Updated on 09.29.10

Reader Mailbag: Mondays?

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. Rent-to-own apartments and homes
2. Retire now or later?
3. Roth IRA for teenager
4. Managing money while traveling abroad
5. Life insurance misinformation
6. Moving forward in bad economy
7. Pay off line of credit?
8. Motivation to live, not exist
9. Painful breakup advice
10. Quitting alcohol addiction

Don’t look at Monday as a bad thing. Look at it as a good thing. If you go out and hit a home run today while everyone else has a big case of “the Mondays,” you’ll really stand out.

What is the deal with “rent to own” apartments/houses? My husband and I have been weighing the rent vs. own situation for several months. How does rent to own fit in and what are the pros and cons?
– Rachael

Rent-to-own apartments and homes are similar to car leases. It’s basically a contract between a renter and a seller that the renter will have an option to buy the property at the end of the rental agreement.

Most of the time, the agreement specifies a buying price for the property up front, as well as applies some portion of the rent towards reducing that price. When the agreement ends, the renter has the option to buy the home at the adjusted price or walk away, leaving the owner with what amounts to a unoccupied rental.

The exact specifics depend heavily on the actual rent-to-own contract between the renter/buyer and the seller. They can vary quite a bit, but that’s the general idea behind them.

I am an employee of the federal government. I’m 56 years old and have 32 years of service. I’m in the CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System). I am eligible for retirement based on my age (55 or higher) and years of service (30 or more). My organization recently offered an incentive program to retire ($25K). I acknowledged my interest in the incentive program. Now, they’ve made the actual offer. I have about two weeks to accept or turn it down.

I make around $115K a year. In retirement, my annuity will be around $60K per year (pre-tax)…that’s about 60% of my high three years…which is a little less than the $115K. I could stay and continue to earn 2% more annuity for each year I stay. Or, I could accept the incentive and go to work for one of our contractors for about what I make today. That would help me to get to that debt free status in about 3 years.

Ashamedly, I have about $60K in credit card debt, $35K in home equity debt, and about $70K in mortgage debt. Yes, it’s ugly!

I’d really like to retire around 60 – 62 years of age…and debt free. It’s clearly a long, tough road to debt free if I stay. But I feel like I’d have a nicer annuity when I do retire. Or, if I leave and can earn what I make today, I could focus a lot of money towards retiring all my debt.

The question I have is (1) do I stay and work harder/longer on becoming debt free and increasing my lifelong retirement income or (2) take the incentive, increase the amount of money to eliminate all my debt? Additionally, I’d like advice on the best way to utilize the incentive money. After Uncle Sam takes his cut, I’ll probably end up with around $15K – $17K. I could take the incentive in increments or as one lump sum. My initial thought is to put it in my savings/emergency fund and pay significant extra amounts on my debt(s) each month while earning a little interest on it. My second thought is to pay off one of the 3 credit cards that are in the $18K – $20K range and use that approx $600 per month to work down the other cards/debt.
– Rick

What this really boils down to, in my eyes, is whether or not you enjoy your work and whether you have a game plan for what to do after retirement.

If you are a person who really enjoys their work, gets great value out of work camaraderie, and has only vague ideas about what to do in their next act in life, keep on working and build up a better retirement for you. You don’t have to walk away.

On the other hand, if you’ve got big plans for the things you want to do after you retire and you view your work as complete drudgery, take the path to earlier debt freedom and earlier retirement.

This is a case where, in my eyes, personal finance is really about the “personal.”

My son has earned a few hundred dollars this summer and I have encouraged him to put this money in a Roth IRA because 1) he has savings for his “wants” and 2) because we often talk about the importance of investing for retirement. Is it possible for a 17 year old to open a Roth?
– Lisa

He sure can, as long as he is reporting income on his 1040 that is equal to or greater than the amount being deposited in the Roth IRA (and he’s paying taxes on that income, of course).

In fact, that’s probably a pretty solid move, provided that you’re confident that your son won’t take advantage of the ability to withdraw Roth IRA contributions at will.

I would do the entire process as a collaboration, in which you research what a Roth is, what investment house you want to use, what investments to choose, and so on. Talk about the pros and cons of each. Empower him to make the choice himself, though.

At the end of this month, my wife and I are taking our honeymoon in Rome! Both of us love travel, and Rome has been near the top of my list of places in the world to visit for a long time. We’ve booked a flight and hotel already through Travelocity and that’s 100% paid for. We’ve budgeted $2-$3k for incidental spending while traveling (food, tours, souvenirs, anything that catches our eye and we want to experience). This money is also already set aside too, so we’re not going into any debt for this trip.

However, I’ve never traveled in Europe and had to manage a large chunk of spending money (previous trips were with family, and they handed the cash). I’m not familiar with ATM availability (or fees), or whether Rome is a cash or credit city (and if credit, which cards). I know I’m going to be paying fees either on cash exchange, or on any credit cards I use. What is the best way to handle spending money when traveling abroad? I want to make that pool of cash go as far as it possibly can and could use some help.
– Mkie

The first step I’d take is contacting my bank to find out about overseas ATM availability. What are the fees for using an ATM in Rome? It varies a lot from bank to bank, so call to find out their policies.

I would do the same thing with your credit cards, though Visa and MasterCard are pretty widely accepted throughout Europe.

Ask about the currency conversion for each card. Find out which one does the best currency conversion (after fees) for you. So, for example, say “I’m going to spend/withdraw 100 euros in Rome tomorrow. What will be the total cost for me, including fees, in dollars?” Whichever card/cards offers the best rates should be the ones you use.

I’m very, very concerned about the many queries you seem to get about whole life insurance and, most especially, insurance on the lives of children. In my view, this sort of product is a scam and it’s sold to ignorant people who can least afford it. (I use the term “ignorant” in it’s neutral sense, meaning people who simply are uneducated about the product and don’t know anything excepting what the salesman is telling them.)
– Dorothy

This is a problem with a lot of personal finance (and other) decisions.

The reason you find so much conflicting information about things like life insurance for children is because you have people with different motivations saying different things. If a person’s primary incentive is to sell a product, they’ll give you advice that results in you buying that product, even if it’s not necessarily from them.

Your best best with any financial question, particularly when it comes to insurance, is to seek out sources of information that don’t have a vested interest in selling you on insurance. Read an assortment of personal finance books and Google the authors to find out if they’re insurance salesmen. Figure out which people have a vested interest in helping you versus a vested interest in selling product, and trust the people who want to help you.

My mom is only charging me $350 a month for rent and all totaled my fixed bills are $505 which include internet (I have online courses so it’s a need right now), cell phone (we don’t have a landline), and storage rental. I also have a payment agreement I will be paying to my old apartment but I don’t know the amount as of yet. I am very worried about what will happen after I graduate. I want to have a job lined up and ready to go, but I’m worried with the economic troubles we are facing. My friend graduated 2 years ago and has yet to land a professional job in the field. While I have a lot more going for me I still worry.It is almost assumed I will be relocating for a job as it’s just one of those things that comes with my field. As well it could take up to 2 months during the hiring process and the time you start, I could be hired in May and not actually start till August. So I’ve started saving up a good chunk of my stipend, to the tune of $800 from each check, by the end of the program if I kept that up I would have $8,000. But I don’t know if that’s too much and if I should be paying off debt and saving less. I don’t live outside my means, and usually research and save for any purchase over $50. But I do have a bad habit of lending money to family.
– Jai

The big thing you need to do is start your job search early. If you’re going to graduate next May, start searching now. If you are a good candidate, most employers will wait a month or two for you to begin work versus hiring a poor candidate.

