them normally by essentially preparing two different meals each day or by serving them a vegan meal with a heavy protein component to it.”

    I’m confused about how to parse this sentence. If “feeding them normally” means feeding them meat, then I take issue with the implication that a vegan diet is not normal.

    I don’t see a problem. “Normal” in the way he used it means standard or common. Vegan diets are not standard or common – they are out of the norm.

    Of course, if you one wishes to be touchy, I suppose one could read the worst possible connotation into his words instead.

  15. Spokane Al says:

    #3 – forgiving loans does not make the money owed magically disappear. It just moves the obligation over to taxpayers. You signed up to borrow, not for a gift, and the successful payoff of that loan generates self satisfaction and responsibility, which a handout from other taxpayers does not.

  16. Riki says:

    It seems counter-intuitive to me that a “healthy” diet require supplementation.

    Doesn’t that mean that, at its core, that diet is missing something essential?

  17. Johanna says:

    @MattJ: “Normal” does not just mean what is standard or common. (If it did, then there’s no way you could have a “normal weight” category defined to exclude 2/3 of the population.) It also means what’s expected or acceptable.

    I’m sure you can think of all kinds of things that are not standard or common, but where you’d meet some objection if you called them “abnormal.”

  18. Tom says:

    Not only that, but a vegan diet teaches kids healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.

    I’m happy that you can raise your kids successfully on a vegan diet, but I doubt it is any more likely that the diet, in and of itself, teaches the kids healthy eating habits for a lifetime any better than vegetarian or omnivorous diets do.

    I read the “feed them normally” as continue feeding them as they had before. That is what was normal for the family, but not the offensive generaliztion of normal (and perceived implication of abnormality).

  19. jim says:

    Q4 Claire : I would not buy a house until you have the permanent residency or at least until its a sure thing. Hoping you’ll get residency in 2-3 years is not good enough to future certainty to buy a house. Lets say you do buy a house and then worst case happens you can’t get residency and have to leave the country. Then what happens to the house? You could lose your down payment or take a very large loss. Say you buy a house today for $150,000. You spend $3,000 on closing and put $30,000 down. You then have to leave USA in 2 years. You sell the house at a 10% loss and pay a realtor 6% to do that. Thats $24,000 lost. Plus the closing of $3,000 and you’d be out $27,000 total. This may be a worst case scenario but it is not unrealistic. Of course its possible the value of the house could go up and maybe you don’t take that big of a loss. But in any case if you are forced to sell in 2-3 years then its unlikely you’d come out ahead. I wouldn’t risk it. Theres nothing wrong with renting short term and there will always be houses to buy later.

    Q7 Jill : Your baby does not need any form of life insurance. You’re much better off building an emergency fund or saving for college like Trent suggested. YOU need life insurance for yourself and your husband. The best insurance for you to get is a term life insurance policy.

    Q8 Carl : “a no-interest loan from my parents. … To me it seems like free money.”

    Yeah. It is free money. From your parents. How about if they were to just send you a check every month instead? Are you in a destitute financial situation such that you need free money from your parents maybe?

    One reason to pay off that loan is so that you aren’t relying on the financial aid of your parents.

    Granted the interest on $9000 in todays environment is not huge. But your parents could make 2-4% pertty easy so thats a few hundred a year that they’re effectively giving you.

    Q9 Alan: There are standard fees to record the closing of a loan. Your bank may charge a nominal fee ($25 or so) to process the documents and the local or state government may charge other recording fees. This is all standard practice and nothing to incite a rebellion over. Did you read your mortgage contract to see if this fee is disclosed… cause it probably is. Course it won’t hurt to ask the bank to waive that fee, but if they don’t then just pay it and go on with your life.

  20. Johanna says:

    @Riki: How do you feel about vitamin D in milk, fluoride in drinking water, iodine in salt, and vitamin enrichment of white flour and white rice? Do they mean that, at its core, the standard Western diet is missing something essential?

    If veganism were more widespread (or, as some would say, “normal”) vitamin B12 fortification could be carried out the same way.

  21. Johanna says:

    @Tom: I don’t see where Michelle said that a vegan diet is the *only* way to teach kids healthy eating habits.

  22. MattJ says:

    #17 Johanna:

    “Normal” does not just mean what is standard or common.

    It can mean exactly that, and often does. Lacking the ability to read Trent’s mind, and knowing that he has lived as a vegan and is currently at least partially vegetarian, I figured he meant the word in a non-insulting way.

