Updated on 06.05.14

Reader Mailbag: Sickness and Timing

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. Helping partner build credit score
2. Rechargeable batteries
3. Job and heavy course load
4. Renting a mailbox
5. Reading time
6. Thrift clothes for tall folks
7. To sell or not?
8. Car search in new location
9. Sell now or later?
10. How do you find bargains?

On Monday at about noon, my stomach took a giant lurch. I quickly began feeling tired and mentally out of it. By Monday evening, I barely wanted to leave my bed. I spent most of Tuesday crawling back and forth between the bathroom and my bed.

As I write this Wednesday evening, I’ve lost about twelve pounds, I still hurt all over, and I’ve realized how important it can be to have posts written in advance. I spent most of my “advance” posts over the Christmas holidays, which mean that when I got sick, I didn’t have more than two or three posts written ahead.

This is one of the realities of writing for a constant deadline. Sometimes, you just get sick. Sometimes, your kids get sick. You’ve got to be able to plan for it and deal with it.

Q1: Helping partner build credit score
My boyfriend is 29 years old and has never had any significant financial accounts in his name. He’s had savings and checking accounts with two different banks over the years (currently at my Credit Union), but no credit cards and his credit report does not show any reports (either positive or negative) from his previous bank or any utility companies. In fact, it has very little on it at all other than his previous addresses and an old debt from a medical bill that is paid and just hasn’t fallen off the report yet. We tried using Credit Karma and they said he had too little credit history to even give him a credit score. He recently applied for a credit card (the Chase Amazon card) and was turned down because he had no credit history.

I plan to sell my house (I own it and he lives with me and pays half of the bills) in the near future and we will be moving to a neighboring town, where we will rent for a few years and eventually may want to buy a house together. I have very good credit and could easily get approved for an apartment or mortgage on my own, but if we go in on something together we don’t want his lack of credit history to hurt our chances of being approved. What should he do to start building a credit history? Would a “starter card” with a yearly fee be the only way to go? It doesn’t seem like he’ll be eligible for any decent cards. He’s extremely conservative financially, we’ve lived together for several years and I trust him with money. Could I put some of the utilities in his name? Would that even affect his score?
– Annie

There are a lot of things you can do in this situation.

For one, you could get a card yourself and add your boyfriend as a user on that card. Check with your credit card company to make sure that authorized users you add to your cards have the credit reported to the credit bureaus.

You could also get him his own secured card. This wouldn’t have a yearly fee, but it would require you to pay money up front as a security deposit on the card. Most large banks have such an offering.

Don’t worry about the interest rates on such cards. He shouldn’t be using it for many purchases (though using it for a few is a good thing) and he should be paying off the balance in full each month. If he does that, then there’s no reason to worry about the interest rate because he won’t be paying any interest.

Q2: Rechargeable batteries
I have been thinking lately about getting some rechargeable batteries and wondered if you have posted anything about the cost comparison between getting some decent rechargeable batteries and just buying the standard type. I guess just the standard sizes are what I’m most concerned about (AA, AAA, C, D, and 9volt). I have also been concerned about how well they would perform if you don’t use them frequently (I.e. Flashlights that you only use periodically during power outages etc.)

– Greg

I am a big fan of eneloop batteries, made by Sanyo. I have had good experiences with them over and over again.

Most of the time, rechargeable batteries for “C” and “D” size come in the form of an adapter, which looks like a “C” or a “D” battery, but just contains two or three “AA” or “AAA” batteries. There are eneloop adapters for both of these sizes.

I do not have any experience with 9 volt rechargeables. The only items in our home that use a 9 volt is our smoke detectors, and I don’t use rechargeables in those.

Q3: Job and heavy course load
Right now I’m 19 and a sophomore at a college studying mechanical engineering. It’s a rigorous college, but I like it and I’m doing pretty well. The only part I don’t like is the undue financial strain it’s putting on my parents. We’re not a rich family. My dad’s getting up there in years and being a firefighter is starting to take a toll on him. My mom is self employed in property management, and while it brings in some money it’s sometimes not enough, especially now as she’s trying to refinance her buildings.

I want to get a job. Right now I have some scholarships helping me out but it still comes down to about $12,000 a year for college, not including living expenses, food, etc. I feel guilty every time I get money from my mom and I know that they could be using it to help elsewhere, as my little brother still has to get through college. Every time I try to bring the subject up, my parents tell me it’s not a good idea, and that school is my job until I graduate and I must concentrate on that.

What do you think I should do? My average course load is between 17 and 19 hours for the next two years, and I also have a position as a service coordinator for the local chapter of Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. Is it worth it for me to get a job to help with the cost of school?
– Sam

During my fourth semester in college, I took on a 19 credit course load and worked an 18 hour a week job and another 12 hour a week job. It was a complete disaster. I didn’t do either of the jobs well and I had my worst academic semester of my entire college career. I was stressed out constantly and exhausted by the end of it.

