Updated on 08.09.11

Reader Mailbag: School

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. Torn between work and kids
2. Considering career options
3. Diet plans
4. Student loans? Retirement? Other options?
5. Domestic partnerships
6. Cleaning up credit report
7. Used car buying tactics
8. Rent or sell?
9. To buy or to rent?
10. Adult wanting to attend college

My oldest child starts kindergarten this year and the start of the school year is inching near. It’s quite interesting to watch how he’s excited about some things (picking out school supplies, sitting by the friends he knows are in the same class as him) and apprehensive about others (meeting all of the new children and the new teacher, riding the school bus).

I have no doubt that he’ll be just fine. It’s been fun talking to him about it and telling him some of the things I remember from kindergarten. Coloring contests were one thing I remembered, so he’s been practicing his coloring a lot lately.

I have a masters degree in my field, and nearly 8 years of experience. I work in state government, where we’ve been subjected to 4 years of frozen wages during my 8 years of employment, plus two years of furlough days (a 3.1% pay reduction the past two years). I am a union employee and enjoy job protection because of that. I also do some freelancing for examiner.com and Demand Studios Media, which I greatly enjoy. My husband is also employed by state government, but he is not a union member. He also gets paid less than I do- I earn 57% of our family’s income (excluding freelance earnings, which are a few thousand a year).

We have no debt: we paid off our mortgage in just 6.5 years, we have two paid for cars (one is 5 years old, the other is 12 years old and will soon need replacement with a “new to us” used car). We have paid cash for significant home repairs in the past six years, including foundation/basement work, new windows, installation of a fence, a new furnace and heat pump, new hot water heater and three new major appliances. We have a 1 year emergency savings and fully fund our Roths each year (we do not get 401(k) due to being government employees in our state). We also have started 529 accounts for our children.

I earned my masters degree because ever since I was a young teenager, I wanted to do this type of work. However, 3 years ago the job I was doing, was eliminated because of funding cuts, and thanks to my union protections, I was put in an equal paying position doing different work. I enjoyed the previous position’s work duties, but I do not like the work duties I currently have. I have applied for openings but due to funding cuts, each of those positions has been eliminated before the interview process. My degree, a masters of public health, is very specialized and few places hire people with this degree besides government. I have totally lost interest and passion in my work. I don’t care about my job performance. All I like are the paycheck and my coworkers. My husband loves his work, is challenged by it and has no complaints. He feels confident that there will not be any layoffs especially at his level, and he has very high performance ratings.

We have two children, a 4 year old and an infant. I would like to quit my full time job and stay home with my children while continuing to do some freelance work. I experienced a severe mental health issue (postpartum depression) shortly after the birth of my baby last year, which resulted in my hospitalization for several days.

However, I grew up in a poor household, and giving up 57% of our family’s income is not an easy decision. As a child, I lacked for necessary things like shoes and clothes that fit. I did not have enough food to eat. Medical care was too costly and was therefore avoided.

I feel torn. My heart is in my home, with my children. Having experienced postpartum depression, I know how precious and short life is and how quickly my children will grow up. We are in a great financial position right now. But I have all these “what-ifs” about actually quitting. What if my husband got laid off and we lost health insurance and his income? What if we have another major problem with our house? Can we afford to move to a nearby area, which we want to do in a few years, with just his income?
– Jessica

This is an intensely personal decision that you have to make. It’s one of those situations that really trumps the “ideal” of building up personal wealth. You can’t take back this moment no matter how much you save.

I essentially faced the same decision you did. My son was two and my daughter was an infant and I felt like I was not spending nearly enough time with them. When I quit my job, we lost the majority of our household’s income and we’ve only been able to supplement it through the success of The Simple Dollar and my other writings (such as my books). We’ve done okay.

If your heart tells you to make the leap, make it. You’ll have to really tighten your spending for a while and you’ll want to do whatever you can to keep your freelancing resume polished, though.

Q2: Considering career options
I’m a writer and editor in my early thirties. I met my husband in college and we both dropped out of school after moving in together. I lucked into a data entry position at a national entertainment company soon after leaving school. I’ve worked for that company for seven years, eventually being promoted to a copy editor. My job involves proofreading descriptions for movies and TV episodes. It’s an easy job, and as far as easy jobs go, I’ve got it pretty good. My base salary is $40K, plus I get a yearly bonus that amounts to 10% of my income. Health benefits are very good, the vacation policy is generous, etc. In addition, I’ve been given a restricted stock award that vests in September every year from now until 2013. The company stock is doing well, and if it stays at this level, the restricted stock payout should be around $7K each year before taxes.

However, I don’t feel challenged in my current position, and there’s practically zero room for upward mobility in the department and company. In the past three years, only one new position has opened up, and there have been no openings for positions above my current level for at least five years. In addition, our department has been “reorganized” a few times, resulting in several layoffs. I’ve been lucky enough to be spared so far, but they obviously make me nervous.

Because I don’t have a degree, it’s extremely difficult to get another writing job. I freelance in my off hours and have considered making a full-time business out of it, but the idea of having to pay for my own health insurance is a turnoff. My husband was laid off from his banking job two years ago and has only been able to find work temping and working part-time, so getting health insurance through his job isn’t an option right now. I hate feeling so dependent on my current job with no other viable options, and I’d like to improve my position in life. What I’d really like to do is pursue a career in technical writing or corporate communications. However, in order to do this, I’d need to leave my current job (and give up the restricted stock awards) and return to school full-time. The state university in my area offers an excellent professional writing program, but it’s not available via distance learning or night classes and the university is at least an hour’s drive from my office—so working and going to school part-time just isn’t possible.

It should take me about four semesters, plus an internship, to finish my degree. It’s just my husband and me; we don’t have any kids yet. Between the two of us, we already have about $30,000 in student loan debt and $3000 in credit-card debt, which we’re working to pay off. We currently rent an apartment. If I’m going to quit my job and go back to school, I want to do it soon, before we have kids and a mortgage to deal with. But it’s difficult to give up the security of my current position, especially with the monetary bonuses and benefits. And the idea of adding more student loans to our current debt load makes me nervous. What would you recommend doing?
– Angela

Look at the work you’re doing right now and ask yourself what lessons it can teach you for your side (and hopefully soon-to-be main) career. What can you take from your job that will apply to and improve those things? Are there work tasks that you can learn from? Do you have any workplace opportunities for education?

Look at every dollar you spend as a choice. You can choose to spend it on a want right now, or you can bank it so you can have the career you’ve dreamed of.

You should look at your real job as something you do to support your real dream, which is the freelance writing and/or the technical writing you want to do. Every day, look at that job as what you do so that you can eventually live your dream.

Q3: Diet plans
My fiance and I are trying to lose weight for our upcoming wedding and haven’t made much progress on our own. We both work full time and go to school full time, so when we try to cook healthy meals for ourselves it usually turns into ordering out because we can’t find the time to shop for groceries, plan a menu, and cook healthy meals. Nutrisystem offers a family plan that covers both of us for $500 a month, all meals included. When I tally up how much we’re spending on groceries and eating out just for the two of us, it easily tops out at over $600 a month in unhealthy choices. It seems like a no brainer to spend LESS money on food per month, and get healthy meals that don’t require any planning, cooking, or a trip to the grocery store. How do you feel about these dieting plans? We feel all the time saved planning and preparing meals is more time we can allocate to exercising and is worth the expense.