    I’m sure you can think of all kinds of things that are not standard or common, but where you’d meet some objection if you called them “abnormal.”

    Yes, I could. Did someone use the word ‘abnormal’? (Besides you, I mean)

    ‘Abnormal’ has a particular connotation, which does not apply to all uses of ‘not normal’ which encompasses a much wider range of differing from the norm.

    Really, Johanna: Do you think Trent believes veganism is “abnormal”, rather than simply “uncommon”?


  23. Jonathan says:

    I agree with MattJ regarding Trent’s usage of the term “normal” to describe the pediatrician’s diet for the kids. It sounds to me like the pediatrician is suggesting the kids continue eating the same as they were before Trent switched to veganism/vegetarianism. I see nothing offensive about the statement.

    Regarding B12 supplements. Isn’t it true that vegans only need to supplement B12 because of the way in which the majority of our fruits and vegetables are farmed? It is my understanding that since B12 can only be synthesized by bacteria. During the farming/harvesting process the bacteria that could serve as a B12 source are killed. If vegans gathered fruits/vegetables more naturally there may be no need for a B12 supplement, at least as I understand it. I’m not saying this to suggest that vegans should be changing the way they get their fruits/vegetables. I’m just clarifying that the need to supplement isn’t necessarily due to a deficiency with a vegan diet, rather a deficiency with the food delivery system.

  24. Rockledge says:

    Johanna, you say “And there are many protein-rich vegan foods other than beans: There’s tofu, tempeh, and other soy foods…”, but those are just a form of bean, too; soy bean. I have a great deal of respect for vegans, but you are still talking about a lot of beans. The nice thing about beans, though, is that there are so many ways to prepare them, especially if you are willing to try Mediterranean (hummus, falafel) or Indian dishes (too many good ones to list!), or cooking with bean flours.

    As for paying off the house, we did this a while ago in Texas. If I am remembering correctly, it was very easy. The mortgage company sent me a form saying we had paid off the mortgage, then I took it to the county office and paid a few dollars to have it registered. Both the mortgage company and the county clerk were very helpful. The paper work must have been OK because there was no problem when we sold the house a few years later.

  25. Johanna says:

    @MattJ, @Jonathan: Who said anything about finding Trent’s words offensive? Besides you, that is.

    @MattJ: Point taken about the opposite of “normal” not always being “abnormal.” Pretend I said “not normal” instead. But similarly, “normal” is not always an exact synonym for “typical” or “usual.” If you had a town where 95% of the people were Catholic and 5% were Protestant, would you talk about “Protestant services” versus “normal religious services”?

    I have no idea whether Trent actually thinks that a vegan diet for children is “abnormal” or “not normal” or whatever. But words mean things, and part of being a great (and passionate!) writer is making sure that you’re using words that mean what you intend to say.

  26. Johanna says:

    ETA: “Who said anything about finding Trent’s words offensive?” should be “Who said anything about finding Trent’s words offensive or insulting?”

  27. Johanna says:

    @Jonathan: You’re right that all vitamin B12 (even the vitamin B12 in animal products) comes from bacteria. I’m not sure it’s clear how B12 might have entered the food supply “more naturally” in ages past. I’ve also heard that we used to get a lot of B12 through our drinking water, but when they started treating water to remove harmful bacteria, they killed the B12-producing bacteria as well. I wouldn’t call that a deficiency in our water supply – I’d rather take a B12 supplement every few days than have to worry about cholera.

    In any case, I personally don’t think it matters very much, since I don’t think the need for supplements (and/or fortified foods) says anything normative about the value of a particular diet.

  28. valleycat1 says:

    Re B12 – vegans and vegetarians aren’t the only people who require B12 supplements. I know many omnivores in the same boat. Part of it may be the food’s nutritional value, but sometimes it’s how well the gut processes food.

    #26 Johanna – people who don’t like to argue (or parse sentences) just for the heck of it often infer that one is offended or insulted when one says “I take issue with the implication” [your words in #3].

  29. Jonathan says:


    I knew when I used the word offensive in my comment that you’d likely argue that I was misrepresenting what was said. You’re right, you never said you found Trent’s comment offensive, what you said was “…I take issue with the implication that a vegan diet is not normal”.