If I were in your shoes, with a similar courseload to what I had and a job as a service coordinator, I would not add additional responsibilities to the pile. I’d stick with what I have, use student loans to finance the experience, and try to create fantastic results for both the classwork and the service positions. (A reminder: an “A” alone isn’t necessarily the best result from a class. You’ll get much more value out of building relationships with classmates and with the professor and teaching assistants along with the good grade.)

If you come out of college with a solid GPA, a lot of professional contacts, and an interesting resume with a variety of activities and accomplishments, you’ll be primed to get a good job. That is the focus here above all else.

Q4: Renting a mailbox
I started blogging myself in August and ocassionally have readers or sponsors send me packages in the mail. This looks like it might increase a bit in the coming months, but practically we’re looking at two to four parcels a month, average. I feel a bit uneasy about always giving out my home address to people, many of whom I only know online and only a little at that. I would feel more comfortable with a PO Box, but am concerned about the cost.

The local post office rents their smallest size box for $13 per 6 months, which is quite reasonable, but it is significantly out of my way and annoying. I had a PO box there a few years ago and hated going there to see if there was anything I wanted, and the junk mail piled up so that it filled up fast and I usually had to wait in line to get a pile of my mail–most of it circulars that I would toss.

I’ve called around to most of the private mailbox rental stores in my area and the best price I could find is about $10/mo, which is significantly more, but they do have an email service to let me know when something comes and it is directly on my way to work. It is a local shop and I know the people who own it, and like supporting local businesses.

My question is, is it worth it to spend the extra to get a convenient mailbox (that’s $120 per year!!!) or should I go with the annoying but cheap option? Or not sweat giving out my home address for a few packages a month? I’m trying to save money and pay down my debt, not spend more. Am I making too much out of this? I would appreciate your perspective.
– Hannah

For me, it would really depend on the volume of mail I was receiving. If I was making a trip to pick up a package once a month, the trip out of my way to the post office would be worth it.

On the other hand, if this is a daily or a thrice-weekly occurrence, I would go for the more convenient pick-up option, even if it were more expensive.

Let’s say, for example, that the more convenient pick-up saves you ten minutes per package. If you’re receiving one package a month, that’s two hours (120 minutes) of time over the course of the year. The box is costing you $94 more than the post office, so you’re spending $47 per hour of time saved.

Now, let’s say you’re receiving packages three times a week. That’s 26 hours (1,560 minutes) saved by having a more convenient pickup spot. That breaks down to $3.61 spent per hour saved over the course of a year.

For me, the cutoff for something like this would be between $5 and $10 an hour, depending on environmental factors and other concerns. So, for me, if the packages were coming in much more frequently than weekly, I’d rent the more expensive and more convenient box.

Q5: Reading time
How do you find the time to read so many books? I find that a typical book takes me eight or ten hours to read. Where do you find the time for it?

– Angie

I make it an effort to set aside one hour each weekday for reading related to The Simple Dollar. I shut off all distractions and read a personal finance or a time management book.

Also, every single day, I set aside at least an hour devoted to reading for my own enjoyment or growth in other areas. I often exceed this because I’ll take a book with me whenever I go out and about, so I’ll get in fifteen minutes at the doctor’s office or something like that. Usually, this hour is in the evening when other households might be watching television or something.

This adds up over time. On top of that, because I’m such a practiced reader, I can read pretty quickly, allowing me to go through more books than I would if I didn’t practice so much.

That’s really all there is to it.

Q6: Thrift clothes for tall folks
I have been selling clothes on Ebay for about two years. I make about $500.00 per month and am looking for a way to earn more. In your article today you mentioned that tall clothing for men are scarce or hard to find, so that led me to wonder if that’s a niche I should research. If you don’t mind, my question is: how much do you pay in the thrift stores for shirts, tshirts, pants, shorts etc for tall men? This would also help me decide if buying these items for resale would be worth it.

– Alvin

Finding good tall clothes at thrift stores is completely luck-based, but when I do find them, they’re not usually premium priced over anything else. They’re usually hung on racks alongside non-tall items.

The question for you would be whether or not the additional time you spend seeking out good tall clothes that you could likely eBay at a small premium is worth it.

My perspective is that it probably wouldn’t be worth it if you were just hunting for tall clothes. However, if you use thrift stores as a general resource, identifying both tall and regular items that are sell-able, I think you could turn a reasonable profit. You’re essentially acting as a clothes filter in that situation.

Q7: To sell or not?
My fiance and I are living together in a house in Toronto, Canada, which we bought one year ago. We bought it for $415,000, which for our neighbourhood, is a great price. I absolutely love our community – very warm, supportive, good shops etc, and good schools (for the children we’re planning to have in the next 2 years). I’m 30, he’s 32. We have a great relationship (lots of love, and good teamwork), and I’m so excited for our life together. There are two issues for me: current stress based on our present situation, and difficulty knowing what to do for future planning.

