Reader Mailbag: Quicken

I started using Quicken 2010 recently. I like it. I don’t love it. It does enough frustrating things to sometimes make me not want to use it, but every once in a while, it just clicks and enables you to see some great financial overviews.

The best part? For the first three and a half months of the year, we spent less than we earned even if you include the check written for our new vehicle. That was perhaps the best thing that Quicken showed me.

A more detailed review might be forthcoming if I can find enough truly useful things to say about it.

A year ago, I decided to cut entertainment from my life because I wasted a lot of time on it.

A month ago, I felt I wanted a PS3, I thought that it’s normal and would go, but I was wrong.

That feeling developed into some kind of depression, I couldn’t follow my daily routine, I felt I don’t want to live anymore! I was angry for most of time …etc.

Three weeks and I’ve tried my best to ignore the problem, but I did it and bought a PS3 later. Even before I open the package I felt every thing returned to normal.

Recently I wanted a kind of desserts, badly enough that made me depressed again ( not like before, but similar ).

I want to stop this mess, may be I can finance a PS3 or desserts, but I’m afraid that later I want big things badly like an expensive car which I can’t finance by myself.

Any Suggestions ?
– Andy

You’re in a pretty tough spot for financial success because you’re inherently tying your own happiness to material things. That’s a pattern that can be very difficult to break – trust me. However, you will be much more happy and much more capable of achieving financial success.

I strongly encourage you to spend your spare time not playing with your PS3, but exploring other interests. Try things that have intrigued you in the past but you passed up on because of the influence of others or your own lack of self-confidence.

As long as your sense of happiness and normalcy comes from material things, you will always find it difficult to succeed financially.

I know you are a fan of Magna-Tiles and I am interested in getting some for my daughter for her fourth birthday. I have found several different sets. I am assuming you recommend the $100 set and if I was to choose today, I would go with the clear colored plastic. But since you recommend them I thought I’d ask for particulars. Any insight would be appreciated, as always.
– Ian

My children received the Magna-Tiles 48 piece set (the colored plastic, not the translucent kind) as a Christmas gift a couple years ago. They’re four and two now and the Magna-Tiles are unquestionably their favorite toy. They constantly drag out the set, build all sorts of structures, and then are happy to do it all again the next day.

There are plenty of tiles in the 48-count set to build lots of things and it alone will give you a good indication of whether your children “click” with Magna-Tiles or not. The 100 piece set is quite a bit more expensive.

As for us, a larger set of these tiles is something we’re considering for a future gift for our children.

I have read quite a few bolg but want to ask you the question about how many children one can have and whats the effect of the no. of children in overall finance in you perspective.

Because I personally think that the population can cause the more effect on overall finance of the individual as well as society as resources are limited. This I can surely tell you with my personal experience as I am leaving in India.As you are now moving to your thired child how can you see your personal resposibilty towards controling the popuation overall. Certainly the more no of people adding the stress to resources which ultimately increase the prices of commodities and affect the finance overall.
– Parag

The concern about how more children will affect the world is a macroeconomic question. The information to look at is global population growth rates, which peaked at 2.2% at about 1960 and has declined to around 1% today and is steadily declining. If current trends continue, we will be at zero population growth by 2030 and will possibly dip into negative growth at that point.

The individual decision whether or not to have kids is a microeconomic one, though it’s connected to the larger question. Undoubtedly, society (in a global sense) has changed since 1960 and the value placed on having children has declined. Many more people consciously forego having children. Usually, it’s because they have other interests and values to pursue in life, interests and values that were quite possibly not available to the average person fifty years ago.

My belief is that not having kids for the environment’s sake is simply an easy answer to the complex decision of becoming a parent. The problem with that decision is that many people who are capable enough to understand how complex and challenging it really is often choose not to have children at all, feeling that their life energy is better spent elsewhere. If you’re intelligent enough and insightful enough to seriously begin to question the ecological implications of having a child, you’re the type of person that should be a parent, because what children need more than anything are stable and intelligent guiding hands toward adulthood, and the children that receive that are the ones who inevitably end up moving the world forward.