    Offensive – Unpleasant or disagreeable
    Take Issue With – To disagree with

  30. MattJ says:

    #25 Johanna @ 1:35 pm October 10th, 2011
    @MattJ, @Jonathan: Who said anything about finding Trent’s words offensive [from ETA: or insulting]? Besides you, that is.

    Pretend I wrote ‘objectionable’.

    @MattJ: Point taken about the opposite of “normal” not always being “abnormal.” Pretend I said “not normal” instead.

    Ok, I will.

    But similarly, “normal” is not always an exact synonym for “typical” or “usual.” If you had a town where 95% of the people were Catholic and 5% were Protestant, would you talk about “Protestant services” versus “normal religious services”?

    It wouldn’t make sense to use the word in that context. But if someone from one of those denominations told me “My was thinking of switching to the other denomination, but his parents object… so for now my friend is just going to keep going to his normal church.” I would know exactly what was meant, and I wouldn’t assume they considered people from either church to be ‘not normal’.

    I have no idea whether Trent actually thinks that a vegan diet for children is “abnormal” or “not normal” or whatever. But words mean things, and part of being a great (and passionate!) writer is making sure that you’re using words that mean what you intend to say.

    I think it’s pretty obvious what he meant.

    Since we’re pretending for each other in order to clean up our arguments, maybe you should pretend he meant something nice, instead of taking issue with implications that he almost certainly didn’t mean to imply, and that any reasonable reader with out an ax to grind wouldn’t infer from his words.

  31. Katie says:

    I don’t know, if we’re going to parse words that carefully: I might take issue with a statement that the the sky is green, but I wouldn’t be offended by it and I don’t think anyone would assume I was. I think it’s reasonable to clarify when you think something someone said was incorrect, but were not particularly offended by the statement in question.

  32. Gretchen says:

    I actually thought Trent thought vegans ate “regular” cheese, so this explaination makes more sense.

    Doesn’t Ms. Trent still eat meat, though?

  33. Johanna says:

    @Jonathan: Nice try. But (1) “offensive” and “disagreeable” aren’t synonyms in every context, and (2) “disagreeable” doesn’t mean “something you disagree with.”

    @MattJ: Thanks for calling me unreasonable.

  34. Jonathan says:


    One of these days I’ll learn to be more careful and thorough in my responses to you. I started to end that last comment by conceding that the definitions aren’t exactly the same.

    Basically what I did to you was similar to what you very often do to Trent, which was make an assumption about the intent of a comment. I didn’t do it to make a point, but it does fit in well with MattJ’s suggestion above. I should have assumed that since you did not explicitly say you were offended that your meaning was more positive, or at least less negative.

    I suspect that you and I agree, at least to some extent on veganism/vegetarianism. I believe a vegan or vegetarian diet can be just as, if not more, healthy as a diet including meat. I certainly believe them to be healthier than a the Standard* American Diet. *Initially I worded this “Normal American Diet”, but realized you might take issue with the phrasing as you did with Trent’s original comment, so changed it. For the record, had I used the word normal I would have meant the type of diet eaten by the majority of Americans. Would I have meant that a vegan or vegetarian diet is nor normal? After giving it some thought I have decided that yes, I would have meant that. Normal is defined as “Conforming to the standard or the common type”. In the US a vegan or vegetarian diet is certainly not the common type. Accepting that fact does not, however, mean I view either negatively.

    Back to the disagreement over terminology. Sometimes I wonder if everyone would be happier if we adopted something similar to Occam’s razor when reading posts/comments online. When presented with competing possible meanings choose the most positive (or least objectionable) meaning.

  35. jim says:

    Johanna, Nitpicking the semantics of everything Trent says is not really going to benefit anyone.

  36. MattJ says:


    I read Jonathan’s post at #34 as an example of the kind of second-guessing of his own language that Trent would have had to do in order to avoid setting you off in your post #6. From Trent’s perspective, he would nave no way of predicting what would set anyone off, so he would have to go through that kind of thought process on every turn of phrase in every response, and indeed, in every post he every makes.

    It’s not reasonable to expect that level of second-guessing and tip-toeing around the English language.

  37. Riki says:

    Johanna — that’s a good point.

    For the record, I was not being snarky. It was a genuine question.

  38. kristine says:

    I hate be a jerk, but truly “healthy” eating habits do not require pills to prevent malnutrition. (Yes, a gummy vitamin is a pill.)

    To me, and I do not present myself as an example (I also take vitamins) a truly healthy diet is one that fosters energy and a healthy body weight, and that provides all of the required nutritional elements from food sources in which they naturally occur.