Currently: My fiance has no debt (aside from our shared mortgage; $1800 per month, variable rate… a good one, just can’t remember the number at the moment). My fiance makes a good salary (80,000) and has started some investments for our future. Me, on the other hand, I don’t have a good track record for being smart with money, but I’m working hard to change that now in my life. I have a large student debt (40,000 interest at prime through my father’s line of credit, and a personal line of credit 12,000 interest at prime). In addition, my employment has been unstable (a difficult market at the moment for Social Workers) so I’ve been building a Private Practice (which I love, and wish to grow!). Luckily I have a small client base, and I’m working right now on increasing this through an Online Counselling service. I’ve also been working odd jobs part-time for extra income, but most of the money goes towards paying my debt payments, and not towards our life (which causes me frustration). And to top if off, we’re getting married in April … luckily with financial help from our parents… but we’ll have to cover a large chunk ourselves (10,000). I’m not sure there’s any more solutions, per se, for this current situation other than continuing to work hard and communicate with my fiance about finances. What do you think?

WIth regard to the future: as I mentioned, I love our home and our neighbourhood… and I don’t want to move anytime soon. I know from our friend’s experiences that house-hunting in this area is very difficult, and we’d never be able to find another home with these perks for this price. There were lots of strange factors that led to our home purchase, which I won’t go into now… but it was unique, and not likely to happen again. However, my fiance wonders if we should sell our home in the near future and use profits to pay down some of the debt (which I admit, is huge and weighs on us). If it were just me, I’d say sure… but given we want to start a family, I feel being in a good neighbourhood is more important. But I don’t want to push for staying here if there are reasons I’m not seeing which could damage our future financial situation. Finally, when we do have children, I will not be eligible for social assistance because of my unstable employment, therefore we’ll only have one income (and maybe some extra from my private work, if I can afford the time). If you have any insights or advice, I’d appreciate it.
– Claire

The thing you need to keep in mind is that working to pay off your debts is working toward your shared life. Every hour you spend paying down those debts is an hour that will eventually improve your situation. It reduces that debt load and also brings forward the date that you’ll be able to be rid of all of them.

I am worried that you are living a bit beyond your means. The debt load you have is pretty high, you’re working at a job that seems to be relatively low income, and you’re spending more than $10,000 on a wedding.

If you’re feeling like your debts are insurmountable, which seems to be the reason you wrote this, part of it might be your lifestyle level. There are ways to reduce your lifestyle level without selling your home, particularly if it is somewhere you want to live long term.

Q8: Car search in new location
At the end of October, we moved about 150 miles away from our then current home to pursue a new job in a new market that offered significantly more opportunities then where we were. Along with it came a 50% raise (and minimal increases in living expenses) – plus my old job (that I quit to move) is still paying me to consult. In a lot of ways, I have more money than I’ve ever had in my life and projects that were on hold (new bed for the kids, clothes, etc) due to money are finally getting fulfilled.

However, being 150 miles from “home” has presented its own difficulties. We find ourselves driving back to visit family and friends every couple weeks (especially during the holidays). However, because everyone we knew was within 20 miles of us, our car was never purchased with all the miles we’re putting on it in mind. Plus, it’s not all that comfortable for long trips, and lacks adequate trunk space for packing for overnight trips.

So here is the basis of my question(s): how do we even start the car searching process? I want decent gas mileage and decent leg room in the cabin and would like something we can fit more than a few blankets and a suitcase into. Since it will also be my wife’s primary vehicle, reliability is a must as well. I have to admit, I’m overwhelmed just looking at the options and not sure where to start.

The other half of my question is: We had to take out a small loan (4,000) to move here – knowing we would be able to pay it off quickly. I have the money to pay off the loan, plus some savings, plus some extra money in my checking account, which would give me about 10,000 to pay on a vehicle (if I didn’t pay off the loan). Would it be better to pay cash for the vehicle and make payments on the loan, or better to take out a small loan for the vehicle and pay off the moving loan? I have no idea what interest is on a car loan (have never had one), but the moving loan is at 11%. Otherwise, the only other debt we carry is school loans which are currently in deferment.
– Fred

Your best move would be to pay off the loan, buy a lower-end vehicle that you can afford to pay for with cash, and then start saving right now to replace it. That way, you avoid debt, which is just money lost to the bank, and you also avoid depreciation on a higher-end car.

As for your specific car choice, we find ourselves in a similar boat. All of our extended family lives about four hours away from us, so we often find ourselves on road trips to visit people. That’s a long car ride, particularly with three kids.

What we’ve found is that the two most important factors on the trip are reliability and fuel efficiency, assuming that we have minimum space for our legs and our belongings. Most of the time, we make that trip in our Prius, which gets great gas mileage and is very reliable. It has enough leg room for me, too (I’m 6′ 6″).

I’d suggest just going to the lot and focusing on fuel efficient cars that you fit comfortably into. Test drive a few to get an idea of what you like in terms of comfort, then shop around for the best deal on some of the models that fit your needs.

Q9: Sell now or later?
I am potentially facing the issue of selling my condo at a loss or renting it out at a loss. I have applied for a job within my current organization in another city roughly 1.5 hours away so commuting for me would not be an answer. The city I would be moving to is a lower cost of living area but my salary would also drop approximately $5000.00. I figure I will be bringing home $1450 ($200.00 less) every two weeks after taxes and pre-tax items. I have lived in my condo for 5 years, but I just refinanced in April to a 20 year mortgage with a 4.875% interest rate.

If I would sell today I think I would break even on what I owe on the mortgage $140,000; however, to pay realtors, closing costs etc. I think I would have to bring $8,000 to $12,000 to the closing table. I have that amount but I would be left with little or no emergency fund. If I try to rent the condo I would probably get $1100-1125 per month in rent. My known costs would be the mortgage of $1048, condo fees of $335 and payment to someone to manage the place of $125. I would be short approximately $485.00 per month. I believe I can make up the $485.00 by changing some lifestyle habits, not paying extra principle on the mortgage and cutting back on saving for a new car which I will not need in the next 4-5 years.

The big kicker is if I took this job it would probably only be for 5 to 7 years and I would likely move back to where I live now and move back into the condo if I keep it. Strictly on the basis of money would you sell at a large loss now or have the losses over a few years? I don’t expect rents to go up that much because of the size of the condo, the lack of a dishwasher (I can’t add one) and the laundry is down the hall. Also as an FYI the condo is not underwater but I have lost approximately $75,000 (all equity from the sale of a previous property I put in at closing) in value since my purchase.

In the new job I would be doing what I actually want to be doing in my career right now. I would be away from a lot of the bureaucratic issues I am facing right now and I would get out of a job situation that I am not a 100% happy in. The job is in a city I use to live in. I have friends there, a church family that I miss and I will be closer to my immediate family. I miss the sense of community I use to feel in that city. There is a lack of that in the metropolitan area I live in right now.
– Connie

The decision of whether to sell would hinge on a lot of factors that you haven’t really specified here.

How likely is it that you’ll move back there in five to seven years? Are there other opportunities besides the career path you’re on that would cause you to move back there? How is the market for rentals in that area? Are there a lot of rentals sitting unoccupied or are they in high demand? How much of a shortfall would there be on the mortgage payment if you rented out the property (after taxes and after management fees, assuming you go that way)?

The less likely I was to return to the area, the more I’d lean toward selling. The more likely I was to rent it, particularly at a price that would pay most of or all of my mortgage, the more I’d lean toward keeping it.

This is one of those situations where there is no strict right or wrong answer because we can’t see the future. We don’t know where our path leads. All we can do is give it our best guess and move forward from there.

Q10: How do you find bargains?
What I’ve never really been able to understand about frugality is how people find all of these amazing bargains. Let’s say I need a new kitchen knife. I do some research and find some potential knives that I might by. Then, I go on amazon and a few other sites and find prices and then I do the same thing in local stores. Usually, I just buy the lowest priced one I find, but I never seem to find these amazing discounts people seem to find. How do they do it?

– Darla

When you hear about a big discount, it’s often on an item that the person wasn’t necessarily planning on buying. They just happened to find that bargain, had enough sense to see it for the bargain that it was, and had the resources to pounce on it.

It gets much trickier when you’re looking for a discount on a very specific item. The more narrow the item you’re looking for, the harder it is to find a big bargain in that specific area.

What I often do is wait. If there’s an item I would like to replace but I can hold off for a while, I sit on it and look for a bargain for as long as I can.

Sometimes, it pays off. For example, I mentioned how I waited around for the right price on a blender. Our old blender had a broken lid (which meant that it would splatter if you used it) and a motor that had a very loud whine to it that started after my son dropped it on the floor. However, it was still usable, so we kept using it. I started watching a variety of places very carefully for a discount on a really good reliable blender that wouldn’t easily break and might survive a bump and would also blend anything we threw in there (our old one was dodgy at times when it came to blending perfectly), but I knew I could just go buy a $30 replacement for it at Target if we needed to switch it.

What happened? After some waiting, I found a wonderful new blender on sale at a local food store that was going out of business and had marked it way down – something like 70% off the sticker price. About a day after that, I found an even better price on Craigslist for a similar blender.

People find bargains through a mix of serendipity and patience. You can’t wake up one morning and expect to find a huge discount on the specific item you want.

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.

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

    Q3: Instead of getting a job, could you take an extra class each semester (and/or during the summer) and graduate a semester early? That will help in two ways – you’ll save a semester’s worth of tuition costs, and you’ll be able to spend that semester working a full-time job that makes use of your degree.

    Early graduation isn’t always easy in degree programs where many courses build on previous courses, but there might be ways to get around that. Talk to your academic advisor if this is something you want to consider.

  2. Liz says:

    @Q4: Are you only near the one post office on your commute or during your regular weekly activities? For example, the post office in my small town is not on my way anywhere, but there is one in a neighboring town that I pass every day on my way to and from work. I stop there regularly, and almost never patronize “my” post office.
    When my husband goes to a class he takes once a week, he passes a different (third) post office. That post office, while not as convenient as the one I pass every day, would be another option we’d consider for a PO Box.

  3. TLS says:

    Q8 – Pay off the moving loan, and then use the remaining $6000 as a down payment on a good (used/possibly dealer certified) car that will meet your needs. Don’t go brand new or super expensive, but get something good quality and reliable.

    Trent talks about how much he likes his Prius, but $6000 isn’t going to buy you one of those. I say spend the money to get a decent car now, even if you end up with a car loan. Then pay off the loan as fast as you can (in my state, you can pay off car loans early without penalty). Sometimes taking out a loan is the appropriate choice, although they tend to get a bad rap here.

  4. Johanna says:

    Q9: It only takes 1.5 to 2 years for $485/month to add up to $8k to $12k. Given that you plan to be in the other city for 5 to 7 years, you’re far better off selling the condo than renting it at a loss. (That is, if you can really get $140k for it.)

    I know it’s hard, but try to forget about the money you’ve already lost on the condo. That money is not coming back, and holding onto a condo that’s not useful to you will not make it come back.

  5. Jane says:

    Q9: I second Johanna. Almost $500 a month is an awful lot to lose per month on a property that you MIGHT move into again in 5 to 7 years. Sell it, especially since you have the money. The money you “save” not having to carry the property you can put right back into building up your emergency fund again.

  6. Sarah says:

    Q1: please do not authorize someone to whom you are not married to use your credit card. Please.

  7. Tracy says:


    I second the avoid trying to work at the same time if at all possible. The working to graduate early is a good possibility, but if that doesn’t work, getting a job this summer (particularly if it’s a paid engineering internship) and saving all of that money for your college expenses will help.

    Plus, you can make a resolution to yourself that when you graduate in a couple of years and have a job, you’ll put money toward your brother’s college.

  8. Petra says:

    Q7: Continuing like this is asking for disaster, so far. I think I would love to keep the house, but that asks for sacrifices in other areas, indeed. So for a little while, you’ll have a great home but little money for things like going out, eating out or buying books or computergames.

    I would ask the wedding guests for money as a gift. I would cancel the expensive honeymoon, if you’ve planned one. All a bit boring, but it would be the best thing to reduce the debt load.

    Also, I would definitely not start having children now. I would focus on paying off the debts, first; or at least reduce the size of the debt load a lot before considering kids. Kids can be expensive, for one, causing you to slow down further on paying down the debts. But also I feel a parent should try his/her best to provide a child with a stable financial background, and you can’t promise that, yet. So I would definitely wait those two years you mention, and work very hard to get that debt down, and after two years reconsider whether it’s the right time to have kids. You could use your desire for kids as a motivation to pay off that debt. Keep a baby picture in your wallet, and whenever you want to make an unnecessary $25 purchase, you’ll see that child smiling at you and remember that you have a goal…

  9. Jackowick says:

    Q1 anything that is in his name only. You can “front” the money for a secured card, but just from a risk standpoint, remember that a joint account when compromised could lead you BOTH into identity theft issues, and every inquisition is going to ask about your relationship status (funny how they assume married people are always “all good”).

    Great idea, but take a calculated approach to the execution.

  10. Kristina says:

    Q3 – I worked through an engineering degree, they key is to build up your hours slowly over time so you adjust. First year I started at 10hours/week, and by fourth I was up to 30 – with my favourite shift being from 5am -9am in the morning.

    You could also try tutoring other students, I did this but I only charged in coffee & doughnuts :)

  11. Petra says:

    Q3: I agree with others here. Plus I think your parents are doing a marvelous job in motivating you to finish early with good grades :-) I would definitely make them proud by getting good grades and getting a good job once out of college.

    I had the same with my folks, they also helped me through university while they weren’t rich themselves.

    I would also talk to them about possibly paying back some money once you’ve secured that good job. If you can have an honest conversation with your folks (and I think you can) discuss with them how you feel about this and how you would love to repay the debt, once you’re in a good financial position. Maybe you can come to an agreement there that’ll make you feel better about this.

    For now: work hard :-) Good luck.

  12. Tracy says:


    Also, if you can get approved for a mortgage solely on your own credit/income, his lack of credit probably won’t affect your joint application much, if at all.

    (Unless you’re planning on looking for a house that you couldn’t afford on your own salary alone)

  13. Tracy says:

    Amendment – lack of credit HISTORY. Bad credit would have an impact.

  14. Sarah says:

    Q2: The reader asked for a comparison of rechargeable vs. regular batteries (like a “Saving Pennies or Dollars” post) not you telling him what brand you use. It would help to read the question before responding.

  15. mary w says:

    Q8. If you are buying a new-to-you car primarily becuase of the monthly visits home, think about renting a car for those weekends. You can get some good car rental deals on-line. May not work, but then again it might allow you to put off needing a *new* car for quite awhile while you save more money.

  16. Barry says:

    Q2 9v it has been my experience that 9v rechargeable s perform better in high drain devices in low drain items like smoke detectors they tend to need a recharge every 3 months where as a regular 9v will go 6 months or more in an item like this. As far as prep work for power outages goes you can’t beat a dynamo flashlight and or radio the batteries are never dead when you need them this is what all my vehicles are equipped with too.

  17. Amy says:

    Regarding Q3 (Sam) — I admire your ethics! It’s wonderful that you recognize the sacrifices your parents are making and want to minimize them. I do agree with Trent’s answer, however. I think you can help best by applying yourself to school. Then, when you get a job, that might be your best opportunity to help your parents by perhaps contributing what you can to your younger brother’s tuition. There’s an end in sight!

  18. PawPrint says:

    Q9: When you are calculating your costs for renting out the place, don’t forget the tax “benefits,” e.g., depreciation, deductions, etc. While I’m not saying that will make a huge difference in your decision, they should be factored in to see if you really are losing money (or that much money) or perhaps are breaking even. You’d also have to weigh what the tenants may do to the house.

    We were in the same situation and knew we wanted to come back in 7 years so we rented our house out when we moved out of state. After a lot of discussion for almost two years, we ended up selling the house and are staying in the current town (where, like you, we’d lived before and had community ties). We looked at the improvements we put in as sunk costs, although we did sell for quite a bit more than we paid for the place, but not enough to cover what we’d spent.

  19. Des says:

    Q7 – I am totally confused by this question. Am I missing something?

    I’m seeing $415k house with an income of only $80k (plus some spotty second income that sounds unreliable for now). That is a house more than 5 times your annual income! How did you even get approved for that? And doesn’t the variable rate on that scare you? A single point interest rate rise would add hundreds to your payment.

    I’m also seeing one partner with a decent income and good financial sense, and another partner who is admittedly bad with money and has no income to speak of and is bringing debt into the marriage. I’m not trying to be sexist (as a female bread-winner, I would do no such thing) but shouldn’t you, maybe, defer to his judgement here?

    I also don’t get the reference to social assistance. Your partner makes $80k, why is social assistance even on your mind?

    It seems so glaringly obvious that you need to sell this house that it makes me think I must be missing something. It doesn’t matter how nice the neighborhood is if you can’t afford it. The rule of thumb for our grandparents was 2x your annual income is the cost of your house. That is more like 3x nowadays, since housing has become so expensive. You should *absolutely* take your profits from this house and find one that costs no more than $240k.

    Yes, being in a good neighborhood is important with kids. So is education and health food, but that doesn’t mean you hire a PhD tutor and buy only fresh organic vegetables from Whole Foods if your income doesn’t support it. You need to find a way to make do with what you have.

  20. valleycat1 says:

    Q2 – Trent’s post in April 2008 is about rechargables, but of course pricing info would be out of date & it appears he’s switched brands of batteries.

    Len Penzo dot com has an article Why Rechargeable Batteries are Rarely Cost Effective that seems to answer many of your questions. Unfortunately the post isn’t dated as far as I could see in a brief scan.

  21. Katie says:

    Des, they’re Canadian – she’s probably referring to long maternity leave that employees can get there.

  22. valleycat1 says:

    Q2 – Len Penzo’s article is #15 in his right-hand side bar of all-time most popular posts.

    And my first sentence should say Trent wrote a post in April 2008 about rechargables….

  23. Dee says:

    Re: Petra’s (#8) response to Q7 about the house/wedding:

    “I would ask the wedding guests for money as a gift.”

    NO. This is tacky. If they can’t afford a $10k wedding without getting money from guests, then they should have a cheaper wedding. End of story.

    It seems they are spending too much money on a wedding anyway since she has so much debt.

  24. stephanie says:

    @ Des (#19) —

    I live in Toronto and $415,000 is a very low price for a house here. The average sized house in a moderately good neighbourhood would cost more like $700,000 or more.

    I don’t know if you can even *find* a house in the city for $240K, even in crappy neighbourhoods! Maybe a bachelor, 400 sq foot condo, but if they’re starting a family eventually, that’s not very practical. I think the questioner is afraid to sell because they will never be able to get such a good deal, as she says in her post.

  25. jim says:

    Q3 Sam : I am assuming your family didn’t qualify for any financial aid. Right? If you and your parents didn’t apply for aid then you need to do that. But I’m guessing that given your parents both have jobs and your mom apparently owns rentals that their income+assets is pretty sizeable and they may not qualify for aid. Don’t assume your parents are broke or struggling unless you know for a fact they are.
    1. I would STRONGLY recommend doing summer engineering internships. That will give you income and relevant job experience. Internships are a great way to get your foot in a door plus they often pay pretty well (for engineers).
    2. On campus look for a job you can do part time and allow you to study at the same time. I used to work as a computer lab monitor in a computer lab nobody ever used. The university mostly paid me to sit and do my homework. There are some jobs like that.
    3. There is nothing wrong with taking out some student loans.

    I don’t agree with Johannas idea of taking on more courses unless you’re already easily handling a full load with high grades.

    Q4 Hannah: Is your blogging paying well enough to easily afford $10/month? I think the amount you should spend on a PO box depends on the income from your blog. If your blog makes no money and is just for fun then simply don’t give out your address. But it sounds like you’re making some money at least so as long as your blog has some positive cashflow then, sure why not spend $10/month for convenience and privacy?? If $10/month matters that much to your budget then don’t spend it. Instead just be very careful about who you give your home address to. Don’t give it to random readers. ONly give it to known and trustable businesses. Or get the $13 box and be more inconvenienced.

    Q7 Claire : Do you plan to leave Toronto soon? If not I don’t see sell the house as necessarily helping long term. If you sell the house you’d be paying a realtor $25k. (I assume realtors get 5-6% in CND like in US?) Then you’d have to rent somewhere else and pay for rent instead of the mortgage. Then a few years down the road you’d probably want to buy again and you’d have to spend more money on fees to get a mortgage and possibly end up with a worse, more expensive house you don’t like as much. THat mortgage of $1800 seems fairly affordable for your fiance’s $80k income plus whatever you make, especially in an expensive area like Toronto.

  26. Johanna says:

    @jim: “I don’t agree with Johannas idea of taking on more courses unless you’re already easily handling a full load with high grades.”

    If Sam has time to take a job during the semester without compromising his (or maybe her, but I’ll assume his) grades, he has time to take an extra course.

  27. Kai says:

    Caveat to jim (#25)’s comment:
    3. There is nothing wrong with taking out some student loans *since you’re graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering*.

    When you can reasonably expect a well-paying job, it’s reasonable to take out a small loan that you can pay back quickly.
    When you are taking a degree that won’t lead to much of a rise in income and go into big debt to get it, you’re really demonstrating poor math skills – see delusional social worker graduate in Q7.

    This has made me wonder a few times, so perhaps someone can finally explain it to me:
    Do American universities charge fees by semester? Up here, fees are usually by course, with only small additional fees. At least 90% of what you pay in an average semester of classes is money charged by the course. So while graduating early might have other benefits, you’re pay most of the same money whether you get through your degree six courses at a time or four. Finishing in a year less would save you maybe $100-200 in per-term extra-curricular fees, but nothing significant.
    Or is it the American culture of living on campus where if you move away from school sooner you’ll save a lot?
    It definitely makes sense that another year making money in the working world rather than spending it on education can help in the long run, but people keep talking as though finishing quicker will actually make the degree cheaper.
    Can anyone explain?

  28. Katie says:

    Kai, yes, most schools charge by the semester. (The big exception, as far as I know, are community colleges and other schools where most of the student body isn’t necessarily full time). They might charge additional fees if you go over a certain maximum number of credits, but for a basic full-time courseload, it’s a flat rate.

  29. jim says:

    Johanna, Yeah if he has time to spare without hurting his grades then sure adding classes is a fine idea. In fact finishing a semester earlier if possible could be a lot more financially beneficial then working part time for minimum wage. I wasn’t sure if he had time to spare to either work a typical job or take extra class while keeping his grades up. For the same reason I would also recommend against working in school if it will hurt his grades. I recommended the ‘get paid to study’ type of job since that shouldn’t hurt his grades.

  30. jim says:

    Kai, It varies from school to school some. But as Katie said most schools charge by semester IF you are taking what they consider a “full time” course load. If you take rewer than the full time level then you usually pay by credit. If you take more than the full time level you may also have to pay extra then as well.
    So for example a school may say that 15 to 18 credits is full time and then charge you $6000 a semester for any amount of courses in that range. But if you take less than 15 credits you get charged a part time rate based on the # of credits. They may charge $400 per credit so if you only take say 8 credits then that might be $3200. If you take more than 18 credits then they might tack on another fee for taking extra credits. Again it varies school to school.

  31. Wes says:


    I’ll second Trent’s recommendation of setting aside an hour to read for pleasure every day. I found that it was easy to find the time if I actually made the time to do it. I also found that an hour of pleasure reading is a great way to unwind and shift into a lower gear before heading off to bed.

    Also, reading can be a great replacement for television, so you can get some extra time there.

    In short, plan your reading time when you plan out your week or your day. For me, it’s as easy as quitting whatever I’m doing at 9 pm and picking up a book until I get too tired to make it through another chapter.

  32. Johanna says:

    @Kai: At my alma mater, credit is measured by the course, not the credit hour. And tuition is purely by the semester – you can take up to 6 courses for the same tuition, but they won’t let you take more than 6 at all.

    You need 34 courses to graduate, so to graduate in 8 semesters, you’d take an average of 4.25 courses per semester (there are also half-credit and quarter-credit courses). But even if you don’t take any classes during the summer (which would cost extra) or come in with any transfer credit or AP credit, if you take 6 courses per semester you can graduate a full year early and save a full year’s tuition.

    That would be tough (I took 5.75 courses once, and it was really not fun), but taking 5 courses per semester and graduating one semester early would be very doable for many people.

  33. Julia says:

    Q3: I’m gonna disagree with both Trent AND most of the commenters.

    Specifically: “If you come out of college with a solid GPA, a lot of professional contacts, and an interesting resume with a variety of activities and accomplishments, you’ll be primed to get a good job.” – That’s not necessarily true. I graduated in 2007. I had many classmates (civil and mechanical engineering) that match Trent’s description and still have not found engineering jobs. I had a job the Monday following graduation. My edge was that I worked 10-30 hrs/week the whole time I was in college with my last two years at low-paying interships.