Another concern is your propensity towards lending money to family members. Stop! You’re a college student, for goodness sakes! If anyone should be borrowing money, it should be you. Besides that, lending money to family members often ends with strained relationships and mistrust, something you don’t need in your life.

Aside from that, I think you’re doing well.

My questions is regarding how to categorize our Line of Credit loan. Our story: my husband and I both did the College/ credit card/ unwise use of money thing in our 20’s & early 30’s. Over the past few years, we’ve been improving our financial “health” – paid off those credit cards, got way more in touch with our spending, spend less than we earn, do a good job with our budget, and carry no credit card debt. We have a mortgage of $350,000, and a home equity line of credit of $44,500. The LOC was opened several years ago (before we wised up) to re-fi part of our mortgage, and to give us some house project money. We did the projects (patio, yard & kitchen improvements), paid some credit card debt, bought a fancy dog… you get the picture – it wasn’t all responsible spending.

Now that we have no other debt, I waffle about how to approach/categorize our LOC. I want to lump it in with the mortgage, and call the debt pay-off/booty-busting part of our life done. But I’m wondering if that’d be “cheating”. The LOC has higher interest and part of that spending really was in the same vein as our credit card abuse. Should we consider it a credit card, and continue to bust booty to pay down the LOC? The thought makes me want to cry.
– LeAnn

I would consider it a credit card, particularly since it has higher interest than the mortgage. Focus on paying it off sooner rather than later.

Here’s the truth: people virtually never regret paying off a debt. The freedom from that monthly payment is a tremendous boost, even if it’s not mathematically the best solution. The increase in monthly cash flow also enables people to work more quickly towards their goals and withstand major setbacks more easily.

Go for getting rid of the debt, and don’t look back.

I was paid three days ago. After we paid the mortgage and car insurance, we only have $150 to our name until the 15th. With that, we have to buy gas and groceries for two weeks and pray that no emergencies come up in the meantime. For months we have been cutting back more and more and more. My husband of five months has been unemployed since December. We had savings and emergency fund but it was depleted a month after the wedding when we suffered a very serious legal issue that required us to hire an attorney. The retainer took every penny we had. When my husband is not looking for work, he spends his time learning how to make foods from scratch, like bread, bagels, pasta. He’s gotten good at stretching the food budget (what of it there is). We don’t go anywhere. We don’t do anything outside the home because we can’t afford to waste gas. There is no “fun money.” Today, he is calling the insurance company to reduce our coverage to as little as possible and I will be calling to cancel the cable. I make enough to cover the bills, but there’s not a lot left over for gas and groceries, let alone savings. At the end of the month our property taxes are due – $1700. I had the money saved for it, but all of that went to the legal retainer. It won’t get paid. We have is a credit card with a $1k balance, racked up over the summer to make ends meet, payments are manageable. We’ve placed ads to sell valuables, but there’s not much interest. I’m feeling so low right now. We are just existing. Not living. This is no way to live. It’s not a debt issue. It’s an income issue. Moving wouldn’t make sense. Our mortgage payment is lower than rent in this area and there’s a custody arrangement in place which must be considered. We have to ride this out, but man, this is painful.
– Tara

This almost exactly describes my situation in 2006: bills without enough money to pay them. For me, it was a financial bottom and it led to a real turnaround.

My sincere suggestion to you is to not give up hope. It’s hard, I know, but this trial is an opportunity to figure out what really matters to you and your husband. Cut away everything and see what you genuinely miss – you’ll be surprised how little of it actually matters in your day-to-day life. What you’re learning right now will stick with you and help you for the rest of your life.

As for your husband, he should get a job. Any job. I know there is work out there, but it’s often work that people don’t want to do. Check your pride, get a job, and start bringing in some income before you lose what you have left.

I just broke up with someone I’d been seeing for six years and engaged to for two years. I’ve made multiple career decisions and lots of financial decisions based on the idea that we would be together for the long haul. Right now, I’m sitting in a city I don’t want to live in and a job I don’t want. I have a signed lease and a lot of debt, too. I don’t know what to do.
– Kelly

Right now, stop looking backwards with regret and anger. Looking at the past does not help you with the future.

You need to assess where you’re at right now and where you’d like to be in a year. Obviously, you’d like to be living elsewhere. That will probably require a different job. You’ll also need to be out of your lease.

Start building a to-do list to take you to that place where you want to be. Polish up your resume. Start hunting for something else. Cut back on your spending – I’m going to speculate that if you have a lot of debt, you probably have a lot of excess spending going on. This doesn’t just mean less shopping, it means doing things like trimming back on your cell phone plan, consolidating your debts, and so on. Figure out where you want to be going and direct your life towards making that happen.

Over the last few months, I’ve been following your personal finance advice to a tee and it’s really helped me to see what I’m doing right financially and what I’m doing wrong.

The big shock to me though is how much I am spending each month on alcohol. In June, I spent $450 on alcoholic beverages. That’s a payment on a new Lexus!

I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I am an alcoholic. The amount of money I’ve been spending is a wake-up call. The question is – what’s next? I think I have the willpower to stop cold turkey and my wife is being really supportive as she’s quitting too, though she didn’t drink nearly as much as me.
– Dan

First of all, a huge congratulations on turning a major corner in your life, personally and financially. That takes a lot of guts.

I would strongly encourage you to find some additional support as you work through your alcoholism recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous is worth at least a look.

One big thing I would encourage you to do is buy a simple wall calendar and start keeping track of your successful days for a while. At the end of each day you manage to stay alcohol free, put a big red X over that date on the calendar. As you move forward, keep doing that, and you’ll begin to admire that big long row of Xs on your calendar. You won’t want to break that chain.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Molly says:

    To Dan:
    Congratulations! This is a HUGE step for you. In addition to Trent’s suggestions, I would recommend you tell those around you if you are comfortable doing so – extra support is crucial. Plan some alcohol-free fun evenings TODAY. Put them on the calendar, look forward to them, tell people.
    And think about what you might want to do with the extra money once you make 30 days clean and sober. That motivation might help, too.
    Good luck!

  2. John says:

    Wait, can you buy an apartment? I thought you could only rent them.

  3. MegB says:

    To the honeymooners: My husband and I have traveled to Europe many times, and we typically take some cash to start out with, and then take one credit card that we use for cash advances at ATMs. There are tons of ATMs all over Europe these days, so you don’t need to worry about getting stuck. The cash advance fees are a little bit higher, but we just factor that into our budget because it always feels a little safer (to us at least) to use a credit card than a debit card. In addition, many places accept Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, so if you’re shopping for souvenirs or paying for certain meals, you can just charge it to your card and then pay it off as soon as you get home. When we do that, we usually keep a tally somewhere of exactly what we’ve put on the credit card so that we’re sure not to go over our budget. Oh, and one more thing: don’t forget to call your credit card company ahead of time and let them know that you’ll be out of the country and will be using your card. That way, they will know not to put a fraud alert on it. Congratulations on your marriage! You’ll have a fantastic time in Rome–what a great honeymoon choice!

  4. Johanna says:

    @Mkie (Mike?): I’ve never been to Rome, but when I’ve gone to other places in Europe, I use a combination of credit cards and cash withdrawn from local ATMs. The currency conversion charge (3%, tacked on to the exchange rate, rather than listed as a separate fee) is exactly the same for both.