    Incredibly hard to do? You bet. That’s why most of us cut corners and supplement.

  39. kristine says:

    Q6- please read comment#8.

    Leaving a bill unpaid for 7 years does NOT automatically make the debt go away. In many states, merely acknowledging the debt in a phone call resets the clock to zero, regardless if it stays on your credit report or not. You can still be sued, and then that will show up on your report all over again! Get better advice on this issue.

  40. Johanna says:

    @Jonathan: “Back to the disagreement over terminology. Sometimes I wonder if everyone would be happier if we adopted something similar to Occam’s razor when reading posts/comments online. When presented with competing possible meanings choose the most positive (or least objectionable) meaning.”

    Quite possibly. Does that mean you (and MattJ) will extend the same courtesy to me? When presented with a choice between thinking “Hey, Johanna has a different opinion on this – maybe she has a point, and it might be interesting to understand what it is” versus “Johanna disagrees with Trent – she must be ‘touchy’ and ‘offended’ and ‘unreasonable’,” you’ll choose the former?

  41. kristine says:

    Q#- this is especially interesting as the WSJ has predicted intermittently for a year that the next big economic crash is in about 3-4 years from now, in the form of student loan defaults. There is currently more owed in the form of student loans in this country, than owed on credit cards. Which is kind of why I cannot believe it would only adjust other taxes up slightly. Because the gov would not just lose the interest owed- it wold lose the principal as well. That’s an average of more than 20K per student. Times that by the number of students each year-huge! I too am curious what percentage is private loans.

  42. Jonathan says:

    Yes, Johanna, I would certainly prefer that approach.

  43. Johanna says:

    @MattJ: Could you do me a favor? Can you try stating your arguments here without making any insinuations or assumptions about my emotional state (touchy, insulted, “set off,” etc.)? That would be super terrific.

    Also, it is my opinion that:

    It is perfectly reasonable for anyone – especially a professional writer – to give some thought to their choice of words and whether those words might have any unintended meanings or connotations.

    It is not reasonable for anyone – especially a professional writer, or even someone who goes out in public a lot – to expect that nobody will ever disagree with their choice of words.

  44. Karina says:

    I am all for critical analysis of blog posts but johannna and her pointless, frequent argumentative comments make me read this blog and its comments less…. I wish comments were more instructive…vs. nitpicky.

  45. Josh says:

    Vegans are so smug, lol.

  46. Rockledge says:

    Karina, I might agree with you normally (as in “typically,” not “commonly”), but it’s getting so ridiculous that it’s starting to get funny (as in “humorous,” not “strange”).

    And really (as in “actually,” not “very”), it’s not so hard (as in “difficult,” not “unyielding”) to just skip over a repeat commenter who annoys you.

    I’m sure some (as in “a few,” not “more or less”) people do it to me.

  47. Genny says:

    #46-Rockledge-First the great recipe for stock, now this comment. I love you. (as in “a feeling of affection”, not “a deep romantic or sexual attachment.”)

  48. Rap says:

    Forgiveness of student loans is very unlikely to happen in my opinion. Mostly because of this reaction.

    I paid my debts off. I got a college degree and a master’s and paid off my student loans. It sucked and I didn’t have a lot of spending money. And now I get to watch every nitwit who ran up their loans (and I know a LOT of people who maxxed out their loans so they’d have *spending money*) get themselves a great big *free ride*. Where’s my 20 thousand dollars of forgiveness? Oh right, I was the idiot who was responsible and thats my reward… seeing everyne who was irresponsible get their slate wiped clean.

    Sorry, can’t get behind rewarding bad choices. Now what I would like to see is student loans being allowed in bankruptcy again. Its the fact that there’s literally no escape that has caused the issue. Let people declare bankruptcy, suffer the consequences of *that* and allow them to include their crippling student debt. They don’t get a free ride, they still have to declare bankruptcy and all it entails… but it at least allows hope.

  49. MattJ says:


    @MattJ: Could you do me a favor? Can you try stating your arguments here without making any insinuations or assumptions about my emotional state (touchy, insulted, “set off,” etc.)? That would be super terrific.

    Touchy: I think if you look at my sentence, you will see that I intended NOT to imply that about you, but rather about ‘one’, who might or might not be you, since I didn’t know why you had such a hard time understanding what Trent meant.

