Updated on 10.03.11

Reader Mailbag: Scheduling Events

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. Student loan payoff or Roth?
2. Should we refinance?
3. Discrimination and temp rights
4. In college and in debt
5. Exhaustion
6. Debt and disability
7. Multi-level marketing
8. Fixing an iPod battery
9. CSA question
10. Favorite authors

I’m always amazed by the difficulty of scheduling things. For us, it seems like we’ll have long stretches without many irregular events to schedule, then we’ll suddenly have a period of a week or two with so many events that we have to synchronize our watches and even turn down some events.

Right now, we’re in one of those “heavy” periods. In a few weeks, we’ll wonder where all of the hustle and bustle went.

Q1: Student loan payoff or Roth?
My situation is that I’m a 3rd year graduate student getting a PhD in inorganic chemistry, I get paid a stipend of $25k a year and my tuition is paid for, allowing me to save roughly $400 a month. I have about $85k in student loans from my undergrad (nearly all of it subsidized while I’m in school with an interest rate of 6.8%). Because I have a stipend and not a true job, I have no option of contributing to a 401k. Should I start paying off my student loans with my extra $400 a month, invest in a Roth IRA, or a combination of the two? I already have a emergency fund of $1000 and I know that saving for retirement as early as possible is best for the long term, but I have tons of loans to pay off when I finish school. Any help would be greatly appreciated

– John

I would not worry about retirement savings until you’re out of school and have a job. Instead, I’d focus on doing what I could to make sure that I have minimal student loans as I came out of school.

The biggest reason for that is that you need to make sure your bills are minimized as you enter that period where you’re trying to establish a career foothold. This is a really challenging period and the last thing you need here is larger bills than necessary, because you may find yourself taking relatively low paying jobs at this point (like a post-doc).

Focus on retirement later on when you have a good career in place. Until then, focus on making it to that point.

Q2: Should we refinance?
My husband and I are both in our 30s, and have stable government jobs with good benefits. We bought a tiny (668sq ft) house 3 years ago for $122K and currenly owe $112K on our home loan. The loan is an FHA 30 year fixed. We’re paying 5.875%. The county assessor values the house at $92,700. We each have government retirement (TSP) with $11K in his and $7K in mine, plus I have $30K in an IRA. We have a combined total of $30K in our checking account. We have no debt other than the home loan, and no children. We live very frugally and don’t need to have that much cash in our checking for an emergency fund, and with the poor performance of the market right now it looks like we should use some of that money to refinance.

As we’ve started to look at refinancing, we’re finding that the FHA streamline is a desirable option because it doesn’t require an assessment. The 30 year is at 3.75% right now. If we do pay to have the house assessed, it would be a $300-$400 expense out of pocket, and we may find that the house is worth even less. The snag of the FHA streamline however is that the closing costs due at signing are around $5600, and we will have to pay mortgage insurance for a required 5 years before the bank will look at the loan to value ratio to determine whether we can stop paying it. We have already been paying PMI for 3 years and the 5 year “clock” will start over if we refi. We pay $52 a month for mortgage insurance now. The estimated lower payment with the 3.75% rate is $241 less/month, so it would take 23.6 months to recoup the out of pocket refi costs.

Also, my father is in a position to loan us money at a lower interest rate so that we can pay down the loan to value ratio and try to do away with the mortgage insurance sooner. He’s mentioned a $20K loan at 2%. (We would do the loan formally, with a written contract with him regarding the terms.) As we currently have an FHA loan, we can’t do away with the mortgage insurance for the next 2 years (at which time we will have carried the insurance for 5 years and can look into not paying it, if we have paid off 20% of the value.) Is this 20% rule considering the value of the loan? Or the value of the home?

If we look at a traditional refi, we will need to have an assessment done and the rate isn’t as low. I was quoted 3.99%. So, what should we do? And in what order? We could keep the loan we have to be done with PMI sooner and not pay out of pocket closing costs, while taking advantage of the loan from my father to pay $20K off. We could refi and use some of the $ from our checking to pay the $5600. We could pay for an assessment to find out if the value is higher than the county claims-but would it gain us anything? Would you be in a rush to be done with the PMI?
– Margaret

The 20% value you mention is typically the assessed value of the home. The mortgage holder and/or the insurance company will want to reassess your home before they relieve you of the insurance. They’ll use that assessed value to determine if you have to continue to pay. Typically, there’s a “grace period” of a year or two where you don’t have to have a reassessment and use the initial assessment as the value, but you’re probably out of that period.