– Alan

The dieting plans work if you stick to them. The problem is that the vast majority of people that end up receiving the prepackaged meals find themselves at a large calorie deficit. They’re hungry and they wind up supplementing it with other foods that they buy themselves, which are often convenience foods (since they don’t really have groceries at home). This quickly escalates the cost.

Be honest with yourself. Have you been 100% successful in sticking with diets in the past? If you can truthfully answer yes, then this will be a money and somewhat of a time saver (prepackaged meals are not without prep time). If you can’t truthfully answer yes, the money savings will dissipate quickly (and probably result in even more spending).

Besides that (and I’m speaking from experience here), the foods you get in these plans aren’t exactly the peak of tastiness. Blech.

Q4: Student loans? Retirement? Other options?
I have a small student loan: the balance is $5,300, interest rate 6.8%, minimum monthly payment $104. I need to repay it by 2017. I try to pay a bit more every month, and when I have extra money I pay even more. That is the only debt I have, and I hate having it hang over my head. I’m single and make a decent salary, but live in an expensive area. Although I’m in my mid-30os, I share a rental apartment with a roommate. I am paranoid about saving for retirement. I have 11% of my paycheck deducted for my 401k, and this year am trying to put another 2% or so of my gross into a Roth IRA. My employer is very generous and puts an additional 12.5% of my salary into the 401k. However, I will not stay in this job forever! I’ve worked here for 4yrs, but previously had been underemployed or unemployed for quite a while, so I feel that I’m doing a lot of catch-up for retirement savings (current value of all retirement accts is about $73k). I recently met a financial planner (fee-only, of course) and mostly she said I was on track. But I just can’t shake the feeling that 6.8% is a lot to be paying for this stupid piddly loan and that I’m not saving enough. I do also have some emergency savings (about $8k) and own a few stocks (worth about $6,800, and they pay dividends). Do you think I should be paying more toward the student loan, or saving more for retirement, or trying to figure out some way to worry less?

– Dee

Let’s add up your retirement contributions. You’re contributing 11%, your employer is contributing 12.5%, and you’re putting another 2% into a Roth IRA. That’s a total of 25.5% of your salary that’s going into retirement savings. That’s plenty, and it will set you up extremely well in retirement. I wouldn’t save more for retirement if there are any other financial concerns in your life at all.

This leaves your options at “worrying less” or paying more on the student loan. I vote for the student loan. A 6.8% loan right now is pretty high and the interest rate eclipses what you could get elsewhere as a return on your money.

If I were you, I’d focus my energies on that student loan. I think you’re definitely on track, but I’d get rid of that student loan as soon as possible.

Q5: Domestic partnership
One thing I’ve often seen you and others write regarding the financial benefits of marriage has to do with health insurance.

“The biggest benefit in your situation for marriage is that many employers make it very difficult to share benefits with anyone other than an actual spouse. This is vital if either one of you loses your job or chooses to switch jobs.”

I’m 25, in one of those cohabitational relationships that is heading for marriage, but we’re not quite there yet. As someone with chronic health conditions and very poor health insurance provided by one of the nations largest employers, I understand the very serious value of the above statement. But it’s worth noting that marriage isn’t the only option. My boyfriend and I became legal domestic parters (involves a trip to City Hall and $35) so that I might obtain his health insurance. In our experience, we have found that several of the nations largest health insurance companies allow for this agreement. Not sure if this option is decided by the employer or provider (and I understand it’s not available in every state), but it’s worth noting in future posts!
– Anna

This is certainly an option in some states. Other states offer civil unions.

The issue, though, is that the rules and laws in this regard tend to vary from state to state, and what insurance companies choose to recognize is up to them.

The only solution that seems to work across the board is marriage. Virtually every insurance company recognizes it and every state offers it in some form.

I hope for a day where there’s a more consistent solution across the nation, but I fear it will be a long time coming.

Q6: Cleaning up credit report
I am 24, own a small condo, have a credit card limit of 3k which I pay off the balances every month (never missed a payment!), and have a small car loan. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with cervical carcinoma in situ, and required surgery. I had the best insurance in the world, Tricare, which paid for everything. However, last year(age 23) I aged out of tricare. I lost my insurance, but I still had to have frequent checkups and biopsies. I was able to pay the doctors bill out of pocket (nearly 2k) for these exams/tests back in July. Fast forward to Feb of this year. I totaled my car and needed a new one. When I applied for loans, I was turned down 3 times before I finally found out what was going on. I pulled my credit report and found two collection agencies were on my credit report. I called them up, and they were from the pathology lab for my test results. Apparently they bill separately, who knew? I never received a bill, and they had never tried to contact me. They confirmed they had the wrong address for the bill, and it took a month for me to finally get a bill. It is small ($450), so I can pay it. However, when I inquired about getting the agency off of the credit report, they said they would do it once I paid the bill…but absolutely refused to give me that in writing. I haven’t paid the debt, but Ive made it clear I want to. They haven’t called me once to try and get it paid….strange. I feel that if I pay the debt, that I will have no legal ground to get it off of my report. What should I do to get this off my credit report?

– Alice

Get the arrangement in writing. If they won’t provide it, I would contact a lawyer just to see whether this is something worth legally pursuing.

It should be easy for them to state for you in writing that they’ll remove it if that’s something they actually intend to do. Without it in writing, it comes off like an empty promise.

Even worse is that by paying it, you cause that debt to become up to date, meaning it’s actually worse for your credit score to pay it (if they don’t remove it). The specific debt’s status becomes somewhat better, but it also becomes new, which is worse.

Q7: Used car buying tactics
My wife and I are about to buy our first car together– we’ve been living a relatively urban lifestyle ever since college and have managed without a car for years. We are soon moving to a different metro where we will be closer to family and have decided that we will wish to and need to drive more frequently, thus we will be buying a (used, but reliable) car. I’m hoping to pay for as much of the car as we can in cash (although some financing will probably be necessary). Since neither of us has owned a car since we were in high school, I have three questions:

1) About financing– As I mentioned, I hope to take on as small of a car payment as we can manage without putting too big of a dent in our savings for a house down payment. A friend of ours paid for her car with some type of no-interest loan– she simply made her payments and then the car was hers and she had never paid any interest. My internet searching seems to suggest this is only done for new cars (the no-interest part). Is that correct?

2) I know there is no hard and fast rule to this, and condition is everything– but is there any suggested mileage threshold I should avoid (70k,80k, etc) when buying a used car?

3) I’m very tempted to buy a hybrid car for many reasons– vastly superior fuel economy, avoiding adding to our country’s reliance on depleting quantities of fossil fuels, helping the environment in some small way, and the fact that Consumer Reports lists the Toyota Prius as one of the most reliable car brands. Obviously, fuel economy is at a premium in the used car marketplace, and I’d have to take on a larger car payment in order to buy a Prius. Do you have any suggestions or resources for determining if the money saved on gas is worth the higher car payment? Additionally, does the federal government still offer tax incentives for the purchase of a hybrid?

We plan to keep this car for a minimum of 5-6 years an presumably will keep it until the end of its life.
– Nick

No-interest loans for used cars are very rare. I know of no examples of them.

There is no hard-and-fast rule about mileage on used cars. It has a lot to do with the specific make and model and the reputation of the car manufacturer. Some manufacturers are more reliable than others – Honda and Toyota tend to be very reliable, while other manufacturers (like Volkswagen) sometimes have reliability issues, at least according to Consumer Reports.