    Insulted: I thought we agreed to pretend that I wrote ‘objectionable’ rather than ‘insulting’?

    Set off: Has nothing to do with your emotional state.

    Also, it is my opinion that:

    It is perfectly reasonable for anyone – especially a professional writer – to give some thought to their choice of words and whether those words might have any unintended meanings or connotations.

    I agree with that opinion. We only appear to differ as to how much second-guessing and fretting should be required.

    It is not reasonable for anyone – especially a professional writer, or even someone who goes out in public a lot – to expect that nobody will ever disagree with their choice of words.

    Agreed. Has someone made this argument today?

  50. MattJ says:

    #44 Karina:

    Johanna is often very good about pointing out cases where Trent is factually wrong.

    Also, her posts like in this thread #3 often contain really good advice.

    And I’ve seen her stretch to give the benefit of the doubt regarding the words of others – being the exact opposite of nitpicky.

    Trent’s posts can be very valuable, but they are much less valuable if you avoid the comments, where he is likely to be corrected on some matter of fact. His commenters (including Johanna, one of his most prolific) do (what seems to be) the majority of his fact-checking.

  51. deRuiter says:

    #48 RAP, Congratulations on paying off your student loans. I don’t want student loans dischargeable by bankruptcy, all student loan holders would then refuse to pay and stick us taxpayers with the bill. It seems to me that a lot of students take more money than they need because they don’t want to hold a job while going to school. It was a long time ago, but I worked two part time jobs while I was in college, to earn my way. I’m tired of paying 99 weeks unemployement for others, (I have never taken unemployment) I’m tired of supporting women with multiple children by multiple men, I am tired of those who borrowed huge sums of money to obtain often useless degrees which result in low paying jobs whining about how they should not have to pay off their massive loans. Our economy is in trouble because our government spends more money than it takes in. Many citizens have the same syndrome. It doesn’t work long term! We need smaller government, lower taxes, let those who need money earn it. There are too many riding in the wagon and too few pulling that wagon, that is why our economy is stalled. Start drilling for American oil no, cut off our enemies in the Middle East and let them eat their oil. High paying oil jobs in America would have a ripple effect and our economy would rebound, especially with the cheaper price of gas due to American oil.

  52. Kevin says:

    @Johanna: “Loans between family and friends are not inherently bad or dangerous – they only become so when the people involved don’t communicate.”

    I disagree. You can have all the open communication in the world, but if the borrower and lender have different expectations about what is “reasonable,” you can still develop an extremely toxic situation.

    Say Junior just graduated from college and has a bunch of credit card and student loan debt. He gets a new job, but needs a vehicle. Mom & Dad lend Junior $9,000 for a vehicle, interest free. They take the money from their own retirement savings. Then Junior wins $10,000 from a lottery ticket. He spends it on a trip to Vegas, a new TV and surround-sound system, and collectible comic books.

    Junior’s parents “communicate” that they object with how he’s using the money, and they’d like to be paid back. Junior disagrees, and “communicates” that he sees his spending as reasonable, and they’ll get their money according to the terms of the original loan, and they should back off.

    There you go. Lots of open communication. And everybody is still mad at each other.

    Loans between family members are a powderkeg of hurt feelings, regardless of how much “communication” you pour on the situation.

  53. joan says:

    I read several blogs and this is the only one where so many comments are allowed. It is also the only one where I read so much critizism, (or maybe I mean arguments) about the blog writers choice of words. My question is: What is the problem? Johanna, is this just to increase the number of blog comments? Trent states: Comments that dont’ contribute to the growth and thoughtfulness of other readers will be deleted. Does many comments on the use of a word actually contribute to the growth and thoughtfulness of other readers? Do all the readers need English lessons with each blog?

  54. Katie says:

    I read several blogs and this is the only one where so many comments are allowed. It is also the only one where I read so much critizism, (or maybe I mean arguments) about the blog writers choice of words

    Really? Because this blog has fewer comments than almost any other one I read – certainly than any other blog I read with the readership of this blog – and it’s the only blog I read where people who disagree with the blogger are regularly called out as negative and told they shouldn’t comment. Usually, people who disagree with the blogger just get a dialogue going.

  55. Jonathan says:

    Katie, just out of curiosity, what are the topics of these other blogs you’re referencing? I wonder if the topic has any impact on how perceived negativity and complaining are received by other commenters.