    ATMs are easy to find in Europe. But ATMs that your bank considers to be “in network” may not even exist. European ATMs typically do not charge fees for out-of-network withdrawals, but *your* bank might. (Mine charges $2, the same as they charge for out-of-network withdrawals in the US.) Check with them on that, and if they charge a fee, just make a few larger withdrawals rather than a lot of smaller ones.

    Get a small amount of cash in euros, including some coins and small bills, before you go. You should have at least enough to cover the cost of getting from the airport to your hotel, in the event that the airport ATMs are not working.

  5. Michelle says:

    @ Rick – If I understand, you’re debating between leaving your gov’t job (with the $25k incentive) and going to work for a contractor OR if you should stay in the gov’t job, correct?

    I work for a gov’t contractor and I often see former feds being courted and hired. Many times it works very well, but other times, it does not. A private sector job comes with a lot more risks, the end result of most being that you could be terminated. For one, there is often a culture shock – corporate America is a very different animal and not everyone adjusts to it. If you can’t fit in, you’re not as effective. If some big must win contract is lost, you may no longer be needed (or be the scapegoat). If there’s an administration change and the contacts you had have moved on, you may no longer be a valuable asset. You may be subject to some ethics rules that prohibit you from doing business with your former department. Employers say they understand this, but do get impatient. If there are cuts needed in the meantime, you’re the guy who is overhead for the next XX months.

    In other words, you’re trading a lot of job security for $25k – and to me, in this economy, that’s not a very good trade. It might be worth the risk if you were significantly increasing your salary as a consultant, but you expect the same salary. And it’s unfortunate, but true that someone in their late 50s usually has a harder time finding ne employment than someone with more work years ahead of them.

    Just some things to consider.

  6. Greg says:

    To the folks travelling to Rome: My wife and I also honeymooned in Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice) and had a fantastic time! We’ve travelled to Europe a few times, ans we use a mix of cash and credit cards to get by. We convert a few hundred dollars into Euros before we leave. While there we use a credit card as much as possible for meals, tours, accomodations etc. We uses the cash for daily incidental purchases – snacks, souvineirs, taxis etc. The trick is to use up all or most of the cash before you get back, so you don’t take the hit by having to convert it back to dollars. This works for us, since we’re not carrying large sums of cash around. Also, I agree with the earlier poster about notifying your credit card company that you will be in Italy during the dates that you plan on travelling. If you do run short of cash, you can withdraw more from ATM’s in Italy. You will get hit with some fees, so try not to do this too often.

  7. Adam says:

    When it comes to foreign travel, I too recommend a combination of ATMs and credit cards. You’ll need cash for things like cabs, street vendors, etc. but credit cards come in handy if you need to buy pricier things like train tickets, nice meals at a restaurant, etc.

    Capital One does not charge any fee for foreign transactions on their credit cards. (But you should verify this.) I keep a Capital One Visa card laying around for this very purpose — it’s not my everyday card, but I used it last year on a trip to Canada and a few years ago on a trip to France, as well as ordering a few things from Amazon.co.uk earlier this year. The currency conversions on that card are closer to the actual exchange rate than anything I have ever seen (usually within a few tenths of a percent). My primary Visa card is with a different bank that charges a 3% fee on foreign transactions. So if you have a Capital One card, or could get one without negatively impacting your credit score or overall financial situation, then I would recommend doing so.

  8. valleycat1 says:

    Tara – #8 — This is a tough spot, but sometimes life happens; it sounds like you had made every effort to be prepared, but as you now know, the ‘worst that can happen’ is often worse than you expect. Keep doing what you’re doing & try to minimize charges on the credit card.

    Contact your property tax authority to find out just what the process is if you are unable to pay your taxes, and ask whether there’s any forebearance or deferral programs available in your area for people with reduced income.

    I agree with Trent that your husband should be able to find at least a part-time job to bring in some cash, assuming he’s been holding out for a specific kind of work. Or you need a 2nd job, if he can’t do that.

  9. Emma says:

    @Mike – I haven’t been to Italy yet (this coming year I will be), but I am currently living in Germany. Big cities in Europe tend to accept big name credit cards, but do NOT count on it. Everyone takes cash, so I’d count on paying cash for everything. My town in Germany (I’m here through the military) does not accept credit cards anywhere. I think there’s one store (a big furniture store) that accepts American Express. Even when my husband and I bought our bikes (just under 1000 Euro) they expected cash. Only a few stores in the Frankfurt airport took credit. I’d personally just carry cash if I were you and leave your wallet with your cards in your room or somewhere hard to get to on your body. It’s much better for a pickpocket to get a day’s worth of cash than to get your credit cards/ATM card. From what I’ve heard, pickpockets are pretty common in Rome, so maybe look into getting a carrier that goes over your head and you can stash under your shirt – you’ll notice if someone is trying to get into it much more. Also, if you do stick with credit cards, some cards will charge you a “currency conversion fee.”

    @Tara – I’m sorry to hear about your financial hardship right now! I would like to make a suggestion – I make my own food too for saving money, but I don’t see pasta and bagels as being all that great of a way to save money by making your own food. I spend much less on food if I stop eating as many grain-based meals. My husband and I can make one loaf of homemade bread (my recipe uses a grand total of 6 ingredients…yeast, water, sugar, salt, oil, and flour) last well over a week. Instead, focus on making meals. For instance, for breakfast try this:

    1 tub (at least 5 servings) of yogurt (costs less than the pre-divided containers)
    1-2 slices bacon – if you do 1 slice, you can make it at least a week with one $2 pack of bacon
    1-2 eggs each, however you prefer them, but instead of using oil or butter to cook them, just put them into the pan after you take the bacon out
    1 piece of toast

    You will spend MUCH less on breakfast that way – eggs aren’t expensive, I promise! For variety, maybe have 2 flavors of yogurt going at once or cook your eggs differently.

    Lunches and dinners can be the exact same food. Cook what you can in bulk – stretch it with rice, etc. Cook five dinners per week, and then use the leftovers for lunch the next day, or set it up so you have a day or two between them. Chinese food (look up recipes online – there are tons!) is a good way to cook in bulk for cheap, or else try making soups/stews/chili to stretch ingredients.

  10. Ashley says:

    @ Rick – Michelle made some really good points. I’m a new fed, and I vaguely remember signing an agreement that I would not work for a special interest group that is related to my current position for one year after I leave my current position. To the best of my knowledge, this wouldn’t prohibit somebody from leaving the Federal service to go to a contractor, but it is worth looking into. I think, although I’m not positive, this policy was implemented soon after President Obama took office.

  11. Johanna says:

    @Tara: The good news is that your situation is temporary. Your husband will not be unemployed forever. The bad news is that in this economy, he could be unemployed for a long time.

    If you’ve cut everything that there is to cut, maybe it’s time to focus on increasing the amount coming in. If you haven’t gotten much response to your ads about selling your valuables, I guess a lot of other people in your area must be struggling to. So think about ways to earn some extra money that would also help other people save some money.

    For example, could you take a roommate? If you don’t have an extra bedroom, could you turn the living room into a makeshift bedroom, or put up a partition in your bedroom? It might be uncomfortable giving up some privacy, but it would go a long way toward getting you some financial comfort. If that doesn’t work, could your husband sell some of his homemade bread and pasta, or offer lessons on how to make them?