If your goal is to get rid of the PMI as fast as possible, I would probably talk to the bank, request an assessment, then borrow enough to cover the difference between what you owe now and that 80% threshold. While I’m not usually a fan of borrowing from family, if you’re going to do it, the best way to do it is with a contract.

You will probably not be able to get a traditional refinancing unless the amount you owe is less than the assessed value of the home, which means that you’d want the balance of your home loan to be significantly lower than what it is now. Thus, I wouldn’t worry about the refinancing until I eliminated the PMI anyway.

Q3: Discrimination and temp rights
I am a 35-year-old woman who makes my living as a writer. I recently sold two books to Love Inspired Historical and had been working from home on freelance writing jobs. However, recently the pipeline of jobs began to dry up–the SEO conent companies I have written for have all vanished, and the small company I was writing web content for abruptly fired me when they had a “cash flow” problem–and I never got my last paycheck.

Two months ago, I found out I was pregnant with our second child. My plan was to work through the pregnancy and stay home with the baby, which is what I did with our first child. About a month ago, I was given a temp job as a proofreader for a marketing company. The hours were awful (1pm to 10pm Monday through Friday with expected overtime) and the commute was bad too (an hour roundtrip). But my husband and I agreed I would take the job so that the last six months of pregnancy, I wouldn’t have to work at all.

Three days into my new job, I found out I lost the baby. I stayed home 2 days that week without pay (and with my supervisor’s permission). I was scheduled for a D&C this past Monday but actually had the miscarriage Sunday afternoon through Tuesday, so I missed two additional days. These days were already excused as it was assumed I would be recovering from surgery. Yesterday before leavig for work, I was informed by my temp agency that my miscarriage was creating a “distraction” for the department and they were going to find a new temp. So essentially, I lost my second child on Monday, and lost my job Friday. Worst week ever doesn’t even begin to explain it.

Several friends have told me to sue the company for discrimination, but as a temp, I feel I have few rights. My question is, what should I do now? I had the next year mapped out, and now I have no job, no baby on the way–everything has changed and I am in complete shock. I don’t know if I should try for another temp job, stay home and write my second book and then write more books to self-pub, or what. We have our $1000 emergency fund, my husband has a steady job as an engineer that covers the essentials (but not the extras which is why I work). We had planned to save up that 3 months’ emergency fund and dump debt but now that feels completely derailed. Everything is derailed, and it’s so hard not to be furious at my ex-employer. I actually felt guilty for missing work for my miscarriage. Had I known I was going to be fired, I would just quit and save myself the trouble.
– Monica

Yes, you should absolutely contact a lawyer based on the information you’ve shared here. If this is truly the full picture of the situation, you likely have grounds for some sort of legal action against this company.

As for what you should do with your time now, I would involve your husband in that discussion. A key part of the discussion is what you want to do. Another key part is the expectations that you both have for the roles in your marriage.

If I were in your shoes, if I were passionate about the writing, I would push that for a while as legal processes moved forward with the employment situation.

Q4: In college and in debt
I am 21 years old, I have lost my scholarship and I am trying to get it back, I have lost help from my parents for paying for things I need and things I need for college, and I have a maxed out credit of 1000 with a maxed out L.O.C. of 500. I just recently lost my job at this restaurant, I was a server… I need things for my room before Winter hits, like a comforter, a lamp, and a shelf. I need some money to wash my clothes that have been piling up… I just feel so overwhelmed that I don’t know how to get myself out of this hole. I try and pray for God’s guidance but maybe I need to pray more. I also owe money to online store I ordered stuff from…

Can you give me some tips? I want to become a Zumba instructor but that costs 275 dollars for training…
– Rachel

The first thing you need to do is get another job. You need some income coming in, no matter what form it takes. Get out there, beat the pavement, and find something to occupy yourself and generate some revenue.

The next thing you need to do is whack away at those debts. If you owe thousands in consumer credit, you need to get rid of it as efficiently as you can. Don’t buy a single thing unless you absolutely need it.

Get those two things out of the way first and foremost. You’ll find that once you get through this difficult stretch, things will be a lot better on the other side.

Q5: Exhaustion
I spend almost every day feeling completely tired, except for the evenings. It’s so intense that it’s interfering with my work and my time with my family. What can I do to deal with this?