    Also I would point out that the issue being discussed here isn’t really with people who disagree with the blogger. Those comments are actually some of the most helpful.

  56. Katie says:

    Jonathan, I can think of a wide spectrum – law, cooking, fashion. I mean, I’m not saying I’ve never seen blogs where negative comments are verboten, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blog where the tone of the commenters is as much a topic of conversation by the commenters.

  57. Jonathan says:

    Katie, I can’t speak to those other blogs since I have not been following them. What I see on TSD, however, is a situation where a lot of good information is being shared in the comments, but at times there is so much negativity that some readers who could use that help may opt to not read the comments. Karina (#44) above is a good example of someone who reads the comments (and even the blog) less because of the negativity (if I’m reading her comment correctly).

    Here is an example of the type of negativity that I believe is unhelpful. I have seen multiple discussions regarding Trent’s incorrect use of the phrase “five word summaries” at the start of each Reader Mailbag segment. The complaint is that some of the summaries are less than five words, so the phrase used to describe them is inaccurate.

    When Trent first started doing the summaries in June of 2010 he explained his intent. “Many readers have written to me asking for me to summarize the questions in the mailbag right at the top so that they know what’s inside. So, I’m going to try this out for this mailbag and see how it goes. Here are summaries of the included questions in five words or less.” That is very clear. When he started using the phrase “five word summaries” I knew what he meant. Even if I had not read his original explanation, however, I could reasonably have concluded what he was trying to do.

    What is the value to other readers when someone complains about Trent’s choice of words in this situation? Unless someone was about to make that same mistake I can’t see any value. Trent could get some value from the comments, if he read the comments. If the intent is to communicate the information to him then sending a private email would be much more effective.

    Do such complaints have any downside? Since multiple people have mentioned the negativity and nit-picking in the comments I believe that yes, such complaints do have a downside. They create negativity, which may cause some readers to stop reading the otherwise very useful comments, without providing any actual value to the readers.

    I hope that by engaging in some of the back and forth debates I sometimes do I am not adding to the negativity here. That certainly is not my intent and I apologize if it has been the case.

  58. Katie says:

    Jonathan, I agree with you about things like the five word summaries – that strikes me as fairly irrelevant and I’m not interested in reading comments on it; same for obvious typos. But when you get into places where people feel like the content is compromised, albeit unintentionally, because of sloppy phrasing, that’s worth pointing out to me. Same with consistent problems that might impact readability (like the oft-mentioned overuse of “simply”).

    But that’s just me; personally, I think it’s hard to draw that line and I think we get a better blog atmosphere when people are allowed to speak their minds than when they’re not. And people have said they’re turned off by the negativity, but (a) other people have said they come back because the comments give different perspectives, and (b) for me, the comments complaining about negativity almost universally tend to read as more negative than the original negative comments were, which shows the folly of trying to police this stuff, in my opinion.

  59. Another Katie says:

    @ Kevin – The “open” communication in your example happened too late. The terms and expectations of the loan should have been agreed upon before the loan was given.

    Also, Junior in your example is irresponsible with money, which to me is more of the issue that caused problems in the loan than the communication.

    Loans between family members can work just fine without damaging family relationships. It all depends on the people involved. I have many examples from my own life.

  60. Golfing Girl says:

    I had to do a lot of scrolling through Johanna’s hijacking, but I’d like to address Jill in #7:

    You and your husband both need term life insurance. It’s relatively cheap. Baby doesn’t need anything. And a Roth is a better use than the 529 plan, as it is more versatile.

    Even stay at home parents need life insurance, as the other parent would be left with finding a housekeeper and nanny to replace them.

  61. Kevin says:

    @Another Katie: “Loans between family members can work just fine without damaging family relationships. It all depends on the people involved.”

    Right. That’s exactly my point. It has nothing at all to do with the level of “communication” involved, and everything to do with the people themselves. Some families can handle it, some can’t. Those who can’t handle intrafamilial loans won’t magically be converted into content borrowers/lenders by some threshold level of “communication” being added to the mix. Likewise, some families can work through a loan situation problem-free and barely talk to each other at all.

  62. slccom says:

    I’m sorry, but I disagree on the baby life insurance. Unless you have a written guarantee that the kid won’t become ill or get into a serious permanent injury-producing event, s/he might be extremely grateful someday that you invested a few bucks (and it is a very few bucks) to protect the ability to get life insurance as an adult. And, sadly, even infants die, and that isn’t much time for saving up for a funeral.

  63. Bill says:

    @Baby life insurance: This is much more cheaply handled through a rider on the cheapest parent’s policy. The whole life crap sold by Gerber/#62 is a gross waste of money.

  64. Annie says:

    your sick of paying for other peoples children, loans,etc.. that is your problem. I work with people that make just as much money as i do and they don’t have a college degree. While i come in to give 500.00 a month towards my student loans they get to eat with it and do whatever becasue of their experience. How did they get the experience in the first place, becasue of people that gave them jobs when they are not qualified. I think the government should forgive excessive student loan debt or at least cut it in half. You don’t know what kind of living situation the person is in with this kind of debt and you don’t have to carry the burden but for some that do they should be helped. If you sat next to someone that all they do is waste money eating out, buying the latest gadgets, living large and not having set foot in college you will be angry.

  65. Jonathan says:

    @Annie (#64) – I hate to sound harsh, but it was your decision to take out student loans that require a $500/month payment. You seem angry that people without a college education are making as much money as you, but those people simply made different decisions in life than you. Your comment is a clear example of a situation where going to college (and taking on a large amount of debt) did not give you an advantage in your career. In fact, it sounds like it is a disadvantage since you have co-workers without a degree making as much money as you are without having the stress of a $500/month payment.

    This next statement is not aimed at you Annie, just using your comment as a springboard. People need to wake up and realize that going to college does not automatically entitle them to better pay. Too many people have been tricked into believing that any debt they take out to pay for college is well worth it, when in many cases that may not be the case. Maybe future generations will learn from the mistakes of those carrying the burden of large student loans and will not put themselves in the same difficult situation.

  66. Annie says:

    You are absoutely correct Jonathan with what you wrote. I am not angry that my co-workers make equal even though that is what i wrote,it just seems unfair when i tried to get my feet wet just like they did many years ago and i was told by several companies/hospitals that i need a college degree with clinical experience etc… now that i have that I am working around folks that don’t have it. I am still grateful in this economy that I have a job.

  67. SwingCheese says:

    I think that the student loan issue is a double edged sword. First, yes, making the choice to attend an expensive university (or college), go to graduate school, etc., and take out loans as living expenses is a CHOICE. The great majority of my loans come from grad school, as I took out loans to help with living expenses. It was a foolish decision, and one I regret in retrospect, but hey, I made the decision, I have to pay off the consequences.

    BUT: Post-secondary education costs in this country are reaching out of control proportions. The projection of what a four year degree is going to cost when my son hits college age indicates tuition and expenses grown at a disproportionate rate. Now, I’m hoping that the free market will kick in, and other schools (community colleges, trade schools, etc.) will force a change in the way traditional four year institutions are doing business. And I don’t believe that the government is responsible for regulating these fees. Yet the fact remains that the expense of a traditional, four year college/university is rapidly increasing at a disproportionate rate. Here’s hoping the bubble bursts, and soon.

  68. Jonathan says:

    SwingCheese, you are right. Post-secondary education costs are increasing at a disproportionate rate. Obviously there are several factors that impact this. I believe two of the factors are that more people are attending college and more people are willing to take out student loans. By making everyone believe that they have to attend college to get a good job we have increased the demand for colleges. If business stopped requiring college degrees for jobs that don’t really need a college education then maybe demand would start to drop. In addition, as long as students are willing to take out student loans regardless of the costs then colleges can continue to raise their tuition and other rates.

  69. jo says:

    wow… lots of obsessing over trent’s choice of words, rather than stopping to consider his intent, on this post… i’m pretty surprised that people waste that much time and energy arguing such an irrelevant point.

    i just wanted to agree with trent that The Way of Kings is fantastic and definitely on the top of my “best books of the year” list. Actually, it’s pretty high on my “best books ever” list..

  70. Nikki says:

    I’m one of those people that made the choice (I use that word loosely) to get student loans to pay for the portion of my college expenses that were not covered by my scholarship, after my parents refused to keep their promises of paying the equivalent of the state university’s tuition to whatever school I chose to go to. So I graduated with about $20,000 in loans. If my loans were forgiven, I would lose the tax break I get on the interest – and I would have $212 a month to save towards graduate school, retirement, a down payment on a house, etc. I made the choice to get the loans, and I am paying them back, but it would be nice for real people to get a bailout instead of manufactured people, i.e. corporations.

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