  12. Katie says:

    Mike – when you do decide what cards to use, call the card company and let them know you’ll be out of the country; sometimes they’ll freeze cards on fraud suspicion when sudden foreign charges show up.

  13. Kevin says:


    There are ATM’s all over Rome, and major credit cards are accepted virtually everywhere.

    That said, foreign transaction fees can REALLY add up! Captital One and Schwab (there may be others) offer cards which don’t charge foreign transaction fees – I suggest you get one if you want to avoid a bunch of fees.

    Another suggestion: carry a dummy/pickpocket wallet in your back pocket – with a couple cancelled credit cards, some receipts, and about 40 Euros. If it gets swiped, no big deal. Carry a couple of credit cards and your cash for the day in a security pocket or at least, in your front pants pocket. We never had issues with pickpockets in a week and a half in Italy, EXCEPT for on Bus #64 (the “tourist” bus) in Rome. Enjoy your trip – Rome is absolutely fantastic!!

  14. Steve says:

    @Dan – I decided to end my drinking problem following an incident last summer where I flipped out at my signifigant other, smashed my cellphone and attempted to flip my Jeep over. I took my ass down to some AA meetings, and I suggest you do the same. I personally wasn’t a fan of their solution, but man, after hearing all of the stories, meeting the skid row types that just peeled themselves off the street, and the people going to a gazillion meetings every week living the “perpetual recovery” lifestyle I made up my mind right then and there that my drinking days were OVER. I’ve been clean and sober for over a year now and haven’t looked back. Some people think that its “lame,” others are supportive, and the diehard drunks have a real problem with me not drinking. I cut anyone who was married to the bottle out of my life, made some new friends, and the past year has had its ups and downs but at least I was around for them all and not bombed beyond belief. Paradoxally NOT being drunk all the time makes life far easier to deal with. You can do it man, whether its with the 12 step crowd or on your own.

  15. wisnjc says:

    Instead of using our main debit card for ATM withdrawals abroad, we set up an account just for this purpose. We use our PayPal account, with a PayPal debit card for all our international travels. That way, if our card is lost, stolen, or otherwise compromised, we are not worried about our mortgage payment bouncing in our main checking account before we call in to cancel the ATM card. We can put money in each month for our vacation savings goals, and know we aren’t coming home to big credit card bills. In addition, I find the PayPal ATM withdrawal and currency conversion fees to be less that those at our local credit union and credit card company. This method gives us another layer of security and peace of mind. I also do the mugger wallet thing suggested by Kevin.

    @Michelle – Great advice!

  16. Eugene says:


    I was in Europe 2 years ago and I can tell you that any large city (even most small ones) will accept credit cards. Expect foreign transaction fees however…do double check with your credit cards how much the transaction fees will be.

    ATMs are also readily available. In general I think it is better to use an ATM and pay the associated fees from both banks than to exchange money. Exchange rates are usually complete rip-offs. Opt for the ATMS rather than exchanging money…and again double check with your bank what the fees associated with foreign transactions are.

    I just returned from Costa Rica and the fees on a $400 withdrawal ended up being $16 after their bank fee, my bank fee, and a foreign transaction fee.

  17. MikeTheRed says:

    Mike (Mkie?) here.

    Funny enough, we just got back from our trip to Rome (should have sent the question in much earlier in hind-sight). And it turns out we did a LOT of the things you folks here are suggesting.

    Key things we did:
    1. Called card companies to let them know we’d be traveling

    2. Took out cash when we landed in Rome, used that for the handful of cash-only transactions we had and so we wouldn’t be stuck without transport at some point

    3. I actually didn’t carry a wallet period. I had a messenger bag with a zip pocket hidden away in it that I kept money, cards & ID in. I kept the bag on me pretty much at all times. No pickpocket problems.

    Things I discovered:
    1. Yes, ATMs are everywhere.
    2. Virtually everyone accepted American Express
    3. Foreign charge fees on my credit & debit cards were ridiculous. Probably spent $100 over the course of the week just on those.
    4. Transit was the only thing I really NEEDED to use cash on. Everything else took credit cards.

    Overall a great trip. And thanks to solid prior planning we saw/did/ate everything we wanted to and stayed under budget!

  18. Sheila says:

    @Tara –I agree with everyone who mentioned taking any kind of job, although if your DH is getting unemployment compensation, I’m not sure how that works. I know that, for example, I’m looking for someone to help with fall cleanup for which I pay in cash. I also need someone with a truck to take yard stuff to the dump (my town doesn’t have yard waste pickup, dang it). There must be others in my situation. In my area, a farmer posted notices at the unemployment office about needing farm workers–he got no response so he’s going the guest worker route. I found that interesting.

  19. Vicky says:

    “I could take the incentive in increments or as one lump sum. My initial thought is to put it in my savings/emergency fund and pay significant extra amounts on my debt(s) each month while earning a little interest on it.”

    First of all, congratulations on having long term employment! That is worth it’s weight in gold in this economy. I would respectfully offer that if you’re $60K in cc debt, you’re in no position to leave work at this time. Live cheaply and put every extra dime towards your debt so that you’ll be ready at your normal retirement age. Counting on any other job to come through for you at an equal income to what you’re now making is “two birds in the bush.” Stick with the one in your hand.

    I posted a statement from your question above. Keeping your $25K in savings and earning single digit interest while carring a huge amount of probably double digit cc debt would not be wise money management. ‘Nuf said. Best of luck to you.

  20. Erin says:

    @Tara – is your husband getting unemployment? Not sure how it works in your state, but in mine I could make a certain percentage of my income (In my case it was $200/week) without it affecting my unemployment. Could your husband deliver pizzas, mow lawns, clean houses, advertise some sort of lessons or skills via Craigslist or anything like that just to get some sort of income until he gets a full-time job?

  21. Kevin says:

    To follow up on Mike the Red’s comment – you won’t get a great exchange rate, BUT: I got about $150 worth of Euros from my local bank before we left for our trip. That way, I had local currency available when we landed in Rome, and was able to handle expenses for a day or two w/o having to got to an ATM or bank.

    Use the self-service machines at Fulmincino to buy your train ticket to Termini. It’s easy and way cheaper than taking a cab!

    If you’re going to St. Peter’s Basilica, do it late in the afternoon – the crowds will be much smaller than in the morning.

    Make sure you visit the Borghese Gallery! When visiting such spots, I personally feel you’ll get much more out of the experience if you opt for a guided tour. YMMV, but for me, a good tour guide will really enhance your experience.

  22. PJ says:


    Congrats on acknowledging an alcohol issue. One GIANT step toward getting it under control. I second Trent’s recommendation to consider a 12-step meeting. Although I never had a drinking problem personally, I was raised by an alcoholic and attended meetings for years to help me deal with all the issues in my life as a result. 12-step meetings are filled with wonderful, introspective, earnest people who are caring and generous. They’ve been there, and they know what you’re dealing with. If you keep your agreement to stop drinking, they will cheer you on. If you slip, they will support you without shaming. No matter what happens, you will meet people worth knowing in a 12-step meeting. Try several, pick your favorites, and attend regularly.

  23. jim says:

    Rachael: From what I’ve seen the rent to own or lease to own home sale deals are generally stacked in favor of the property seller.