You have to sit down and look at your own fuel usage to determine whether there is savings for you in buying a more fuel efficient car. The more you drive the car, the more worthwhile it is to pay a little more for fuel efficiency. The federal tax incentives for buying a hybrid have expired.

Q8: Rent or sell?
Currently my wife and I own a home in the South Central PA area. We paid 169,000 for it and owe about 160,000. We’ve had it for two and a half years now. We got a 30 year fixed rate mortgage at 6.125%. Our monthly payment is right at 1,400 (including taxes etc.). We make about $90,000 a year with some overtime from my job, our monthly income is about 5580 (sometimes higher).

My wife’s job is about to become more demanding and will require her to spend more time at her work/school (she’s in a PhD program right now) and she commutes 120 miles round-trip. We’re considering a move so she will be closer to her school. That will allow her to be there more, and not waste as much time driving as she does now. Based on our current mortgage, it doesn’t look like we would be able to sell the house for what we owe.

So we’re trying to decide on whether we should try to sell it and take a bit of a loss (take a loan out to pay the difference), or rent it out and hope to either pay it down or wait for housing prices to climb back up. I’ve been doing some reading about renting a house and it seems doable for us. I’d be able to keep an eye on the property because I still work in this area. At the same time, housing prices in the area we want to move are very low. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to buy a home for a good price. Would it be worth while to consider buying another house? The rent for a few of the homes would be similar to what we’d pay on a mortgage. I don’t want to bite off more than we can chew if you know what I mean. I’m leaning more towards renting a home than buying. A big issue is that we don’t have much for cash reserves so we’d have to do 0% down and get the seller to pay closing costs.

What do you think?
– Brian

If I understand right, you’re considering moving into a rental unit while also keeping your old home and renting that old home out to someone else? Given what you’ve stated, that actually is probably the best plan, considering you’re still underwater in the first house and moving will drastically reduce a commute.

I would not buy a second home while sitting on an underwater mortgage without a 20% down payment in hand. Unless you guys are bringing in a huge income right when you apply for the mortgage, the banks won’t exactly view it as a good idea.

You may also find that being a landlord isn’t as much fun as you’d like. It depends a lot on who is renting from you. If they’re good people, it’ll go smooth. If they’re problematic, they’re likely to destroy your home.

Q9: To buy or to rent?
Here’s the scenario in a nutshell. I’m 45 years old, divorced twice. The last divorce put me in a financial mess. In order to get out of my marriage, I assumed the lion’s share of the debt. (The marriage was damaging to the health of my children.) I struggled for two years to try to stay ahead, worked two jobs, mothered two teens; however, it was too much. I ended up filing for bankruptcy last year. The date my debts were dismissed was in November, 2010 (that included house, car, and several credit cards). I also had to move out of my hometown as the availability of renting a decent house in a decent location was slim. My 19 year old son moved out on his own, but my 16 year old daughter did not want to change schools so she moved in with her godparents. I moved in with my partner/boyfriend. I still work in my hometown which is a 35 minute drive and allows me to see my daughter somewhat regularly. This worked out okay, but as a mom/parent I miss her terribly. Actually, I am needing to get back and be a family again. I can’t stand not being in her life regularly!

Here’s the question: I have an opportunity to purchase a house on contract with very little down. My former boss wants to sell a small house that he owns, in a nice neighborhood close to my work and close to school. Because he knows my financial situation, he is willing to sell me the house on contract with the contract coming due in 3 years. This would give me time to get my credit rating back up (I’ve also started re-paying my student loans). He is asking $117,000 with $2,000 down at 4% with it coming due in 3 years. The house is assessed at $124,000 as of last year. It is in a neighborhood that is popular. I make $46,000. I have student loan payments of $200 and $56 and a loan against my 401K of $98. I can afford the payment, insurance, taxes, etc. though I will still need to be frugal. I will also receive $600 a month in child support.

I am going to go talk to a banker soon to find out if indeed I will be able to get a mortgage in 3 years. (By the way, my boyfriend is really worried about this as am I.) My question to you is: what do you see as my risks? do those risks outweigh paying rent which allows for no equity to build? Now that I am starting over financially, I want to make sound financial decisions.
– Lisa

Financially, it’s not a bad idea. Since you didn’t really provide a full financial picture here, I would probably listen to what the banker suggests after he/she reviews your finances.

Your best bet is to simply follow the advice of that banker, as that person will know your full credit history, your credit scores, your full income picture, and so on.

My only concern is that this financial relationship is with your boss. You’re essentially ceding more financial power in your life over to him. If you are involved with a bad situation at work, it might not just be your job that’s under fire. If something goes wrong with the house, it could affect your perceived level of trustworthiness at work. I would not ever enter into such an arrangement with any boss I’ve ever had, no matter how much I trusted them. It just adds an element I don’t need to the equation.

Q10: Adult wanting to attend college
I always hear about adults who worked their way through college. Due to very poor planning on the part of my husband and myself, none of our three children had college funds. We realize now, too late, that we should have handled finances quite differently over the years. We are now on a much better financial path, but too late to help our kids with school. Our boys both joined the military both to get money for college and because they truly want to serve their country. Our daughter, the youngest, has no interest in military and just finished her freshman year of college. She did get some scholarships for academics and talents as well as community service, but they didn’t come close to paying for school. She has Stafford loans for her freshman year and is looking at 3 more years of student loans. I also have taken out parent PLUS loans this year and know I will have to do the same for the rest of her college years. She is working part time and hopes to increase her hours to full time for the summer while she is home, but this still won’t offset the need for loans. The school she is attending is rated as one of the least expensive in the country and state. She does not spend much money when she’s at school; rarely even going out for pizza. She buys her books used and then resells them to pay for the next semester’s books. She doesn’t shop for clothes and lives very frugally. She didn’t go on a “Spring Break” road trip and stays on campus most weekends instead of coming home. My question is, what are we missing, if anything? How do others “work their way through school” and end up with little to no student loan debt?

– Nancy

You’re not missing anything.

People who “worked their way through school” either spent years before school (or during school by taking a year or two off) working for money to pay for school (my father-in-law more or less did this and I really respect that) or they took out loans to supplement what they could earn through working.

I did the latter. I had some good academic scholarships, but they didn’t cover everything. I had a good job that covered my living expenses, but I still needed loans to pay for my tuition for my last two years in school. It can be done.

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. Johanna says:

    Q4, Dee: Your loan is for $5300, and you have $6800 invested in stocks. Is the money in stocks for any particular goal? If not (or maybe even if so), and if the loan is stressing you out that much, sell most of the stocks and pay off the loan. Then you’ll have one less thing to worry about.

  2. AC says:

    Q3 – I don’t have direct experience with these programs but I have looked into them, and in most cases they do not include fresh produce and you are expected to supplement the meals. Check the fine print to make sure EVERYTHING is included, the actual total monthly cost may be well over the printed price.

    Q10 – Others, myself included, “work[ed] their way through school” by working full time. If your daughter has the option of coming home on weekends but doesn’t because it’s more frugal to stay on campus, then she’s not working enough hours. She needs to increase her hours at her current job or get a second job. I worked 40+ hours per week all through college (while maintaining maximum credit load at school), I didn’t reduce my hours to part time until graduate school. “Spring Break” shouldn’t be skipped because it’s too expensive, it should be skipped because she has a job (or two). Sorry if I’m sucking the “fun” out of college but if you/she want to get through this with little to no debt then you need to get more aggressive about finding revenue streams.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Q9 – Its Lisa’s former boss, not current boss. So Trent’s fear about borrowing from the boss is not applicable.

  4. Allie says:

    Jessica @ Q1, do you and your husband not have the option of a 403(b) or a 457(a) – the more-or-less equivalents of a 401(k) for the public and non-profit sector?

  5. melon54 says:

    #10 I worked my way through college. I spent 2 and a half years at a community college and then transfered to a nearby 4 year college. Luckily, I was able to qualify for grants which took care of tuition and books. I had a roof over my head, but was responsible for everything else. I worked as many days as possible both on and off campus and lived the same way your daughter does.
    It took me 6 years to finish, but I left college without any student loans hanging over my head. Plus,I was the first person in my family to graduate high school and then go to college. So it can be done!

  6. Jessica says:

    Wow, I’m so thankful to see Trent addressed my question! I am looking forward to feedback from others here too.

    In the interim I’ve gone part-time at my job but all that has done is whet my appetite to stay home, even more. My husband’s agency has had some changes resulting in him needing to reapply for his previous position while he was shifted into a new one. Meanwhile, my son has had back to back to back to back illnesses- he seems to get every last germ spread around daycare. And then he shares it with me. Oh, and my daycare is raising its rates, too.

    @Allie: We do not have 403(b) or 457(a) options.

  7. Steven says:

    Q3: Diet is only half the equation when it comes to losing weight. And there’s no need to get on a program, in my opinion. Eat simple, whole foods. I eat a lot of oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meats like chicken and fish.

    I also work out hard at the gym. I’d recommend adding weight training to your exercise routine, and push youself as hard as you can. Don’t worry, you won’t bulk up like a man. My girlfriend and I both follow exercise and diet routines found on BodyBuilder[dot]com. I’ve leaned out, and she’s been losing weight and inches since we started doing this. We’re both in the gym for two hours a day, six days a week.

    Check out high intensity interval training for your cardio, and really (really) hit the weights. After lifting, your body continue burning calories for hours after you quit working out. After cardio, your body returns to “normal” almost immediately after you stop.

    Preparing meals and grocery shopping doesn’t have to be time consuming. Just come up with a plan, buy what you need, and prepare as much in advance as possible.

    Good luck!

  8. Heidi says:

    Q10 – My husband worked his way through two fairly expensive grad school programs, but it was not easy. He attended classes full time during the day, studied in the afternoon, and then worked full time as a bartender in a high-traffic bar evenings and weekends. He rented a room above a funeral home for $150 a month and lived on a diet of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and canned tuna. He had no time for friends or any other social outlets, but he did finish up 4 years of grad school with no debt.

  9. Steven says:

    Ooops, Alan is a man. My advice still stands, except for the “bulking up like a man.” That advice can apply to your fiance…

  10. Tracy says:


    Are you living completely on your husband’s income right now? I think if you can do that for 4-6 months and save every penny that you earn, then quitting your job could make sense for you. If you’re not able to do that, what kinds of cuts or changes can you make to get to that point? But based on everything you said, I think that it sounds like a move that will make you far happier in the long run and you’re in really good financial shape to pursue it.

  11. Linda says:

    @Trent – starting kindergarden is so much fun, as a parent and student. The things my kids talked about that brought back my fond memories was being “line leader” and “door holder” and the repsonsibilities involved

  12. Jason G says:

    Q1: It sounds as if you have already made up your mind as to what you are going to do. No matter what was said here, you were planning to leave your job.

  13. Rachel says:


    We were in a very similar position as your family. In order to make the decision easier for us, I took a 3 month unpaid leave of absence from work, during those 3 months we lived on 1 salary, we just barely made it the first month, literally we had $3 left at the end of the month. It got better and better as we learned to scrimp and save. So, I just bit the bullet and quit. I made it my priority to be as frugal as possible. We rarely if ever eat out, don’t buy any new clothes, netflix instead of cable etc. Basically no needless spending and we are doing okay. We’re even able to save a little bit. It’s really eye opening how much you can save by being super frugal.

  14. Andrea says:

    Q1: I work for the disease management department at a major health insurance provider. Many of my colleagues have public health degrees, like you. Our department basically looks for areas where education and lifestyle coaching can increase the health of our insurance members… both those who are relatively healthy, and those who are already very ill. Have you considered looking at this type of private sector work in the insurance industry?

  15. Theresa says:

    Q10: The real problem here is the rapidly rising cost of college compared to every other element of inflation, and especially to wages. It was much more feasible to work through college 20-30 years ago than it is now.

  16. Cassie says:

    Q2: Angela, I will agree that it is more difficult to get an interview for a technical writing or corporate communications job without a degree. However, the degree does not necessarily make you a better writer. You are fortunate to have a talent that is easily showcased. Build a portfolio of your best work, network with people that work for companies that hire technical writers. Offer to do some freelance work for them at no charge. Companies want people that can get the job done, there are usually ways around a degree requirement for someone with that talent.

  17. Cortney says:

    Q10- I’m curious, if your daughter received some scholarships but they didn’t “come close” to paying for school, where is she going? You also mention that she stays on campus and rarely comes home for the weekend, so I’m assuming she is living on campus, in a dorm, meal plan, etc.

    My question is this- do you have community colleges in your area? Could she be living at home with you, working, and going to community college her first two years? In Texas, we have many excellent community colleges and every single one in the major city areas- Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio- have partnerships with 4 year colleges that offer scholarships. In Dallas, one can take classes for as little as $35 a credit hour- under $500 for a full semester of 12 hours. By working full time over the summer, and then dropping to part time during the year, it would be more than possible for a student to work her way through two years of community college with absolutely no debt, and if she was living at home, even paying some sort of rent, she’d probably have savings. After two years of excellent grades she would have a good chance at a transfer scholarship. Or, at the very least, she would have saved herself 50% of the debt she would otherwise incur.

    I’m not sure what the situation is in your area for community colleges, but if her scholarship money didn’t “come close” to paying for school, and if she is off at school somewhere, there are potentially a lot of changes she could make to make this much more affordable.

    I worked full time and went to college full time at a 4 year university, but only because I had an academic scholarship. I had to work full time to pay for my living expenses because my parents couldn’t help me, other than my father putting me on his car insurance (about $45 a month). If I had not received a full academic scholarship, I had planned to move to Dallas, live with my father (paying him rent) until I found a roommate and a cheap place, and go to community college so that I could work my way through without any debt. One last thing- I know we all say to follow our hopes and dreams, but please, give your daughter guidance as to what she is studying. Too many kids these days go off to college and end up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt for a degree in French poetry, or history, without even the back up of a teaching certificate. Those classes can be taken and enjoyed via electives, but if one is just going to college to study something that is interesting, one can do that on one’s own without being charged thousands of dollars a semester for it. I cringe when I hear about kids going off to college and financing a degree that will not increase their earning power enough to even allow them to pay off the student loans they are getting…

    Good luck to you and your daughter, I hope you find a solution.

  18. AmandaLP says:

    Your answer to Anna about marriages is only true for heterosexual marriages (or, rather, marriage between one man and one woman). Some states offer domestic partnerships, and some insurance companies accept them, but it is up to the individual insurance company to make that determination.

    New York just passed marriage equality, so that gender is not a factor in getting married. My partner’s insurance company now will only accept “Marriage” for insurance purposes.

    New Jersey passed “civil unions,” which were supposed to be “equal in every way” to marriage, however, many NJ companies continued to discriminate against same sex couples through their insurance policies by requiring “marriage,” effectively refusing to cover same sex spouses.

    However, some states, and some companies, will allow alternative partnership arrangements such as domestic partnership (with or without registration). It is important to look at what your state and company will allow.

  19. Drew says:

    Q10 – Courtney is right on, especially as it relates to choosing a degree.

    Community then State College (with in-state tuition)is a great way to go. This is the route I took, and lived as cheaply as possible $300/mo rent and ramen. I had no scholarships, so I worked 40 hours/week during the school year and 80 hours/week during the summer. I was able to pay my tuition in cash as well as all my living expenses. I’ll admit that I had a limited social life, was constantly worn out, and my academics suffered somewhat. But when all was said and done; it was an amazing time in my life, taught me how to work hard, and not having those student loans hanging over my head has made much current life much easier!

  20. Amanda says:

    Q2-get out of debt before you try to make any big moves!

    Q1-I agree with the above comment. Learn to live on your husband’s salary. The fact that you have no mortgage is a bonus!!!

    We’ve been living on DH 3 day per week salary for a couple of years. Things are tight but we’re fine. I want to get my mortgage paid off though so I start work 2 days a week next week! It’s sure tempting to spend all this money I’m earning though.

    If anyone else read the comments do you think I should pay off my mortage $70k or save up $100k to add on an apartment. I would assume the apartment would pay my mortgage.

  21. Jessica says:

    We’ve been “living on” my husband’s income the entire time we’ve been married. We used mine to:
    *pay off my student loans for my masters degree
    *pay for daycare (since it is a work related expense only needed when both of us work)
    *pay cash for our car three years ago (rather than making payments)
    *pay off our mortgage early.

    I am super frugal. Thrift, hand me downs, rummage and garage sales is where 95% of our clothes come from (socks, underwear and shoes are new and not fancy). I coupon and play the ‘drugstore game’. We eat out about 8 times per year, which includes for anniversary and birthdays. Our weekly grocery budget is $50 for a family of 4 and 2 cats. I am the barber, baker, gardener and my husband does a lot of repairs (such as installing a new garbage disposal).

    @Jason: I’ve been pondering the decision for 3.5 years. During part of that time my husband was unemployed so it wasn’t an option. Going down to part time, which I did two months ago, is something I originally requested two years ago. If I already had my mind made up I wouldn’t still be at my job. (That said I’m on vacation this week!)

  22. Johanna says:

    Q10: Most of the stories I hear about working their way through college come from people who are much, much older than the current generation of college students. College costs have been rising much faster than inflation (and much faster than the wages that college students can expect to earn), so working one’s way through college is much harder than it used to be.

    If your daughter is talented and driven and knows what she wants to do, can she take extra classes and graduate early? She may find that that’s a more cost-effective use of her time than working a low-wage part-time job, since she’ll save on tuition *and* have an extra year to work with the full benefit of her degree.

  23. Johanna says:

    Q3: I hesitate to open this can of worms, but: Diets do not work in the long term. (Not even if you call them “lifestyle changes” or “whole new ways of eating” instead of “diets.”) It’s not a matter of people not sticking with it, it’s a matter of the fact that the human body does not respond well to efforts to change its weight.

    The vast majority of people who lose weight regain it all within five years. Look at any peer-reviewed weight loss study that tracked participants for more than a few months (there are very few that do, for precisely this reason), and you’ll find that the participants all start regaining weight, even if they’re eating fewer calories than they were before they started the diet.

  24. Suz says:

    Q10 – As another poster said, I hope your daughter’s degree is a practical one. If it is, she will more easily be able to find a job in her field and therefore have the money to pay back the loans…hypothetically, of course.
    I hope she has the chance to enjoy her college experience despite the loans hanging over her and your heads! Once she gets out into the real world, it’s just a grind that won’t end for 30+ years, so I hope she can have some fun now!

  25. Adam P says:

    Q3 – invest the $500 in a cooking course for you and your wife instead, with an emphasis on healthy eating. The skills you learn will help you long after you’re done working and school full time, and the lifestyle change from cooking your own meals will be amazing. As well, it’s a nice bonding activity.

    $500 a month on frozen pre-packaged processed garbage that tastes meh is just throwing money away.

    Even though you’re super busy, MAKE the time to get in a brisk walk together. Good luck to your and your fiance, I hope you have a wonderful wedding!

  26. Des says:

    Q10 – This must be very location-dependent. Just for kicks, I went to my old colleges’ websites and pulled the current tuition and fees information. I went to community college for my first two years – which today would cost $10,272 for 90 credits (2 years), including all fees and books. That’s less than $500 a month for those two years. University for the next two would cost $750 a month. Paper routes in my area pay $800-$1000 a month. I lived at home, but if that wasn’t an option an additional nights/weekends job would pay for very basic “starving college student” level food and rent.

    I’m not seeing why this isn’t an option for today’s students. What I do see is my early 20-something friends driving new-ish cars out to the bar twice a week, eating expensive processed foods, and working mere 20 hour weeks while piling up credit card and student loan debt. I agree that college costs have skyrocketed (in fact, tuition at my community college has more than doubled since I left 8 years ago) – but shouldn’t that translate into a *lower* standard of living for students, rather than the increase?

  27. BirdDog says:

    Diets do not work but exercise and better eating habits do. I know that only 5% or less of people who have lost weight keep it off for five years. However, by incorporating exercise, it is much easier to keep the weight off.

    Weight loss and changing a lifestyle are hard. I struggle with it daily but I’ve lost 80 pounds over the past two years and I’m keeping it off. I managed to quit smoking during this time as well.

    I’d advise against the nutrisystem plan. What happens when you go off of it if you haven’t learned how to cook and eat healthy on your own?

  28. Tom says:

    Q5 – In my experience an offering of domestic partner benefits seem to be more based on what the employer wants to allow rather than the insurance company. Most large employers technically self-insure, and pay an insurance company to operate a plan tailored to their needs. So you could live in a state with a process to get domestic partner status, but work for an employer that will not insure your partner. Another example, I knew someone who worked for a catholic hospital that did not cover rx oral contraceptives because it was against the employer’s morals.
    I don’t have any experience with legal civil unions and whether private companies can still refuse benefits.

    By the way, it is not uncommon for employers to force a legally-married spouse off of their insurance rolls if they work for a separate company that offers their own health insurance benefits. It is a way companies cut costs related to healthcare.

  29. Rachel says:

    Jessica, I hope you will make the decision to stay home with those kids. You seem to be afraid of losing the income, but how much are you paying for day care, gas, work clothes and shoes, lunches? I think we just get used to something and that’s how we live our lives. You are used to working. If you find out that being an at home mom is not the best for you, you can always go back to work doing something, even if its not in your chosen field.

  30. Jen says:

    Q3 – It’s kind of a cop out to say that you don’t have time to eat healthy food, and if you can address that attitude problem, you’ll be infinitely better off than if you buy a quick fix, boxed-meal solution.

    Start with easy stuff. Buy single servings of yogurt and and bananas, enough for a week at a time. Breakfast is covered, and healthy, with zero effort. Buy whole grain bread, healthy sandwich (turkey, sprouts, lettuce, veggies, etc) fixings, and pretzels. Separate the pretzels into 1 oz zip-lock portions. Take 5 minutes each night to make a sandwich, throw some grapes in a tupperware, and bundle up your lunch in the fridge with your tea or diet soda. Lunches are covered, and healthy, for about 30 minutes of effort all week. Buy some healthy snacks like mixed nuts, babybel cheese rounds, Wasa crackers, Larabars, etc. Spend a few minutes portioning nuts or trail mix into actual serving sizes (1 oz or 1/4 cup), and keep them stashed in your desk drawer or purse, so you can have a couple of reasonable snacks to keep your blood sugar even. Don’t drink anything with calories – black coffee, unsweetened tea, lots of water, diet soda only if you must have something sweet.
    For dinner, cook once, eat several times. My mom throws chicken breasts and onions in the crock pot sometimes with a little broth or water. You can eat it as is, with broccoli / baked potato both cooked in the microwave. Or shred it to go on a salad (buy bagged salad greens and pre cut veggies to top it with), or add it to some chicken broth with rice, frozen veggies, and seasonings for a filling soup. Etc.
    It doesn’t have to take anytime. All of these suggestions are easier, quicker, and cheaper than takeout. You’ll also find that as you start buying more “ingredients” and less processed “food products”, weight will start magically disappearing. Good luck! You can do this!

    Also, @Johanna, “diets” as such don’t work. But healthy, sustainable lifestyle changes definitely can.

  31. Baley says:

    Thanks, Jen, for your good suggestions! I’m in the same boat as the Q3 questioner, both financially and health-wise. My husband and I spend too much money and eat too many calories because of our eating out habits and we need quick and cheap solutions. Our problem is more with supper than breakfast or lunch, but I know Trent has some good suggestions on that as well. It’s just a matter of self-control to make the change, and that’s the hardest part.

  32. Kacie says:

    Jessica — enjoy your children. Leave your job. They’re only little for awhile and it’s where your heart is. You seem to be financially in a place where you can do that. Go for it!

  33. Johanna says:

    @BirdDog, @Jen: No, not really, they don’t. BirdDog, if you’re only two years into your weight-loss-via-diet-and-exercise, you don’t even know you’ll maintain the weight loss for five years. And even if you do, that’s not proof that anyone else can do what you did. Because no one else has your exact body.

    95% of people who lose weight by any means regain it all within five years. And it’s not like “exercise and better eating habits” and “healthy, sustainable lifestyle changes” are novel concepts that nobody’s ever thought of before.

    I say this not to belittle your sense of accomplishment, BirdDog, but to point out that if you do regain the weight (which, over the next three years, you very well might), it’s not because of any personal failing on your part, but because that’s how human bodies are. And to caution people who (like me) have never lost weight (because they’ve never had to) but who like to sneer at overweight people for being so gluttonous, lazy, stupid, or weak-willed, that they’re not on as high a horse as they think they are.

  34. PawPrint says:

    Johanna, so that means that nobody should ever try to lose weight or make a healthy lifestyle change? What about trying to be one of those 5% people. Thin for Life is a book about people who have lost weight and maintained it and should be required reading for people who want to lose and maintain, which, IMHO, is a lot harder than losing. As someone who is in the 5% (overweight most of my adult life, 100 lbs. lost, maintaining 6 years), I think any change is worth a shot.

  35. Tom says:

    Q9 The only concern is the relationship with the boss (as someone else mentioned, FORMER boss, making this even more absurd as this being the only concern)?
    The primary risk, in my opinion, is this: In 3 years interest rates could be drastically different than today, and I would guess that it’ll be hard to get market rates 4 years removed from bankruptcy without a lot of equity.
    Other Risks: What happens if the $600 a month in child support disappears (her youngest is 16)?
    Is she’s really prepared to pay for repairs, possibly increased utilities, etc., that come with home ownership?
    Sorry to judge, but I worry about the 401k loan.
    And she currently lives with boyfriend/partner, how is she paying her rent now; is he helping now and going to continue to help?

    There seem to be a lot of risks in my opinion.

  36. Nancy says:

    Make sure that expensive college degree has the potential to pay for itself! While at college, make sure your daughter snags great internships & coops, and joins groups & clubs that will open doors. When home during the summer, she should be working so many hours, she falls asleep with her clothes still on!

    My kids are doing that and are on track to graduate nearly debt free! The oldest did and even with a BA in health care management from a top college & BS in a medical field from a top university (5 years total using perfect articulation & planning) encountered a difficult job market.

    Our weekly conversation until full time employment was, “Aren’t you glad you don’t have excessive student loans!?” Her younger sisters see how difficult things are and are working while in high school and college.

  37. Adam P says:

    Wow, I’m in the 5% of people without a human body. I learn something new every day! Funny, I attribute my getting in shape and losing/keeping fat off since November 2002 to regular excersize and eating healthy (along with a moderate fear of drinking sugar and eating white carbs).

    That might be “how human bodies are”, Johanna. Or it could be that after a few months or years, people give up their new healthy habits and go back to their old less healthy habits. Which yes, is a personal failing, however forgiveable and human it may be to do so.

    Oops, did I climb up on the high horse again?

  38. Tom says:

    @Johanna, I’m 7 years removed from significant weight loss, and maybe I’m an outlier, but I believe that truly changing your activity and eating habits from being a very obese will lead to sustained weight loss. I don’t believe that, of the people who gained the weight back, all of them tried religiously to maintain their weight.
    I do believe that people eventually settle in to a natural weight, +/- 5 to 10 lbs, where no matter what they do, can’t move the needle on the scale lower.
    To say it another way, I think people can change from a BMI of 40 to 25 and stay that way. It’s a lot harder to go from 25 to 20, and stay there.

  39. Baley says:

    I would also agree that it is possible to keep off the weight. If a person generally eats out and eats unhealthful foods, then changing to cooking healthy foods at home WILL make a difference, and unless they go back to their unhealthy lifestyle, they will keep off the weight.

  40. jim says:

    Q1 Jessica : Can your family live off of your husbands income and have money to spare? I don’t see you mention that at all. That should dictate your course shouldn’t it? I mean maybe its suposed to go without saying that you can live off his income, but you didn’t say it. Also please do not quit your job because you lost your ‘passion’ for it. If you want to quit to be with your kids then OK but don’t quit cause the ‘passion’ is gone. Its a job, not a romantic love affair.

    Q4 Dee : Go ahead and pay off the student loan.

    Q7 Nick: You asked about determining if its worth paying more for fuel savings. I’d recommend looking at the total cost of ownership. Edmunds has a figure they calculate called ‘true cost to own’ for used cars. The TCO is the total costs you’d expect over 5 years. So that will help you see how much fuel economy will matter cost wise compared to other costs. You can look up the cars there and compare that total figure. You should only treat such calculations as a starting point and then adjust their numbers to match your situation.

    Q8 Brian : “we’d have to do 0% down” I don’t think banks do that anymore. If you find one that does then I really wouldn’t recommend it. If you don’t have money in the bank then don’t buy a house. Regarding the home you have, do you want to be a landlord? Do you have extra money to cover vacancies, emergency broken furnaces, etc? Would the rent be more than the mortgage? If the rent would be a lot less than the mortgage then don’t sign up to bleed money month after month while you hope the house eventually gains value, if the negative equity isn’t too high then it may be better to just sell and cut your loses now. If you want to be a landlord long term and you would buy this property today for the mortgage as an investment and make money doing it then thats another matter. But if you think renting out a home is the solution to negative equity then make sure it won’t just make the problem worse.