Adoption might be the best overall answer here, but that has its own problems, mostly borne out of a draconian adoption system.

I have been living in my current city ever since I moved to the US. I however had been lucky to visit other friends in different cities throughout the country. Right now I’m working as a IT contractor for a bank as a help desk analyst. I’ve always wanted to try and move to a different city, for example a city like Chicago. The only thing is that I also have a side mobile dj business. I’ve started this business several years ago and the community now knows me. I feel that if I move, I would have to start from scratch all over to build my clientele. I’m in a niche market in my city so there aren’t too many mobile djs like there are in bigger cities so this gives me an advantage. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have the fear of moving because I feel I would have to start all over again in a new city with my mobile dj business. This has been something I’ve always wanted to do as a child and hopefully one day will be able to do it full time. What should I do?
– Lee

It’s easy: stay where you are and try to build a reputation beyond your city’s borders. Be the absolute best DJ you can be. Use the internet to promote yourself. Hand out cards like crazy when you put on a good show to spread your name around. Do everything you can to maximize your word of mouth.

If you really want to do the mobile DJ thing full time, you have to focus on it. Make everything about the venture as high quality and impressive as possible. Eventually, word of mouth will build for you and you’ll find gigs outside of your local area.

It sounds like you have something of a healthy start where you’re at right now. That’s why you should stick there. Just kick it up a notch.

Lee also asked me something of a follow-up question…

I really don’t know what to do with my life. I went to college and studied Mass Communication. I then moved up to New Jersey to work for a small television production company. I ended up getting burned out and then came back to my hometown. I then worked for the local NBC affiliate here. It was fun however I felt I didn’t have a life as television is a 24/7 business. Afterwards I took some time off and then decided I wanted to be in the travel and tourism business. I worked for AAA in customer service and really had a great time doing that and did that for several years, however the pay wasn’t that great. My brother who works for the same bank that I do recommended my name to a manager who was looking for someone in technical support. I went for the interview and got the job. Today I work on the help desk troubleshooting computer problems. I enjoy certain aspects of the job, but other times I feel its so boring and it feels like a dead-end job. I am very customer service driven and am a people person. I sometimes contemplate going back to AAA but then I think about the amount of money I’m getting paid now. I just don’t know what to do? I have looked into other fields of study but don’t know if I want to start back all over again. I’m soon going to be turning 30 and feel pressured that I haven’t done anything with my life and all my friends are getting married and know what they are doing with their lives. Any or all help would be most appreciated.
– Lee

I think the answer to the previous question is what you should be looking at. You dream of doing the DJ business full time, but you’re letting your energy and focus drain away in all of these other areas.


Find a job that pays reasonably well that you can do while keeping as much energy and focus and time as possible for the business you dream about. Don’t let that job grind you down. Do what you need to do there and focus your thoughts and energy on building what you really want. Look at the other job as something you spend time each day doing simply to keep food on the table. You. Are. A. DJ. The other job? It just helps pay the bills.

I am hitting the time of year when recruitment season is on in my chosen profession, and every year I face a dilemma about what to do. I love my job, but it is a non-union job and I am making about 20k less than I could be. The problem is, the union jobs are very hard to get. Last year was the first year I even got on the eligibility list and then they did not have jobs. The other issue is that I have certain freedoms in my non-union job that I would not have if I took a union contract, such as more money to spend on supplies and equipment, and a boss who pretty much lets me do whatever I want to. I feel in some ways that the union job would constrain me in ways that would affect my quality of life. But 20k is a lot of extra money. I am doing okay on what I am making because I am careful, but there is no denying that 20k plus the union benefits is a big deal. I have a special qualification that is in greater demand than the general one and I have been told it is likely the union will offer me at least a half-time position for next year. Everyone is saying take it and thank your lucky stars. But my problem is that when I think about what my ideal job would be, it pretty much is the job I have right now, but with more money. And that is not really a possibility. I am torn, as I am every year at about this time, about what to do. I know I will get a 2% raise this year if I stay at my current job but that still will leave me very under-payed. On the other hand, except for the money issue, I really do love the job…
– Joanna

What do you need the money for? Do you have financial needs that are un-met?