    Rick: Stay at your job and pay off your debt. I don’t think you’re going to find a better deal than your current pay and retirement benefits. That $25k lump sum is pretty small compared to your pay and retirement. The cash value of an extra 2% annuity per year pension is about $30K.

  24. LeahGG says:

    @Mkie: We prefer to travel with credit cards, but definitely check with your bank regarding in-network ATMs and transaction fees. Make sure that you have at least 2 that are good, and keep them separate (one on each of you). If either one is lost or stolen, credit cards are insured. If you report it stolen within 24 hours, you can make sure that nothing is charged to you.

    The paypal pre-paid ATM is a great idea, but we used regular Visa/MasterCard throughout our recent trip to Finland – though interestingly, in Finland, many places will only use the newer credit cards which are “smart cards” with microchips – no magnetic strip cards, and you have to put in your PIN number instead of just signing.

    One thing we did which saved us a fortune on our trip (we were traveling with small children so we ended up needing to split up a fair amount) is that we got a set of walkie talkies with a 1.5 mile range, and we used them instead of making phone calls on our cell phones. Additionally, on the very few occasions we couldn’t use those for communication, we used text messages rather than phone calls – check with your cell provider, but usually sending a text will cost about 1/5th of what it would to call for a minute, so if you just need to send/receive a single piece of information, it’s a better way to communicate.

    (We also use texts to “write” relatives back home rather than calling home or paying for internet at internet cafes. I’d send one relative a text each day and they’d email it to everyone else and send me a response. Keeping in touch daily on a three week trip cost me less than $10…)

  25. LeahGG says:

    @Tara: It sounds like you’re really trying. I think you’ll get to where you need to be, but one thing you need to think about is that you can have fun without spending money.

    It sounds like you’re miserable because you never do anything fun.

    Play the radio or some kind of music (NOT TV) in the house a lot. It makes life feel more cheerful.

    Sing with the music. Harmonize together. Learn something new. My husband’s a juggler, so I’m always working on my juggling.

    Even if you don’t have any other games in the house, you probably have a deck of cards around. Play some cards.

    If your husband isn’t finding work, he can do what I did while I was looking for work and didn’t want to commit to a job that wasn’t in my field – take on one-time jobs – walk dogs or dog-sit or cat-sit for neighbors who are away. clean gutters, help people move furniture, whatever stuff needs to be done that people are willing to pay for. You can certainly make a few hundred dollars a month that way. It sounds like an extra $200 each month would already make a difference.

  26. done that says:

    @Tara – Lots of good advice here. I hope your spirits are lifting already.

    I hope it’s ok to mention other sites here. Dollar A Day Meals will give you menus and ideas for eating good, healthy food for very little cash. And you will be full not hungry. You might even have enough left over for a date with ice cream cones for two.

  27. Daria says:


    We have been to Rome, Bologna, Venice and Florence. I second all of the above suggestions. We used Capital One for a debit card for ATM transactions, but we carried the bulk of our trip money in cash, split between us in secure packs. My husband had one that went around his waist under his belt and I wore one that went around my neck and I tucked it under my clothes and bra. We carried a small amount in our pockets so we weren’t having to constantly pull the packs out. I carried the credit card, debit card and the passports in my pack around my neck. We did not run into pickpockets in Rome (they are mainly gypsies) but we saw them on the train from Bologna to Venice and in the subways in France. They targeted my mother because she was elderly and insisted on wearing an outer fannypak but it never contained any money or her passport. Just kleenex and other incidentals. We carried a small notebook and recorded every transaction to stay on budget. We walked A LOT. We usually stay in hostels or rent an apartment if we are staying at least a week. Much cheaper and for $30 Euros, we would shop at a grocery store for fresh pasta, fresh pasta sauce, salad, bread and wine for 3 people for lunch and dinner every day. Much better than dining out. the hostels in Rome offered free dinner with Sangria one or two nights a week with a coupon every morning for coffee and a croissant at a local coffee shop and in Bologna, the Landlord provided breakfast every day. In Bologna, we stayed in the “Mouse House”- a tiny apartment just big enough for 3 of us and not claustrophobic when we ate outside on the patio. Heh.

  28. spaces says:

    Tara: lots of good for you there. If things get impossibly tight, consider using a food bank or food pantry. Situations like yours are why they exist. Hang in there!

  29. To those traveling to Rome, an FYI about credit cards…CapitalOne is the only card that I know of that doesn’t charge 3% transaction fees. Yes, their rates are terrible but if you can shave off an additional 3% of the cost, it might be worth checking out.

    Europe, especially tourist destinations, will accept pretty much any major credit card. I wouldn’t worry about it, it’s not a third-world nation.

    As for airport ATMS as someone commented above…try avoiding them if you can…and airport currency exchanges. They’re just a ripoff. If you don’t have any other option (you do), take out as little as possible to get you by for a day or two at most.

    Most of all, have a great trip! :)

  30. Sharon says:

    I also agree with getting some cash in the US before leaving.
    My brother did an impulsive trip to Europe and planned to use that day’s paycheck for his expensives. (Including hotel!) He knew he was due the money and there had never been a problemwith direct deposit before.
    What happened? There was a storm in his hometown that left the bank without power for for two days. He slept one night in the train station.
    Nothing works as well as cash.

  31. Steve in W MA says:

    @ Jai, “[I’m putting aside]… $800 from each check, by the end of the program if I kept that up I would have $8,000. But I don’t know if that’s too much and if I should be paying off debt and saving less.”

    I think you are doing the right thing. Build up that $8000 fund that will enable you to withstand the months that are required to get a job in your field.

    If you do get a job in May but have to wait till August, that’s only 3 months. If you don’t have the money to live in your new city for that time, you can always spend the summer at home and make your final move towards the last two week of July if you have something lined up.

    Once you have steady income you can begin to pay off your debts from that income. I would maintain as much of the $8000 in cash as possible as a contingency/emergency fund, make and follow a monthly budget that has debt payoff on it and doesn’t dip into the remaining funds from your stipend, and proceed from there. If you follow this appoach I think you will find that you feel financially stable in a short period of time.

  32. Kyle R. says:

    I regards to the couple going to Rome, it was asked if Rome was a “cash or credit city.” My wife and I went in summer 2009 and it is very much a “cash” city.

    The only places credit cards are accepted are very touristy places, and so you’ll wind up spending more since they are, well, touristy. Ex: my wife and I could get an espresso, cappuccino, and two pastries at the local coffee shop for 2euro total! The touristy place down the street would charge 8euro for the cappuccino alone!

    ATMs are pretty easily found. Last side note, coins are in short supply for some reason. Horde them as much as you can. In the U.S. we tend to give the cashier coins so we can get a bill in return. Do the opposite in Rome.

    That’s about it. Enjoy it, its a beautiful city!

    -Kyle R.