    Q9 Lisa : Actually your situation might be good for a “lease option”. That means you lease the house for a few years with the option to buy it after 3 years is up. With the lease option you aren’t bound to buy, but just have the option. The seller would be bound to sell. You might look into this idea and see if your old boss would go for it. I’d also use Zillow and Eppraisal to check the current value of the property. An appraisal from last year could be off by 10-20%. My house is down 15% according to Zllow. Now Zillow / Eppraisal are not super accurate but they give you an idea if values have been trending down or not and that information justify getting a new appraisal. If you do anything then make sure you get a real estate lawyer to look it over before you sign the papers.

  41. Matt says:

    @ Q7 – Many hybrids are not much more efficient than the more efficient straight-up-gas cars. They’re not necessarily more environmentally friendly either… all that battery has to go somewhere when you’re done with it! The one exception I’d make is if for some reason you really really needed a larger vehicle – in which case, a hybrid of same might make a lot of sense. Otherwise… check out smaller cars with smaller, efficient engines.

    @#28 – I think that’s probably pretty true. I’ve been trying to do basically what you’re saying – go from a BMI of 25 to more like 22-23 – and it’s been extremely challenging despite eating better and exercising more – mostly because I was eating relatively well and exercising before. Thing is, after losing ~10lbs in 8 months, I feel better… and want to try to keep losing weight little by little. I’d like to be an outlier too!

    @ Johanna – Just because something is only true of 5% of people doesn’t mean that someone can’t do it. It seems to me that keeping weight off is a matter of discipline… similar to personal finance. I think people here have a better chance than the general population because they are trying to be disciplined about something else already.

  42. D says:

    Q3 – As someone else said, eating prepackaged meals is 1) not going to taste good and 2) is not going to teach you any skills for long term weight loss. You need to learn how to cook and meal plan.

    I know it is hard to get started planning meals and cooking when you don’t have a lot of time and if you don’t already have cooking skills. I learned to cook on my own over several years just from watching cooking shows and reading cookbooks, and now find it enjoyable and like trying new recipes. If you look at cooking as a new skill to learn and enjoy, it might be easier to work meal planning and cooking into your busy schedule. If you only view it as a chore, then it will be hard to stick too. Also, I try to find recipes that inject a lot of flavor for not a lot of calories – fun spices, fresh herbs, or a small amount a nice cheese really make a dish interesting without the too many calories. If your food is too bland or uninteresting, you will won’t want to eat it long term!

    I work and have two kids under 4, so the week nights are hectic. I try and only cook a couple times during the week and make things that reheat well for leftovers. I also shop once per week so that I don’t have to run to the grocery store in the middle of the week. This means you do have to plan out what to eat each day and make sure that food will last the week, meals at the end of the week need to be produce and proteins that will last (vegetarian options, ground meats and chicken sausage usually last).

    Start with simple recipes and overtime you will learn to enjoy cooking and meal planning, or at least be proficient enough at it to not hate it.

  43. Talyssa says:

    Hey Q3 — I have been losing weight for a couple months now – I am down about 22 lbs since I started tracking in June.

    And I eat out almost every single meal.

    The problem is that you tried to make 2 lifestyle changes at once. You tried to eat fewer calories AND you tried to start cooking (which it seems apparent that you don’t habitually do).

    Stop trying to make 2 big changes at once and you will be way more successful than nutrisystem. Commit to cooking at home or commit to eating a daily calorie deficit – but don’t try to commit to both, its a recipe for failure (no pun intended).

    If you commit to cooking at home you will probably lose weight anyway (Depending on what you normally order out) but don’t try and cook 3 course meals with vegetables and grains you’ve never even heard of. When we cook at home or have an “at home” heavy week or month (sometimes we choose to do this) our meals are almost entirely convenience food. I get whole grain bread and sandwich fixings, cottage cheese and pre-cut fruit cups, peanut butter, bananas, cereal, milk, oats, and if i think I can make us eat it, some easy veggies like broccoli (we are bad about doing this though so…). Also things like jambalaya mix and turkey sausage, eggs, etc. Convenience food, quick food, food that you can pop in a pot or the toaster oven or microwave.

    Is the above the healthiest diet ever? I guess not – but you can certainly lose weight doing it and you can supplement with a multivitamin (as good as food? no but better than nothing). Just pick lower calorie cereal options, skim milk, lower calorie lunch meat and cheese options (And pay attention to how much of each you use), and so on.

    Or you can do my current diet which is to stare at the menu, pick the best option which also sounds good, and pare it down if you need to – like order that sandwich without cheese and mayo (about 200 calorie savings right there). Don’t order fries. Get dressing on the side or pick a low cal dressing. Or if I want cheese, mayo and dressing, I eat 2/3 of my food instead of the whole thing.

    I lost 5 lbs eating like that (I do go for walks or some other form of activity every day as well).

    Both of my plans above are probably cheaper than nutrisystem will be – and if not cheaper the eating out will make you feel a lot happier and more satisfied than nutrisystem will.

  44. MattJ says:

    I went from 245 down to 195 (with a brief overshoot down slightly below 185 that scared me a little because of how gaunt my face looked) at the beginning of 2009. I lost the weight by changing my diet, not through additional exercise, and that’s been a permanent change. I have popped back up to 200 lbs, but that’s added muscle, not fat, that I gained because my weight loss allowed me to take up a couple of new active hobbies/sports.

    When I started putting on weight in grad school (1998 or so), I believed what Johanna seems to believe: Weight loss was hard, that it couldn’t last, and that it would only make you miserable until you wake up one day and realize you expended all that effort, only to fail. When I finally tried to lose weight, in fact, I did it with these supposed limitations in mind – my goal was to lose about 20 lbs for an event and not worry about what happened to my weight afterward. I ended up losing as much weight as I wanted, very quickly and very easily, and it was so easy I kept losing the weight until I went from the border between overweight and obese to the border between normal and overweight by BMI. (Really, 195 is the boundary of ‘normal’ for me and I got down to 185, but my skinny face really did freak me out)

    I’m so glad I tried. I very much wish I had changed my diet sooner. I still think weight loss is hard for a lot of people, and transitory for many people who are able to lose weight. But so what? Lots of things are hard and still worth doing. It’s clearly not impossible, and for some people it’s EASY. Don’t live your life overweight for 10 years like I did just because everyone tells you your weight problem can’t be whipped. If you tried it and you can’t do it, then you’re in the same boat as lots of people I respect. On the other hand, if you never try, you’ll never know. I could be climbing up past 265 right now if I had never tried.

  45. em says:

    Anyone who is looking to lose weight forever needs to realize that its not just about changing your diet and exercise routine. Its about changing everything (physical and mental.) You gained the weight and kept it on for a reason. Figuring that out and finding solutions to it is key. The 5% who keep the weight off don’t do so out of luck. They do so because they have truly changed their lives. 95% gain it back because they haven’t grasped everything that can be involved in long term weight loss.

    Congrats to those on here who have lost and kept it off! And keep up the awesome job to those who are losing still! I reached my weigh loss goal of losing 40 lbs a few months ago.

  46. BirdDog says:

    I’m glad some of you who have maintained weight loss for five plus years have spoken up. It truly does take a life change. Just like making the change from spending every dime and accumulating debt to being frugal and a saver requires a life change.

  47. kristine says:

    I lost and kept 55 pounds off by simply following the food chart. I gained 10 lbs for each kid, then 30 lbs divorce weight. I started at 2 miles/day on my bike, and ended up at 20 miles/day at peak, now I just jump on my trampoline a few times a week. Went from 180 – 125, and leveled out at 135, been 5 years now. I addition to food ratio, I also counted calories.