    I agree that the best way to help your parents is to ensure you get a job quickly after graduation. The same skills you need to juggle work and school are also necessary to juggle multiple projects at work. So getting a job (even a low-paying job) should be part of your education.

    Kristina has the right idea: start with just a few hours a week and work your way up. If you can find an internship in your field, that trumps all (if it’s unpaid). Your grades might suffer. But they only count for that first job, so if you get your first job while you’re still in school then grades don’t matter much.

  34. Angie unduplicated says:

    Darla-Start with researching best times of the year to purchase categories. Shopzilla, Google Shopping, and Yahoo Shopping will give you price and shipping comparison info. Consumer Reports may be available at the public library; if not, they have a smartphone app or one-time use rates. Spam can be your friend here; get a free email box and sign up for weekly specials with quality discounters.
    Have buyers lined up in advance, if possible, for your used working goods, and pass along the bargains. A disabled retiree was delighted to have my older but pristine computer on a $10/month deal.

  35. Jackie says:

    I love how everyone is so eager to recommend internships as if this is a new and novel idea you’re bring to the conversation. Last week I saw a segment on the Today show while in the dentist waiting room about internships. The gist of the segment was: OMG! The Today show just learned about this cool thing called internships that are the best kept secret of colleges everywhere. Parents! Tell your kids to get an internship because surely they’ve never heard such a thing a million times in their schooling career and those jobs are a dime a dozen just waiting for applicants.

    Reality: 1. Sam already knows all about the existence and value of internships. 2. Internships are even more competitive and hard to get than post-graduate jobs. I was on a hiring team for engineering interns at my last employer, a Fortune 100 company. We interviewed more than 300 students for 8 internships.

    I’m not knocking internships, just the breezy attitude people have toward getting them. Yes, of course try for internships. They are the best thing you can do for your education and future job prospects. But go ahead and get a part time job too if you can handle it. There is a lot to be said for a regular change of pace and break from campus. Sam’s volunteering is great but if time is a constraint and money is needed then maybe finding a paying job in a similar capacity would be a better use of time.

    Also, Sam, you’re 19. Please explore other topics and don’t lock yourself into a major your freshman year. Explore your interests!

  36. Jill says:

    Q10- since you mentioned kitchenware, I’ll offer two suggestions for the discounted good quality stuff- the TJ Maxx/Marshall’s/Tuesday Morning sorts of discount stores and Williams-Sonoma. TJ and the like get a fairly steady stream of assorted top level kitchen goods- they can’t advertise their prices, but they’re generally 30-50% off retail to start, and even cheaper if they make it to the clearance stage. Most of out Wusthof knives and All Clad pots have come from there. With Williams-Sonoma, they’ll have a few very excellent clearance sales every year- sometimes up to 75% off original retail.

    Either way, they’re not stores where you’re going to automatically find exactly what you want- it’s more of a case of stepping into the store when you’re in the area and seeing if there’s something interesting thay’ve got in stock at that particular moment in time. Our $30 Le Creuset small saucepan from Williams-Sonoma was exactly that kind of semi-random find.

  37. jim says:

    Jackie: “Reality: 1. Sam already knows all about the existence and value of internships.”

    I’m sure Sam is aware of internships. But maybe Sam doesn’t quite realize how valuable an internship would be. Its isn’t necessarily something anyone in college ever tells you. In my first degree I didn’t quite realize the value of internships. I just had an assumption that I’d be able to get a job with my engineering degree. I know in college there were many students who didn’t really look at internships. I’m sure there are still many college students (including engineering majors) who don’t understand the value of internships.

    Sam gave no evidence of trying for internships or even considering them.

    I see nothing wrong with recommending internships over and over. College kids need to be told. Nobody ever explained to me how valuable they were. Don’t assume college counseling offices do anything, cause some do virtually nothing.

  38. SLCCOM says:

    # 1, I second the advice: never give anyone but a legal spouse your credit card. He can get a secured card from the credit union and build credit that way. And, don’t buy a house with anyone but a relative by blood or marriage.

    Rechargeable batteries are a royal pain. I’ve found that they are generally more expensive when you get a bad battery, forget and overcharge something, or absent-mindedly throw it away. You can’t rely on it at the end of its life expectancy, either.

    #2 If you can’t afford both the house and a very, absurdly expensive wedding, weigh the price of enjoyment per hour for the expenditures. Let’s see, a wedding. About 1 hour for ceremony, six or seven hours for a reception. House for long enough to raise children: hmmm. I know which way I’d go. Ditto to evaluate the honeymoon. Dial it back — waaayyy back. Fertility declines steeply at your age — the advice to wait to have children could turn out to be extremely expensive.

    And I’ll tell you, if you ask me for money as a wedding present, you’ll be getting my regrets and lifelong contempt. At your age, you are old enough to learn to make some fundamental financial decisions.

    # 3 Getting a job as a resident adviser in the dorm is a great way to cut your living and food costs a lot without cutting into your class hours a lot. And look for jobs with the engineering lab, which lets you get to know your professors better and pays to do major-related things. Also, if there are any engineering research opportunities, those can be a major recommendation when job hunting time comes.

Leave a Reply

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