– Erin

The first thing I’d check is whether I was getting adequate sleep. If you’re getting less than seven hours on average, you need to sleep more, period. Some people require an average of eight or even nine hours of sleep to function well. Don’t squeeze in another half hour of household tasks or a half hour of a hobby in the evening if it means exhausted misery the next day. Go to sleep.

If you’re not getting good sleep, figure out why. There are lots of tactics for improving your sleep, from drinking warm milk to taking a warm shower before bed.

Another useful tactic for exhaustion is to exercise more. By getting your heart rate up and kicking your metabolism a bit, you can make yourself feel more energetic.

If none of that works, talk to a doctor. You might have a vitamin or mineral deficiency or there may be some other cause.

Q6: Debt and disability
Recently I went out on disability, and I have a lot of debt. I have $22k in credit card, and $65k in student loan. Right now I get $674, but in january I will get $1,250. i can’t afford my debts. What should i do? Should I file for bankruptcy? I have a muscular disorder, and I don’t know when I will be back to work again.

– Emma

The first thing you need to do is write to the people holding your student loans and request that they put your loans on forbearance. Generally, you don’t have to pay on your student loans if you’re disabled or not gainfully employed.

As for the credit cards, you may want to try a similar tactic. In this case, you’re more interested in finding a payment plan that will make it easier for you to pay the bills. Simply call up your credit card holders and discuss your situation with them.

I don’t think bankruptcy will be necessary if you take these steps and find success with them.

Q7: Multi-level marketing
I have been reading yours and several other personal finance blogs. As a part time sidejob, I want to get involved in financial education. I saw an ad for [a known MLM group], and at first the position seemed interesting.

However, after listening to their pitch, I realized it was more of a multi-market deal, where you own a business, ands sell their products. In fact, the whole meeting I had with them made me feel like I was being sold a used a car.

Have you heard of [this group]? Do you have any thoughts on them? Are there other companies that do something like they do, however, are more reputable?
– Ron

I chose to excise the specific name of this group from this email because often when you mention companies that use specific MLM tactics, you find yourself facing a lot of ardent defenders of that company.

In general, I encourage people to avoid such companies. Success with multi-level marketing requires a very specific skill set (including very good people persuasion skills) and, if you don’t have those skills, you’re going to be a very low earner. Beyond that, people who do have the skills to succeed at MLM can make a killing in other fields.

Not only that, MLM often requires people to sell to their friends, which puts a financial pressure on a friendship that often results in resentment. I’ve experienced this myself and witnessed it more times than I can count.

Q8: Fixing an iPod battery
I read recently in one of your posts that you learned how to fix your own iPod battery. Mine died awhile ago and I didn’t even know salvaging it was a possibility! I was wondering how you did this and/or if you could provide some links that might be helpful in this situation?

– Nicole

There are a lot of techniques out there for replacing iPod batteries. I was able to successfully do it myself. However, it’s important to note that such tactics will completely void your warranty and if you do it and mess up, you’re going to wind up with a non-functional iPod.

This site offers a collection of videos on how to replace the batteries of some specific iPod models. Other models (particularly iPod Touch models) are much more tricky. For example, here’s how to replace iPod Touch batteries.

If it’s just sitting in a drawer, it probably makes no difference to you if you accidentally damage it and you might end up with a functional iPod again. In that case, it’s probably worth it.

Q9: CSA question
I buy a Community Supported Agriculture share, or CSA. I pay about $30/wk for a box of 30 lbs of organic local produce. It runs for 6 months from June-December. But, when we are on vacation for a week we end up giving it away, if the weather is bad we get less or odd items, plus we have to pay for it way in advance and all at once (over $700 in the January prior). We also eat a lot of kale. We get the fruit share which is $15/wk for about 2 bags of organic local fruit- not as great of a bargain but it is really tasty. Same risks as the vegetable share though. What are your thoughts about this from a financial perspective? We do eat every bite, or freeze it to eat in the spring when the share’s not in season (kale soup year round!).

– Mary

My experience has been that they’re well worth it if you commit to using everything that you get and if you don’t travel much (meaning few “vacation” weeks where you miss a week’s share).

However, as you mention, there is the issue of having weeks where the selection is a bit odd. You have to more or less live with what you get. However, you’re getting 30 pounds of vegetables for $30, which is almost always a bargain.

Our philosophy is that you simply plan your meals around what you get. Pick up your pack, figure out what you have, plan out some meals, then do your grocery shopping based on what’s in the pack. If you can’t use everything, freeze the rest and use it later.

Q10: Favorite authors
Like you, I’m a voracious reader. One thing I like to do is to really dig into an author when I’m reading. I’ll often ask friends who their favorite authors are, then dig into those authors.

Which brings me to a fairly obvious question. Who are your favorite authors?
– James

I’ll make this really easy. Here are my ten favorite authors. Each of them is linked to their author page at Amazon so you can find out more about them and see all the books they’ve written.

Haruki Murakami. Michael Chabon. Brandon Sanderson. George R. R. Martin. Neal Stephenson. Dan Simmons. Jon Ronson. Malcolm Gladwell. Edmund Morris. Michael Lewis.

If you can’t find something to read in there, I’m not sure I can help you.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Other Jonathan says:

    Q4 – As far as a lamp and a shelf, both of those are things that can be acquired for near-free or even for free. Check Craigslist and check yard sales. Ignore what they look like, don’t buy the cuter one that costs a lot more.

  2. Johanna says:

    Q1: Since you have a stipend rather than “earned income,” it’s quite likely that you aren’t eligible to contribute to an IRA (Roth or otherwise) anyway. Check with your university (or whoever pays your salary) to make sure.

    Trent, why do you keep saying that postdoc positions are “relatively low-paying jobs”? Or I guess the question is, “relative to what?” Relative to a job in industry, the pay is not great, but relative to a grad-school stipend, you feel like you are on top of the world. If John has $400/month ($4800/year) left over out of his $25k salary, he’s doing pretty well. If he can keep living like a grad student once he starts making $40-50k or more as a postdoc, he will have plenty of money to pay his bills.

  3. Wendy says:

    Q4 – it sounds like you’re in a tough spot.

    For laundry can you hand wash some clothes in a sink and air dry? You can use shampoo or dish soap in a pinch which sounds like where you’re at.

    This is tough for towels but if you’re in a dorm or have roommates ask if you can throw a towel or two into one of their loads. Perhaps offer to do a load laundry for them in exchange.

    For a comforter, lamp and shelf try freecycle or Craigslist free posts first. Worry about an “upgrade” on them later when you’re not in debt and not in such dire straits.

    Have you looked for on campus jobs? I found the one I stayed with during my undergrad by calling departments and asking if they needed any help. I went through about 20 before I got an offer to come in and meet with them and that turned into a wonderful work experience.

  4. valleycat1 says:

    Q9 – If you want to continue the CSA, why not see if any of your friends or family would be interested in trying it out by taking your delivery for the week(s) you’re on vacation & pay you the weekly cost, instead of just giving the food away.

    Kale is also tasty sprayed or brushed with oil & roasted in the oven. I also just found a kale, spinach, & parsley salad (equal amounts of each) with a peanutty/oriental style dressing.

  5. Johanna says:

    Q4: To build on what Wendy said, you could try talking to someone at your college’s financial aid office. At the very least, they might be able to help you find an on-campus work-study job.

  6. Robin S says:

    Q4 – It can be really frustrating and overwhelming to realize how much things really cost when you set out financially on your own. Realize that you’re not alone in your situation – even if your parents, etc aren’t as helpful as you might like, lots of other people have had this happen to them before.

    First, consider what is really necessary – food, shelter, basic clothes. Focus on those first.
    You can definitely wash your clothes in a sink or a tub with basic soap and air dry them. It’s not optimal, but it will get the job done. You’ll probably have to do them every day and not let them pile up.

    Are you in a dorm? Do you pay utilities? You probably don’t need a comforter if you don’t pay utilities, you can turn up the heat. As long as you have basic bedsheets you’ll be fine. If you really need it, try Freecycle or Goodwill.

    Have you talked to financial aid at your college? They could he helpful with finding loans to replace your scholarship and maybe arranging for a work-study position.

    Now isn’t the time to invest in becoming a Zumba instructor. It doesn’t sound like a dream, it sounds like a job and there are lots of jobs that don’t require that kind of investment that will help to get you off your feet for now.

    Cut up your credit cards and stop ordering things. Now just isn’t the time for that for you.

    Yes, its hard, and yes, it won’t be fun. But know that lots of people have been there before you, and they got through it. You will, too. The most important thing right now is to get more money coming in and less money going out. Really analyze the things you need, and remember that there will be time for wants after you’ve stabilized your finances.

  7. JS says:

    Q1: Assuming you can contribute to a Roth IRA (I was able to in grad school but everyone’s circumstances are different), I would put at least some of the money in there. There are lots of options for whacking away student loan debt, but there’s no way to make up lost time and compound interest without investing significantly more money in there. A Roth IRA also doubles as an emergency fund.