    Went through a rough patch early where I refused to eat the meals hubby made me, as they we all starch/fat, with a hint of veg. Since sharing cooking, and changing our food ratio, hubby lost and kept off 30 lbs. too! Tried weight watchers, but I found I hated the rah-rah communal aspect. Doing it myself worked.

    One outside factor was also was changed- I had extensive fibroids that left me extremely anemic, and zapped me of energy. Walking across the room left me exhausted, and I would pass out once in a while. Had my uterus removed, and it was like I got a second chance at life! So, if this is an issue for you…change it! My only regret is that I did not do it years earlier.

    Bottom line- make sure you do not have any seemingly unrelated health issues hampering your efforts, then just keep track and go for it! You can do it!

  48. Jonathan says:

    em #46 nailed it. If 95% of dieters do put the weight back on, then I can see where some might draw the conclusion that its just not possible to lose the weight. It seems more likely however that only 5% are really making the changes in their life and mindset required to lose the weight and keep it off for the remainder of their lives.

    Also, everyone should strive to be healthy, regardless of whether or not they lose weight. So even if you do believe that it is impossible to lose the weight and keep it off, please don’t let it prevent you from eating healthy and exercising.

  49. Jessica says:

    @Andrea- Over the past 3 years I’ve been looking at job listings at several local universities and healthcare systems in my city (I live in a county of 1 million people so there’s a large market). I had not thought about insurance companies. I interviewed with two private companies who were seeking contract work but again, funding cuts got in the way. Some of the things I really enjoy include survey design, testing and analysis along with user-interface testing of health systems software.What are the job titles that I should search for in regards to the position you described?

  50. Kevin says:

    Does anyone else see the weight-loss spam links for something called “willbeta.com” embedded in 2 of the reader questions (Q3 and Q5)? The words “lose” and “weight” seem to be spam hyperlinks. Any idea what’s up with that? Has Trent been hacked? Is it just me?

  51. Jonathan says:

    Most of the discussion here regarding dieting has been focused on long term weight loss. That may not be applicable to Q3, as long term weight loss was not mentioned. Alan specifically mentioned wanting to lose weight for his upcoming wedding. While I’m not a supporter of short term weight loss plan it is worth mentioning that if that is the goal then the success of long term weight loss attempts is irrelevant.

  52. Luke G. says:


    Yes, I see those links as well. I’ll drop Trent an email and let him know, since his direct participation on the comments has been nonexistent as of late.

  53. Kevin says:


    The reason they won’t promise to remove it from your credit report is because they won’t. And when you think about it, why should they? Your credit report isn’t just a binary report card that shows bills as either “paid” or “not paid.” It also reflects late payments. And although it wasn’t your fault, this particular bill is in fact being paid late. So it is accurate to leave it on your credit report. In fact, removing it would be dishonest, because it would suggest to potential future lenders that you’ve never been late with a payment, when in fact, you have.

    It’s a crappy situation, but the rules still apply to you.

    Also, Trent’s point about paying it making it “new” again is moot. By contacting them and opening a dialog, you’ve already “revived” this debt, and reset the statute of limitations on it.

  54. Kevin says:

    Re: Weight loss

    I agree with the posters rebutting Johanna, in that weight loss really is all about the individual. The way Johanna writes makes it sound like it’s a hopeless endeavour, and 95% are doomed to failure through no fault of their own.

    The truth is, we’re in total control of what we eat. As with most things, the answer is education. If you learn to see food as fuel rather than recreation, then you can make lasting changes and get down to a healthy weight.

  55. kristine says:

    Q6- Ditto- by acknowledging the debt over the phone, you have already restarted the statute of limitations. You can bet the agency has a record of the call.

    Credit agencies allow you to attach an explanation to any item on there. If the do not remove the debt, at least you can add the explanatory note.

    They are not required to remove the debt. I had a similar situation- had a bill sent to the wrong address. It was mix-up with someone with the same name, first and last. They did remove it after I called, explained, and went and paid in person the next day.

  56. Lou says:

    Q7 Re: used car buying – \
    Check your new metro area for CarShare or ZipCar options. If there’s a decent public transit system, supplementing bus/subway with one of these is an terrific way to have a car when you need it, while not maintaining, insuring and parking a vehicle andit eliminates the car loan payments.

  57. Tamara says:

    I agree completely that you have to make not only physical, but mental changes, to successfully lose weight. For me that involved finally seeking treatment for my bipolar disorder instead of seeing medication as a crutch for weak people. It’s taken a few years but I’ve found the right pharmaceutical cocktail (lol) that keeps me on the level and not wanting to lie in bed all day. I’ve lost 23 lbs, kept it off for a year so far – and it’s because I know I’m capable of it now – I don’t see myself as helpless and hopeless anymore!

    I also recommend that people get their thyroids checked out. A lot of people have hypothyroidism & don’t even know it. It can prevent you from losing weight & saps your energy besides. I’m on the low end of normal so I’m not taking medication for it now but I might end up having to in the future.

  58. socalgal says:

    Q1-Jessica. I think you are in an outstanding position to be a mommy for a while. Good for you for being so frugal & living well within your means. The world is your oyster, sister–enjoy your family. And I do agree with you that if your work isn’t fun–why do it? Life is just way too short to have a job that you hate. My best friend recently died of ovarian cancer. She had a good paying job that she hated. Before she passed, she told me that she wished she would have had the nerve to quit that soul-sucking job and find something that inspired her. I wish you the very best of luck!

  59. melissa says:

    Q10: Another way to work your way through school is to get a full time job at the school if it offers tuition waivers. I started off as a part time student assistant and by the time I was a senior into my Masters degree I was working full time as an Admin Asst. in my major department I took two “free” classes at a time while working. I got one-on-one time with the professors (a great network for recommendation letters and adjunct teaching in the department later on) and it significantly cut down on loans. However, be prepared that you might have to start pretty low on the ladder and work your way up.

  60. melissa says:

    PS Q10 The job I got was not advertised. I just walked into the Chair’s office one day, told him I was a student in the department and asked for a job. That may or may not work in today’s economy, but people are still pretty willing to give work to students. Even if you don’t get paid right away, prove yourself and then make your case for a real salary. It’s not as awesome as someone respecting you and paying you off the bat, but that’s the way academia is.

  61. Joanna says:

    I’m working my way through college right now. If it’s truly a hardship and concern for her, maybe she should cut back her school hours to a level she can balance with a full time job and stop taking out loans. It’s not against any rules to take more than 4 years to finish your degree.

  62. Andrea says:

    Jessica- There are a variety of job titles in my department that would work for MPHs, but my job title is analyst. I think the key term to search for is “Disease Management”, and then just read the job descriptions that come up. Most health insurers would have some department like that. I think that Quality Improvement departments would also be looking for MPH-type people to track health metrics on the insured population. Best of luck!

  63. KED says:

    Working your way thru college is entirely possible. I did it in 4 1/2 years working 20-30 hours per week and taking about 4 classes per semester with some summer classes thrown in also. I did start out with $ 2,000.00 in scholarship money and savings from my Senior year in High School. It can be done, just hang in there!!

  64. Julia says:

    Q3: I tried nutrisystem. Like another reader said, you are expected to supplement the pre-packaged foods with fresh produce. The system comes with a meal planning book that outlines the structure of a meal plan. It makes planning easier, but does not eliminate it.

    I found it doesn’t work for me, and I signed up for it with the same logic you did. You might try it for a couple weeks or a month and see how it works for you.

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