If you’re happy with your job and the state of your life right now, don’t switch. You’re switching for money, which mostly just means more stuff and more taxes, and giving up big aspects of your job that you like.

Do you really need the money? From this, I don’t think you do, at least not in comparison with the personal value you get out of your current job. I’d stay there.

My brother-in-law and his wife are trying to buy a home, but have no down payment. They need $5,200 and have asked us for it. DH and I have been blessed recently with decent-paying (albeit time-consuming and sometimes stressful) jobs. They have very low-paying jobs that they love and live on government assistance. On the one hand, I feel like their lifestyle is a choice that they have made (to work fun jobs in exchange for living on less money). On the other hand, they are family and we want to help them. They are not entirely frivolous with money, but they do enjoy nice things that even we can’t afford (flat screen TV, $18k new car, etc.) We technically have the funds, but it would take every dime of savings and leave no emergency fund for us (not even a baby one.) We are still working on our own debt repayment from college, but with our new jobs we should be able to be debt-free by fall 2010. What would you say to someone with great cash-flow, but little savings in this case?
– Em

Don’t loan money to family members.

Think about it this way. Do you have lots of strong, warm, fuzzy feelings for your lenders? Probably not. You view them as a necessary evil and see them as just a source for cash.

Is that the type of feeling you want to add to your relationship with your brother-in-law and his wife?

If you want to give them the money, give them the money. Call it a one-time gift. Or give them part of the money. Just don’t become their lender.

The Tea Party movement is getting a lot of attention in the media right and while I don’t buy into the whole “real America” aspect of it, I am interested in smaller government and less taxes. I heard someone quoting numbers like “we pay over 70% of our income to taxes” which sounded a little high to me – he was even including sales tax. How would you compute how total tax you pay (income, FICA, social security, state, local, sales, etc)?
– Lisa

On a direct basis, most people don’t pay 70% of their income in taxes. Income, FICA, state, and local taxes rarely add up to 40% or more – on occasion they do, but not always. Property taxes can take another 5% or so, as can sales taxes.

The idea that taxes take up 70% of a person’s income comes from indirect taxes. If a corporation pays 10% of its revenue in income taxes, then 10% of the sticker price of an item you buy from that company goes to taxes. If your local grocery store has to pay some proportion of their employee’s income in payroll taxes, that’s reflected in higher prices on the shelves.

Does that add up to 70% of our income? I think you could argue about that until you’re blue in the face, but I at least see where they’re coming from. They’re simply moving all business taxes and other such taxes onto the customer’s tax burden.

We have an aggressive plan to pay off our mortgage in the next seven years (we just bought a place last month). One option we have been debating is to re-cast the mortgage for a lower amount by paying down around 20% of the mortgage. The other option is to make extra mortgage payments but keep the loan amount the same. Is there one option you would recommend over the other?
– Sag

Most likely, the first option is better.

Your best bet is to pay as much extra as soon as you can if your goal is to pay off the mortgage as fast as possible. If you can afford to throw a significant amount at the mortgage right now, that’s a better move than doling it out slowly over time.

Why? The lower your principal on your loan is, the less interest you’re charged each month. If you knock off 20% of the balance of the mortgage right now, your monthly interest payments go down 20%. So, let’s say you hypothetically have a payment of $1,000, of which $800 is interest and $200 is principal, if you make that big payment now, your future payments immediately jump to $640 interest and $360 principal.

Do you drink? What’s your take on alcohol?
– Aaron

I drink small amounts, usually socially. I like to drink a glass of red wine with dinner and I’ll sometimes have a beer at a social occasion. I do enjoy making my own beer, but I mostly just share it with friends.

I don’t really feel the need to always drink at a social occasion – in fact, at most of the ones I attend, I don’t drink.

Moderate red wine consumption may help protect against certain cancers and heart disease, and can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels and blood pressure. And, again, I’m talking about moderate – a glass with supper.

I have no interest in getting “drunk” and losing control of my faculties. That’s just unpleasant to me.

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.

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