    Q4: Can you return the stuff you bought at the online store? Every little bit helps. I also recommend thrift stores- you can probably find everything you’re looking for there. If you can’t find a comforter, you could buy some warm clothes from the thrift store to sleep in instead-since you don’t need to look nice while sleeping, pretty much the whole of the store is open to you.

  8. JS says:

    @valleycat1- I agree. We do something similar with my husband’s parents- we split the cost of a share and divide up the produce. And kale is indeed awesome- we like it sauteed in olive oil and vinegar and served with carrots and slivered almonds. Served with bread, it makes a great and quick dinner.

  9. Sonja says:

    Q3 – Monica. I am very sorry to read of your miscarriage. I know you are trying to figure out what to do next, but the first thing you need to do is take some time to heal. Your body has been through a shock and your hormones levels will take time to adjust to not being pregnant. And you have experienced a profound loss. You need to give yourself time to grieve.
    The loss of the job is a blow, but the hours and commute were lousy. I disagree with Trent on this – I don’t think you have any protection under the law for termination from a temporary job unless you had a contract. I think legal action will cost you money and keep you focused on a sad time.
    It will get better.

  10. D says:

    Q3 – I’m a lawyer and if you live in an at will state and you have worked in your temp company for less than a year, you may not necessarily have a claim against the temp company. FMLA leave doesn’t kick in until you have been working at the company for a year for an average of 25 hours a week. FMLA protects people from being fired for taking medical leave (including for pregnancies) only if they meet certain requirements.

    This is not to discourage you, but I just didn’t want you to waste too much time and money hiring a lawyer if you didn’t have a claim to pursue.

  11. Becky says:

    Q3, Monica, I am so sorry. You know best how you personally recover from an emotional blow, whether through rest and recuperation, staying busy, fighting for a righteous cause, etc. Whatever you need, do it. Since your husband is bringing in enough money for your family to survive, taking care of yourself, whatever that looks like for you, is the wisest thing you can do for your family right now.

    I would be careful to do plenty of checking before you decide you have a legal case. Temp workers have few rights. I’ve been there.

  12. valleycat1 says:

    Comments #9, 10 & 11 +1

  13. jim says:

    Q2 : Refinancing seems like a good idea. The $5600 closing cost from FHA seems very high. I’d expect closer to half that for closing. I’d shop around for terms.

    Q3 Monica: Sorry for your loss. Please do not feel guilty about missing work, this was entirely out of your control and nobody should be expected to work through such a thing. I’m not a lawyer but this is what I gather from researching the topic online. Unfortunately I think the others are right and you may not have any grounds to sue. In addition to D’s statement I found a lawyer online said : “But in almost every state, the employer has a lawful right to terminate an employee for absences even where the absences are not the “fault” or within the “control” of the employee. That legal principle is loosely based on the old adage that the first requirement of every job is to show up.” And that was in response to someone fired after missing work due to a miscarriage. One possible exception is if you have some evidence that the employer does not terminate anyone else for missing the same amount of work. e.g. if your coworkers routinely miss work and are not terminated and you get fired for missing a couple days then there could be basis for discrimination on some ground since they did not treat you equally. You may want to contact a lawyer in any case to see what they say. But you may not want to spend cash up front (lawyer consult fee) into pursuing such a claim since it may just be a waste of money.

    Q6 : Call the banks for the debt and see what they can do for you.

    If any of your loans are subsidized stafford loans then you’d want to request to DEFER your loans not forbearance. You should qualify to defer the loans due to temporary disability. For subsidized stafford loans interest does not accrue during a deferal, but interest always builds during forbearance.
    Also look into formally discharging the student loans if your disability is a permanent one. Student loans can be discharged (forgiven/wiped out) if you’re disabled permanently.

    Call the banks that hold your credit card debt and see what they can do to help your situation.

    If its a permanent disability then bankdruptcy may be in order. But ti would depend on your situation. We don’t know if you’re single/married or if you have any assets etc. I’m assuming you’re single with no significant assets so bankruptcy would be likely option if its permanent disability. But hopefully you don’t have to go that path and can get back to normal sooner rather than later.

    Q7 : Avoid it. If it sounds like used car sales then you don’t want to be involved. No matter how they try and twist it to sound like it isn’t MLM its probably just a scammy pyramid shaped scheme where 99% of the people involved lose money.

  14. Brittany says:

    I feel like we’re missing some information about Rachel Q4’s situation. At the same time, she lost her scholarship, her job, and help from her parents. I’m not suggesting massive blame and something crappy things do all hit the fan at once, but sometimes, we also take actions that cause the domino effect. If there IS a reason for the triple-hit other than bad luck, resolving it may be the first step in getting back on track. If you made a mistake that resulted in these things, what can be done to resolve them? (For example, if you screwed up academically, what do you need to do to get back on track to get your scholarship back?) I don’t mean to offend if there’s not an underlying cause, but if there is, honestly confronting it may be necessary to restablish yourself. Talk to a counselor or trusted adviser, talk to your academic advisor, talk to your ex-boss (if it’s your fault, a sincere apology may help you get your job back or at least get a good reference; if it’s the economy’s fault, you might still get the reference), talk to financial aid, etc. Basically, if you’re swithing tracks, get support and let people know, and they may be willing to give you a 2nd chance. If you weren’t off track to begin with and you’re just on a run a bad luck, those closest to you may want to support however they can.

    Also, despite not being religious, I think there’s some truth to the adage “God helps those who help themselves.” If praying helps you refocus and gives you strength, great. But it must be paired with conscious action to make progress.

  15. Des says:

    Q4 – I would argue that the very first thing she should do is wash her clothes! Another commenter suggested hand washing in the bathtub or sink. You can wash clothes with dish soap or shampoo – or even just water if that’s all you have for now! Wash the clothes, hang dry them, then check that item off your list. Baby steps. Getting anything done will boost your self-esteem right now and make you feel less overwhelmed.

  16. praveen says:

    Q4- First of all I don’t know about your situation. It might sound judgmental based on limited information. I agree with most of the suggestions. I have a different take on it. How did you end up in this situation? You lost your scholarship, lost job in restaurant, your parents stopped helping you, you ordered some stuff online which you couldn’t afford. It might be that all these are coincidental based on economy but I find it more of a systemic problem. First try to look into how and where things went wrong and what you could do about it. Praying may or may not help but your honest analysis will help you look further in longterm.

  17. Emma says:

    At #4Hello, I think I know how you lost scholarship- you didn’t maintain the required average grades,it isn’t easy. Hope you are not at one those private or for profit collages. If so, transfer to state or city collage. Even if you have to take a break for one semester(Not more). It is hard to work and study, depending on what you study. Sciences usually required a lot of work. Get the advices above- wash all your clothes in a sink, icuding bed sheets and towels. Hang the when in the morning before school over two chairs. No need to buy anything. Place an add on a school board. Students throw away tons on stuff when going home for breaks, ask senior students who are leaving schools- they do not bring stuff back home. Ask the church pastor.I would have given you the whole bedding- and I am sure if you ask -others would offer the same. People like to help in real situations. Got 99 cents stores around you? Do not spend a penny for washing and drying. Take your bras and panties to the shower with you. Wash them by hand while showering every day. Dry in a towel after you dry yourself. No towel? No problem, get a cotton shirt or and old sheet. I see that you never experience shortages of things in your young life. Stay healthy. Communicate with people, talk to dean of students. Sorry about your situation, but you might learn a lot from it.

  18. Nina says:

    Q3: My condolences for your loss. As an HR professional, please allow me to add my 2-cents. One of the things people do not always think about when considering a discriminatory claim is “how much” is it going to cost you in terms of your time, your stress level and the overall negativity involved in resolving the claim. Your integrity and character may be called into question during the process. Be prepared that in most cases, attorneys will be hired to defend the claim and it will be their job to discredit you. It is a terribly negative situation. Even though I sit at the employer’s side of the table, I sometimes feel really sorry for the employee who filed the claim. Yes, I do understand that at times, employers do not follow the rules and may fire an employee for the wrong reason. I also support the employee’s right to file a claim. But, be prepared that if you do file a claim, it will not go away quickly or without some pain involved. No employer is going to just pull out their checkbook and ask “how much do we owe you”?, even if they KNOW they are at fault. So, please carefully consider everything before making your decision and if you do decide to file a claim, prepare yourself for the roll-coaster ride. Best of luck to you!

  19. Kris says:

    Re Q10, sorry to see no woman authors!

  20. deRuiter says:

    Q3, You were a temp in your first week of temping. How can you possibly have a “case” of discrimination against the employer or the temp agency? Companies hire a temp because thery need someone immediately, possibly for a short time. If the temp doesn’t work out for whatever reason, the company calls the temp agency and asks for a new temp. The company may also be searching for a new, permanent employee and they did not find that you suited them. I bet you don’t have any case. Beware of paying money to a lawyer who says, “Yes, I will represent you in this matter.” which is lawyerese for “You haven’t the chance of a snowball in Hell of winning but I will take your retainer and as much of your other money as I can before you smarten up and see you can’t win this one.” It was a TEMP job, for goodness sake, and you sounded negative about it, whining about the commute and the hours. You would have been let go anyway with that negative attitude. “Everything is derailed, and it’s so hard not to be furious at my ex-employer.” Why be furious at your temp employer? Why are you not furious at the writing company which “… abruptly fired me when they had a “cash flow” problem–and I never got my last paycheck.” You have a legitimate complaint with not being paid for your work and yet you’re not contemplating suing this company. I think you think you are entitled to some grand amount of money from the harmless company which tried to hire you as a temp. You were a temp, and for whatever reason, you didn’t show up when they needed you. You did not have a long history of working for the company, you had no extended realtionship with them. You worked two days and then stayed out four days, you were negative about the conditions of the job. I would have declined your services and hired another temp myself.

  21. Kevin says:

    @Monica: I’m sorry for your loss, but I agree with the other commenters in that I don’t think you have a case. I’m pretty sure the company knows its legal rights, and didn’t take the decision to fire you lightly. They would have checked with their own lawyer first to make sure they weren’t running afoul of any labour laws. All pursuing this will do is drag out a painful memory, and probably cost you money in legal fees, with no hope of a positive outcome. All that for a far-away job with crappy hours? Put it behind you.

    Also, all MLMs are scams. Every single one of them. Never, ever, ever get involved with any MLMs ever.

  22. AnnJo says:

    Q3, Monica,
    Many employment law lawyers will provide a free consultation and most states have agencies tasked with pursuing discrimination cases, so rather than rely on the advice of commenters on a blog, you can get more informed advice from them if you’re really interested in going forward with a claim. An employer can turn a lawful firing into an unlawful one based only on motivation, and the claim that your miscarriage was “a distraction” might suggest an improper motive.

    That being said, the “distraction” comment was second-hand and may not have been accurate, and who knows who said it or why. Moreover, although you were fired from the temp job, you didn’t say you were taken off the rolls of the temp agency, who is really your employer. Personally, I think a claim would be a stressful waste of time, but you need to satisfy yourself on that.

  23. AnnJo says:

    Q2 re refinancing.

    You have $50,000 to work with ($20,000 2% loan from relative, $30,000 cash). Set aside $10,000 for emergency fund, you have $40,000 working capital.

    If you pay that $40,000 down on your current mortgage, you will take it from $112,000 to $72,000, and your lender may not require a re-appraisal to take off your PMI, but even if they do, that lower balance is likely to qualify. (Check with your lender.)

    You will save 3.875% on $20,000 (your Dad’s loan) or $775 a year. You will save 5.875% on $20,000, or $1175 a year on your contribution to the pay-down. You will save about $650 a year on PMI. Total, about $2,600 a year. You will pay a little over 2% more interest on the remaining $72,000, compared to what you would pay if you refinanced with FHA, or about $1,500 a year (decreasing as you pay down the loan).

    So if you just pay down your current mortgage and get the PMI off, you’ll have a net savings per year of about $1,100, plus the one-time savings of the $5,600 in closing costs. The saved $1100 is going into paying down the principal of your loan faster, so you’ll be done with your mortgage at least 7-8 years earlier than if you refinanced. (I haven’t done the calcs; it might be more than that.)

    I wouldn’t waste $5,600 on refinancing. Your monthly payments will be higher than if you refinanced (because you’ll be repaying your Dad) but it sounds like cash flow isn’t a problem for you so the issue is what’s the best financial investment.

    A quibble about terminology:

    Trent, the “assessed” value of a home is the value placed on it by the local tax assessor for purposes of property tax assessments. Depending on the jurisdiction, the assessed value may be a rough approximation of fair market value or may be reduced by various deductions. There is never a charge imposed for finding the “assessed” value; anyone can look it up in the assessor’s records, often online.

    Lenders usually rely on the “appraised” value of a home, performed by a private appraiser and intended to reflect fair market value. The cost of the appraisal is usually charged to the borrower. If the loan requested is far below the assessed value, a lender may choose to skip getting an appraisal, but that’s pretty rare these days, since in rapidly rising or falling markets the assessed and appraised values can be quite different.

  24. Jon says:

    Q9: I think I’m going to have to start selling shares in my garden output. I’ve been giving it away for free all summer.

  25. Karen says:

    I enjoy and appreciate your well-informed comments, such that now I purposely look for them. Thank you for your contributions!

  26. Andrew says:

    Trent–Bravo on Haruki Murakami! Few writers are as creative and fascinating.

    IQ84 is being published later this month and for me it’s a must-buy.

  27. Kerry D. says:

    Q9: I love the idea of CSA but it was quite costly compared to buying at our local farmers market; it came with predominantly leafy greens (do I need spinach, chard, kale and another green I’ve forgotten, in the same box, with just a couple apples on the side) Too expensive and odd choices and proportions. (We live in the CA Bay Area, with heavenly weather for agriculture.) So, even though it is a lovely idea, I’m committing to grow my own and visiting the Farmer’s Market.

  28. kristine says:

    Q5- Q%- Go to the doctor and get tested for Lyme’s disease if you live near the woods. Fatigue is the first symptom-most peopel never notice a bite or rash. Waiting weeks to try other things first can be the difference between antibiotics, or permanent damage. Someone I know has an antibiotic semi-permanent drip put into her heart because they took too long to find out the problem. She can’t have any more kids, etc. etc. Get tested. If it is interfering with your life, it deserves quick attention. Could be a low-level cold, or depression, or just about anything. But if it is a possibility, get tested for Lyme disease right away.

  29. jackowick says:

    Johanna: “Trent, why do you keep saying that postdoc positions are “relatively low-paying jobs”? Or I guess the question is, “relative to what?” “Relative to a job in industry, the pay is not great, but relative to a grad-school stipend, you feel like you are on top of the world. If John has $400/month ($4800/year) left over out of his $25k salary, he’s doing pretty well. If he can keep living like a grad student once he starts making $40-50k or more as a postdoc, he will have plenty of money to pay his bills.”

    Relative to… most jobs, that’s not a lot of money. You can only “live like a grad student” so long before you start to plan on other things, such as shoring up retirement, raising a family or other goals. I was on the fat of the land when I got my first “salaried” job at $23K a year, but I had other long term goals to keep pushing it up.

    So my advice would be to work on a savings habit, whether he is elligible for a Roth or whether he throws X dollars a month towards CDs or savings bonds. Heck, stick that money in a box even, but make the habit stick. I’ve been doing many years of automatic investments to a mutual fund and online seperate bank, in addition to my work 401Ks. I’m glad I’ve stuck with that habit and the time value even on the smallest dollar amount in any type of investment is something you can’t get back.

  30. Courtney20 says:

    jackowick – I agree with Johanna. A postdoc salary is pretty close to the national median salary, and most people are only postdocs for a few years. Mine was only 11 months before I moved on to a salaried position – and those 11 months, I made nearly twice as much as I had been making as a grad student.

  31. Brittany says:

    Relative to most jobs, $40-$50k is not a lot of money? I think you have a bit of a skewed perception of what “most jobs” pay.

  32. Robin S says:

    I think its more ‘relative to your earning potential once you have a doctorate.’ We can contest how true that is, but I suppose after that much school your skills are “worth” more than the national median.

  33. Johanna says:

    There is definitely a case to be made that postdoc salaries should be higher, to compensate for the level of education required, the long hours worked, and the lack of anything resembling job security. But every postdoc is a former grad student, and relative to a grad student’s stipend, a postdoc salary is very high indeed. If you are used to living on $25k, and you can maintain that lifestyle once you start making $50k, then you will have plenty of money to save and pay down student loans. Trent’s argument – that you have to save your money while you’re a grad student to prepare for lean years as a starving postdoc – is pretty strange in that respect.

  34. Bonnie says:

    @Q5 Erin – You really need to see a doctor ASAP. That’s really not normal, especially the fact that you say you feel fatigued all day EXCEPT in the evening. Most conditions that cause fatigue either result in fatigue all day or fatigue that gets progressively worse throughout the day. It’s unusual that you feel awake in the evening. There are any number of conditions that could cause fatigue, from infectious diseases to sleep apnea, to chronic fatigue syndrome, blood disorders, hormonal imbalances, or vitamin/mineral deficiencies. You’re never going to know what the problem is, though, if you don’t get it checked out.

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