  33. Steve in W MA says:

    Rick, based on the figures you provided it looks like you are paying aroudn $700 a month for mortgage related debt and anywhere from 1200 to 2,400 on your credit card debt. I am guessing it is $1200 (2% of the overall balance paid per month). YOu are probably taking home after taxes a total of 45K per year, or $3750 per month. It looks like you have $3750-$1900 or $1,850 left over after monthly debt service. (this is mental math, double check it to be sure). BAsically, it sounds to me like you’re set whichever way you choose. You could take the 25K, get 60K in lifelong pension, and, even if you never paid off your debt, have $1850 dollars free and clear after housing payments and debt service to do basically whatever you want with. YOu could move to Costa Rica and live on the the beach if you wanted, or you could, as you say, take another job in the private sector. Do you really need more money? Since you have a guaranteed pension, you don’t have to rely on a large lump sum of savings like someone who doesn’t have a pension would have to have. In fact, your $60K pension is equivalent to someone in the private sector who has no no pension and savings of between 1.5 and 2 million in the bank in terms of its value as an income stream over the rest of your life (divide 60,000 by 3% and 4% and you get the upper and lower figures in this range). You basically don’t have to worry about income (unless the gov’t renegs on your pension of course!) and your debt could easily be retired in short order simply by paying about 10-15K per year on it. But in fact you really don’t need to bother as there’s no need for you to minimize your interest payments on that debt as you can currently afford to pay them unto perputuity. You don’t even need to worry about your money running out because the pension is good for life, unlike a lump sum of savings that you can outlive.

    So, knowing all that, I’d say do whatever is most appealing to you as a lifestyle decision, independent of financial concerns because you really needn’t have any.

    Of course, double check my arithmetic and my logic before taking this advice!

    Following the same reasoning (you have plenty of free cash to both make minimum debt payments and live well in economic terms) :AS to your plan for the 25K retirement bonus/inducement, It’s a pretty good one but I’d also consider just hanging onto the money for a while at least, or even permanently, as a lump sum of cash and just put it aside as a buffer against a really unexpected contingency.

  34. Matt says:

    To the honeymooners: if you bank with Bank of America, and you’ll be stopping in either the UK, France, or Germany at any point, you can get cash out of an ATM for free. BofA is part of something called the Global Alliance Network, as is Barclay’s in the UK, BNP Paribas in France, and Deutsche Bank in Germany. Use any of those ATMs with your debit card, and there are no fees charged, and a good exchange rate. I lived in England for a year and traveled around Western Europe doing this and didn’t pay any fees. If you’re going to stop in either France or Germany beforehand, you can stock up on Euros before going to Rome. For anyone traveling to Western Europe, this is an important thing to know about. (The Global Alliance Network also extends to Mexico, China, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.)

    Unfortunately, there is no Global Alliance Bank in Italy. Another way, although I haven’t personally tried this, is to open an account with HSBC or Citibank before you leave, as both banks will not charge a fee for using any of their ATMs anywhere in the world. I’m not sure if they’re widely available in Rome, though.

    P.S. – If you find a Bank of America ATM in Rome, there’s no benefit to using that, as Bank of America or any of the Global Alliance Banks will charge you for using their ATMs in Italy.

  35. Steve in W MA says:

    Tara, unless your husband is taking care of the kids full time (you didn’t mention children in your post), I would say he should try to get any job whatsoever, or any two jobs whatsoever. I would also say you might consider getting a compatible housemate to add more income to your budget. With your property actually at risk from unpaid taxes in the near future, and with slowly mounting credit card debt, I think you cannot responsibly avoid seriously consider it. Who knows, you may find someone you both really like and actually like the housesharing arrangement. (I know lots of people that actually *choose* to have housemates even though they have plenty enough to live by themselves, jsut because they like having people around. Just saying).

    Did you ever see the movie “House of Sand and Fog”? Look at what the main character, an exiled Iranian Air Force Colonel, in that movie did to get his family out of the situation they were in. Hard labor and digging ditches, all while pretending to his family that he was going to an office job. I’m not saying this to romanticize or make light of your situation or to say hubby should be out digging ditches or something or to compare your husband negatively to a fictional character that did things that I never have personally had to do or have personally opted to do. I am just saying that maybe considering the lengths people in certain situations and parts of the world go to to make ends meet will help normalize working “below” his position if it’s for a good cause–which it surely would be.

    Good luck to you both.

  36. Steve in W MA says:

    jai, I forgot to mention my advice about your propensity to lend money to family members. I am also (or was) also like this. I always assumed that anyone who asked to borrow money must have a really great reason to do it (because I would never ask them for money, since they were asking me I figured I should definitely help!Wrong!)

    One thing that helped me over the years was to divide up my money and define it for different purposes. Out of $10,000 that I may have, for example, 2000 of it is to serve as a buffer of monthly income (so I don’t have to always be rushing to the bank to deposit my paychecks during the month) , 2000 of it is for an unexpected emergency, $1200 of it is to provide for medical copays in the event of a serious medical incident such as a trip to the emergency room, 580 is for car repair, …and on and on up until the whole $10K is accounted for. Only between zero and $300 is available to lend out to people have not chosen to exercise the same kind of control over their finances that I have learned to exercise.

    This kind of firm accounting for ones’ money makes it very easy to say “no” to requests for money that arent’ in that budget. I can simply and honestly say “I don’t have money for that” because, even though I do have a decent amount of cash, it is all promised to certain jobs and not available for lending out unless I remove dollars from other jobs.

    That being said, I do give money to various causes and even have lent out a fair amount of money (with limits) to people so I guess I am not a complete hardliner. A friend of mine who has been recovering from a drug addiction is into me for $960 and is paying me off at the rate of $150 per month. The money let him get a vehicle so he could pursue work. The point is, I can afford the $960 and have made my peace with it in the event of a drug relapse. But I have told him I can’t afford to lend him anymore. BECAUSE I CAN’T without weakening my financial foundation and removing money from important jobs in my budget.

    I hope this method helps you to draw a line for yourself in lending money to people and realizing you can get to the point where you don’t feel that you need to say yes to loan requests.

    One last point: Apply the test of reverseing the situtation to see if you are applying a double standard on yourself. For example, ask yourself whether you would allow yourself to ask your family members or relatives for money for the same purposes that they are willing to ask you for money. If you wouldn’t consider doing it, ask yourself why then that you consider their requests reasonable (if you do consider them reasonable).

    I hope some of this is helpful to you and best wishes.

  37. ML says:

    @Comment#2 John

    They are called cooperatives (or co-ops for short). Technically, you do not own them. You are purchasing shares in a building. The amount of shares that you receive are based on the square footage of the apartment. Co-ops are rare outside New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area. In turn, you pay a monthly maintenance fee which includes the general upkeep of the building (i.e: common areas, hiring a super, etc) and some if not all utilities.

  38. zoe lewis says:

    To the Rome travelers (who have already returned): I’m surprised nobody mentioned travelers’ checks. I’ve been traveling in Europe for many years and found them to be very convenient, and safer than cash. I would try to avoid cashing them in airport banks, though; a reputable local exchange office usually has much more favorable rates. Make a good estimate of the amount of money you think you’ll need so you don’t have to pay repeat commissions. A money pocket close to your body is a good idea.

    And to Tara: hang in there. I went through four really tough years after my husband left me with three kids, and I hadn’t worked in seven years. Cutting everything to the core was tough but a truly valuable experience. You didn’t mention clothing and household goods; yard sales and second hand stores can be gold mines, and you can even resell some of the nicer things you find there. Is there a branch of Angel Food Ministries near you? A food pantry is also a good idea, or food stamps if you are eligible. In Texas, your kids might qualify for low-cost medical insurance. Also, I’ve seen people really hustling lately to get work. People have gone around knocking on my neighborhood doors offering to cut lawns or do household work, and I took them up on it one week that my lawnmower was broken. Others have suggested a roommate, which can be really good or really bad. However, I bet you can find some ways to bring in more income if you get really creative. Best wishes to you.

  39. Johanna says:

    There’s something so cosmic justice-y about the “take any job” narrative. “You’re unemployed because the universe has judged you to be undeserving, but if only you were willing to humble yourself and take a job beneath your station, you could repay your karmic debt and maybe be deserving of happiness again someday.” Yeah, it doesn’t work like that.

    But I think any time somebody says to “swallow your pride,” that’s a tip-off that this is the kind of narrative they have in mind. “Swallow your pride” means “this thing I’m telling you to do is shameful, but you should do it anyway.” In other words, “you need to suffer, because something about suffering itself will get you back on track toward the life you want.”

    The fact of the matter is, the further you go “beneath your position,” the worse unemployment becomes. If Tara’s husband has a college degree or some other type of specialist qualification – or even just a high school diploma – it’s almost certainly not going to be any easier for him to find a manual-labor type job than to find a job that actually uses his qualifications.

    Anyway, another suggestion for Tara: Have you and your husband looked into “volunteer” work for which you’re paid in kind? There’s a food co-op in my area where you can “volunteer” in exchange for store credit (at a rate of approximately minimum wage, but being able to set your own hours is a big advantage over a regular minimum-wage job). I’ve heard of other businesses with similar systems, so you could see if there’s something like that in your area. But I don’t know whether that would have any effect on any unemployment benefits.

  40. littlepitcher says:

    @Dan–Congratulations! Some hints: read everything you can get on the subject, including Dr. Theron Randolph’s work on allergic-addiction syndrome. If you have allergies, this may be your problem.
    Sweat. The sooner you can metabolize all of the alcohol out of your system, the earlier your physical recovery will commence. Exercise, in addition, should leave you too tired for nerves.
    B vitamins–especially thiamine and B-12 sublingual lozenges for nerve support.
    Go to meetings, if you will, with an open mind. They are not missionaries, even though some will sound like it. Each and every person can teach you something, even if it’s how not to behave.
    Do examine legacy behaviors. If you are from an alcoholic or substance abuser family, you will have plenty of issues, including sabotage from family members. Do not use this for an excuse, just recognize that the issues exist and find ways to combat them. Some families simply don’t teach coping mechanisms, except for scapegoating, self-negation, open rebellion, and substance abuse. Learn any stress control techniques you can, anywhere you can.
    Success will definitely open up new possibilities, both financially and in interests. Best of luck to you.

  41. LeahGG says:

    #32 Johanna – that’s why I recommend taking non-jobs – rather taking whatever paying gigs pop up around the neighborhood while he’s job hunting.

    If you’re a computer engineer looking for a job, and you manage to grab $50 walking your neighbors’ dogs this month because you’re home and looking for a job, you’re not changing your resume, you’re just bringing in a few bucks and helping out a neighbor at the same time. It feels different.

    I babysat when I was between jobs after I got my degree. I wouldn’t have worked as a supermarket checker or as a waitress as easily, for exactly the kinds of reasons you’re describing. As a babysitter, I wasn’t committing to a job, I was just helping out while I had free time, and people were paying for it because they needed a babysitter.

    It’s ok to have a babysitter this Friday night who’s really a marketing writer between jobs. Nobody wants to hire a supermarket checker who they know is still looking for a real job.

    These jobs are also generally paid in cash and below the threshold for receiving unemployment. (If he’s beyond receiving unemployment, then temping is a similarly good option).

  42. Randy says:

    Re: Cash in Europe. Get a Capitol One ATM (NOT debit) card. Yes, these are still available, but you must ask for it – banks push debit cards. There are NO Capitol One fees, and since it is an ATM card (not a debit card), no concern about someone stealing it and running up a debt. Cash advances on a credit card are the most costly option (next to converting US dollars or travelers checks)- credit cards charge a fee PLUS a 2-3% ‘handling charge’. Always have at least two forms of payment, in case one is rejected or the ATM machine ‘eats’ your card. Keep a day’s cash handy – the rest, credit cards, etc should be in a money belt – not a fanny pack/ wallet/ purse.

    If you have cash left over on the last night of the trip, use it toward your last night’s hotel bill, making up the difference with a credit card. Of course, keep enough cash for transportation to the airport, any last minute airport purchases, etc.

  43. GayleRN says:

    @ Dan, Please consider a visit to a physician if you are a daily drinker trying to quit. Going through the DT experience is no fun and can be physically dangerous up to and including life threatening. I have taken care of any number of people during the withdrawal process and do not ever minimize it. Seek help. Best wishes for your future free life.
    @ Rick, I live on about 60K and I can tell you right now that you cannot afford to retire with that amount of debt hanging over your head.

  44. Spencer says:

    Mike – We just got back from Rome and we exchanged cash at our bank before heading over there. I found that cash was generally the best way to go as far as paying for food and stuff. While every place I asked accepted credit card (we used a Capital One with no FTF), they simply weren’t accustomed to it (especially at restraunts where they would always paused before taking my card and would stand next to me until I signed). So my advice is to do what you feel comfortable with, but from a cultural standpoint I found it to be a more cash-based society.

  45. getagrip says:

    @ Mkie Lots of good advice on travel. Just a point, have two credit cards. One for use and one as a back up. I did three weeks with the family in Europe. Despite all the up front work preparing both credit card companies with our plans, they still cancelled the one card I was using in week two, while we were trying to buy Subway passes in London to get to the airport to make a flight. Had I not had the other card to immediately use, we would have most likely missed the flight. When I got back, their excuse: We tried calling your house but no one answered to justify the activity. I’m sure my colorful reply to this inane reasoning is still recorded on their QC system somewhere.

    @Rick. I feel for you, but one thing not mentioned is whether your retirement will be taxed or not (both state and federal). This is something to consider in that you could be at 170-180K in salary for the year, and that 60K you were thinking was going towards debt reduction is only getting slammed at the higher tax bracket. If you get a lump sum for unused annual leave, plus the 25K, you may end up over $210K in salary for the year you retire and that could be very heavily taxed if you aren’t careful. My point is that you can pay off the debt either way, just be aware of taxes as well.
    Otherwise I’m with Trent on this. Leaving purely for the money isn’t necessarily the best move. Given the stress of needing to pay down the debt along with a new position and way of doing business, I’d suggest taking the new job if it’s something you can both enjoy and embrace as well.

  46. GayleRN says:

    Hey Trent how about conducting an experiment where you go around trying to obtain one of those mythical minimum wage jobs that you think are so plentiful. I guarantee that it will be an eye opener about the real state of the economy in this country. There are places in this country where the real unemployment rate is 30 to 40%.

  47. Diane says:

    Mkie/Mike – The Capitol 1 program seems to be the best way to go…get one and use it before you leave to make sure it’s in good order…prepay the bill if you will gone for an extended period…MAKE SURE your pin is compatible with the area you’ll be traveling in. Wasn’t a problem for me in AUS and NZ, but I seem to recall something about five digit pins in Europe. Lots of other good advice given by previous commenters!

  48. Evita says:

    Oh Trent, did you really read what Tara wrote?
    she has cut everything and you tell her to cut away everything ? now THAT’s useful advice!

  49. Amy says:

    Mikie, I lived in Rome for 10 years so I have some advice for you. Don’t bother with travelers checks. They’re rarely used anymore so you have to go to the American Express office next to Piazza di Spagna (to the right) to cash them, which can be a drag. There are ATMs (called bancomat in Italian) all over the place but expect to find many of them not working so you’ll have to find another one! ATM fees can be expensive (probably depending on your bank) but I still consider it a safe way to get cash so you may want to just build the fees into your budget. Credit cards are accepted in a lot of places but not all. You may find that some family restaurants won’t accept CC, even some hotels, and places like museums/tours/etc. So you will want to make sure you have cash on hand. As for credit cards, I have Capital One and there is NO foreign transaction fee so that’s a good way to go. FYI American Express is NOT widely accepted in Rome. If you need to exchange cash, I would skip the exchange booths around the city and either go to a bank or one of the central post offices (only the central post offices do money exchange, I used the one near the metro stop Piramide, on Via Marmorata). Either way bring your passport as they will need to see it. If you decide to exchange in a money exchange booth for convenience, I recommend the one to the north of Termini station about two blocks up Via Marsala (making a left out of the station) and I think 1 more block up on the corner. Just one tip: do be super careful of your wallet while in Rome. There are lots of pickpockets especially on the bus, metro, and in/around the train stations and main tourist sites. Many of them are gypsies but not all — there is even a new scam where pickpockets dress to look like backpackers with maps and guidebooks but in the meantime are pickpocketing you on the bus. Having said this, don’t let it scare you or prevent you from doing things! If you are careful and aware of your surroundings you will be fine. I lived there for a decade and never once got pickpocketed. Have fun! Rome is an amazing city!

  50. Michelle says:

    Evita – I’m convinced Trent doesn’t read most of these questions thoroughly. In just this posting alone:
    Rachael asked about the pros and cons of rent-to-own. Trent never addressed it.

    Rick asked if he should take his buyout and get a new job vs. stay and let the annuity grow. Trent discussed retirement as a personal choice.

    Jai asked if (s)he should save money for post-graduation or start to pay off debt. Trent advised her to start looking for a job early.

    Kelly asked how she should move on when she was in a city and job she didn’t like. Trent did answer her, but also advised her that she shouldn’t be living in regret and anger. Nothing in her question indicated either, so I found that rather patronizing.

    Dan asked the best way to overcome alcoholism. While I applaud his decision to do that, I’m always surprised when people ask a financial blogger for advice about things like that. I’m even more surprised when the blogger feels qualified to respond.

    I like the reader question posts because of the comments – that is where the best advice is. I am completely frustrated with the non-responsive answers Trent consistently puts forth.

  51. valleycat1 says:

    Tara – Obviously you have internet access somehow, so research free events & places in your area & inexpensive/free “date” ideas. Take that lunch or dinner & head to a city park; wander through a local craft show, dog show, or whatever(yes, you can have fun watching people, checking out the displays & seeing friends without buying anything – I do it all the time), get together with friends & play games or cards, if you have old DVDs dig them out for a movie night/tv show marathon, if you don’t have any DVDs check some out from the library, go to the local Christmas parade, some museums don’t charge admission or have free days, etc.

  52. Michelle says:

    I do realize, though, that most of the those writing in do not pose a specific, clear question. Sometimes it can take some effort to find heart of the question within the narrative.

  53. Michelle says:

    @Johanna (#32) – I have similar thoughts as you about the pride issue. “Swallow your pride and dig a ditch”, “swallow your pride and use a food bank.” Just take out the pride phrase and instead say, “have you considered?” When you say “pride” the underlying message is, “if only you weren’t so vain, you wouldn’t be struggling quite as much.” “Swallow your pride” is offensive for several reasons. For one, as pointed out, for many that’s just not true in in this economy. For another, it assumes a posture of superiority. And lastly, though bringing in another 50 bucks, or stretching the food a little further may not be enough to plug the dam.

    It sounds as though Tara and her husband have been making some very painful choices in order to survive. It doesn’t sound like pride is the factor in why things are tough right now.

  54. Johanna says:

    @Michelle (#44): Agreed. Better yet, you could replace “Swallow your pride and” with “Don’t be ashamed to.” Digging a ditch should not be shameful. Accepting services that you need, and that society as a whole has decided you have a right to have, should not be shameful. But when you tell people that they are, it makes them so.

    Another thought for Tara: If you’re not going out to do otherwise free activities because of the gas money, can you go by bicycle? It might not be an option for you, but if it is, it’s one of the most cost-effective forms of transportation.

  55. prufock says:

    I won’t say we’ve all been there, but your plight is not uncommon. The advice was solid. I’ll add a few things.
    – explore the options of subletting, breaking the lease early, or finding someone to take over your lease.
    – take in a roommate to reduce your lease cost if none of those options work.
    – cut costs and prepare to look for work you’d prefer, as Trent said.
    – get out, see friends, meet new people. This is just as important as the financial part.

    Good luck!

  56. Sharon says:

    I also vote for a post about the easily available low-paying jobs. I do know that a gas station done the street had a job available. They got 50 applications.
    So apply for 10 positions, tell them about your BS, just say that your at-home job is a little slow right now so you are looking for some extra cash. See if you get an interview. Also ask how many applications they are getting.

  57. Roberta says:

    This comment is for Tara. I understand what you’re going through regarding not having fun money. I don’t have cable although I did put an antenna in the attic to pull in some regular channels which has worked well. But here’s an idea for a fun night, and this is something that we do every weekend. Get a hold of your public radio station’s program list. In my area, every Saturday night is a jazz program called “Jazz Impressions” that runs from 6-10. From 6-7, I’m cooking dinner and enjoying the first hour. Then from 7 on we all listen as a family while we eat dinner, talk and hang out. It’s really an event in our home each week. I make as nice a meal as we can afford, and set the table, and play the music and enjoy. My son even called in once and won a free cd from the show. You could do something similar. It really lifts my spirits and I look forward to this every week.

  58. Johanna says:

    @Sharon, @GayleRN: It’s worth noting that unemployment is not equally bad everywhere. Iowa has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. So Trent might actually be able to find a job – that’s no proof that someone in another state can find one equally easily.

    On the other hand, what do you want to bet that we’re now going to start hearing that if you’re unemployed, it’s all your fault because you don’t live in Iowa? :)

  59. Lynn says:

    “As for your husband, he should get a job. Any job. I know there is work out there, but it’s often work that people don’t want to do. Check your pride, get a job, and start bringing in some income before you lose what you have left. ”

    I read this yesterday but your site was down for me. While this is true in some areas, I am surprised to hear this on here. You should know that’s not true everywhere. There are places in this country where you *can’t* find a job, even menial labor or scooping poop. “Check your pride” seems to be a very elitist attitude coming from you Trent, which saddens me. :(

  60. Roberta says:

    Re: Lynn. Agreed but as Trent suggests in his latest book, which is free on the kindle right now, he has become somewhat of a celebrity. According to his book, he is friendly with many authors and financial experts, among others.

    I’m sure that the farther away anyone gets from actual financial distress, and the more one rubs elbows with famous people, the less one can relate to someone like Tara. Maybe he could invite some guest bloggers who are still in the trenches so to speak to write occasional posts on “The Simple Dollar” to help keep it real for “the rest of us.” :)

  61. LeahGG says:

    @Sharon – which is another reason why grabbing any little bite of a job or going to a temp agency while job hunting is a good idea. Often people say “but it won’t solve my problem” which is true, instead of seeing it as “but it will get me $50 cash in hand now, and that’s $50 we’re not going to be in debt for and paying interest on”

    I also find it easier to do that when you know that the job you’re doing today isn’t a commitment for next week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *