Updated on 08.09.11

Reader Mailbag: Stevia

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. Handling a massive pay cut
2. Balance transfer concerns
3. Saving for down payment
4. Moving or staying put?
5. What about TSP?
6. 403(b) rollover to Roth IRA
7. Checking account sign-up bonuses
8. Student loan versus down payment
9. What is an ESOP?
10. Disguising questions

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been using stevia as a sweetener in some foods as a replacement for sugar. A teaspoon of stevia in a quart of iced tea. A bit of stevia in a cookie recipe. You get the idea.

At first, I didn’t like it. It didn’t taste like sugar to me. What I found, though, was that the more I used it, the more “normal” it seemed. The “different” taste didn’t bother me any more and I appreciated what it added to the food.

This is true of almost any change you try to make. We’re so routine oriented that the change seems bad at first, but quite often, when we give ourselves a chance to become acclimated to the change, everything turns out fine.

Q1: Handling a massive pay cut
I’m in my early 30s and I’ve not yet begun saving for retirement. There are several reasons for this. I’m not originally from here so I don’t know where I plan to settle down. Also, I’ve taken a massive pay cut. I used to earn $37,740 but I’m not even scraping the $20,000 mark now. My partner pays the rent, so I can manage with smaller expenses. I plan to go back to graduate school soon (which will be paid for so no student loans). I have about 4 months worth of emergency savings and no significant credit card debt. I take good care of my 2003 car so I plan to keep it for another few years. My pay rate should increase starting next month, taking me to about $28,000 per year. Should I worry or just continue putting whatever money I can in to savings account for emergencies? Other than spending far less than I earn, I’m a novice when it comes to financial matters.

– Thomas

I think your emergency fund is more than adequate for your life situation. You have an adequately large emergency fund and if you’re going back to school on scholarship, that’s another positive.

My concern would be living expenses while you’re in school again. If I were you, I’d start saving up so that when you return to school, you’ll have plenty of money to cover your life expenses so that you can focus on studying and building relationships with other graduate students.

So, yes, I would keep shoving money into savings, but I wouldn’t think of anything beyond a few months of living expenses as an emergency fund. Think of it instead as a “life during graduate school” fund.

Q2: Balance transfer concerns
I have a credit card with a balance of $3200. (Not exact, I rounded up). I am paying about $54 in interest monthly, my interest is 18%. I pay $500 a month on this, but a good chunk is vanishing in interest.

I have an offer of 0% interest for 21 months on another card. I am considering doing a balance transfer, and I would save a good chunk in interest and pay the balance sooner. (The new card would never otherwise be used).

But I like the card I have (amazon rewards). If I do a balance transfer, will I have to close the card I have, or can I keep it and continue to use it?
– Tori

Typically, you don’t have to close the card you already have to do a balance transfer to a new card. Often, the new card will just issue a check or an electronic payment on your behalf to the old card, eliminating the balance, then creating that same balance on the new card at 0%.

The end result is that your old card has a $0 balance, while your new card now has the balance of the old card.

Be careful with this, though. Knowing that a card you often use has a $0 balance can be a temptation to use it more on things you don’t need and quickly rack up an additional balance. Don’t bury your future in debt.

Q3: Saving for down payment
My husband and I (both around 30 years old) spent the last 1.5 years aggressively chipping away at our student loans, and all of those loans are now paid off. We’re now trying to figure out what makes the most sense to do with our money (our combined annual income is over $160,000, and so we have a fair amount that we can put away each month). We have the following constraints/goals:

-In about 12 months, we will very likely be moving to a new region (with relocation $) and hope to buy a home within a year of moving
-We’ll also likely want or possibly need to either replace our current car or purchase a new-to-us car in addition to our current car
-Right now, we currently rent a home; we have at least 3 months of emergency funds ($10,000) in a savings account; another $5,000 in our checking account; no debt (credit card or otherwise); about $6,500 in a Roth IRA (which we may eventually use toward a down payment), and about $20,000 in a 403b.

Now that our student loans are paid off, I will return to putting as much money into a 403b as I can get matched by my employer (for the time being, my husband cannot receive matching through his employer). Our top priority is saving up for a down payment (we may have some sort of assistance on this from a future employer when we move, but cannot be sure), and we plan to save the $$ that we had been using to pay off student loans for this purpose. But we’re unsure where it makes sense to keep the money that we’re saving for a down payment. We could keep it in a savings account, but aren’t really sure what our other options are (we would like to be able to take out the money we save as early as 12 months from now).
– Kristina

If you’re looking at a timeframe as short as a year (and without a clear resolution date), a savings account probably is your best option. It’s very liquid (meaning you can get your money out easy), extremely stable (you won’t lose money in it), and does earn a return, albeit a small one. It’s a great place for short term saving when you can’t afford to lose any of the saved money.

If I were you, I would not bank on any sort of assistance for moving from a future employer. Never, ever manage your finances assuming something that may or may not ever happen. Assume no help and then, if you do get assistance, consider it a windfall, because that’s what it amounts to.

Just keep dropping money into your savings account as rapidly as you can and see what the near-term future holds for you.

Q4: Moving or staying put?
My wife and I are selling our house (at this moment we are waiting to hear on a counter-offer) and we are struggling with a decision. We have decided on two locations where we would like to live. The first one, Henrietta, is where we live now and I work. The second, Victor, is about 25 minutes away. Victor is where we grew up and have friends and family back that way. We are struggling because Victor is more expensive. We would have to pay 20-40K more for a comparable house. That county’s taxes are a little lower (typically 500-800 dollars).

So we know that staying here in Henrietta is much more practical. I have no commute, we could get the same type of house for much less and we like if not love the school district for our daughter. Conversely, Victor holds emotional appeal. We WANT to be there, know that we received great educations and would love for our daughter to graduate from there. A short term benefit is that they have full day kindergarten instead of 1/2 day for next year.

Quick financial snapshot is that we carry little debt (only mortgage and student loan), have 20% to put down on houses in our price range, and our frugal in every day life. We know we can afford the higher prices in Victor, but it just goes against our frugal nature.

I know you can not make this decision for us, but I thought you might be able to talk about whether an emotional appeal can ever overshadow a practical decision and how you and your wife would work through a situation like this. We have done T charts, pros and cons and bascially ran around in circles mentally.
– Brad

It’s not a decision I can make for you. You have to decide which factors are more important for you personally.

Given that the two locations are less than a half an hour apart, I would probably live in the more cost-conscious area. Several of my closest friends live about half an hour away from me, yet I manage to see them several times a month. We take turns going to each other’s homes and also doing things at midway points (like state parks and the like).

If I were you, I’d ask yourself what you’d actually gain by having a 25 minute daily commute to work versus a 25 minute drive on the weekends to spend the day with friends and family. I’d rather have a weekend drive than a daily one, when it comes right down to it.

Q5: What about TSP?
I know you recently reviewed IRA’s and 401k’s, but I was wondering if you could take a moment to review TSP (https://www.tsp.gov/index.shtml). It’s meant for Federal employees, but I’d love to hear how you rate it in comparison to the other options out there.

I’m an active duty military service member who donates 5% of every paycheck into my TSP account. I’m set up for the 2040 Lifecycle fund (https://www.tsp.gov/investmentfunds/lfundsheet/fundPerformance_L.shtml). I am currently 24 years old…and my plan for the moment is to serve 20 years, retire from the military, then take up a second job for another 20 years or so and get double retirement. Do you think that I should continue to put 5% into my TSP (which I believe does not get taxed right now like a Traditional IRA), or should I stop that and focus on putting the 5% into a ROTH IRA?
– Steve

TSP is essentially comparable to a 401(k) for U.S. government employees. This means that taxes are deferred, much like a Traditional IRA. The investment choices in TSP are pretty solid.

If you’re getting any form of matching from the government in your position, I would use the TSP and get every drop of matching I could. The value of the matching blows away any other factor.

If you’re not getting any form of matching, I would probably focus instead on the Roth IRA, because it provides post-tax income later on that will balance with the pre-tax income you have.

Q6: 403(b) rollover to Roth IRA
I am a 36 year old teacher and have been contributing to a retirement plan (403b) for 4 years with full employer match. I am fully vested in my 403b, meaning I am entitled to a small pension when I reach retirement age. I am now leaving the profession, but am at a loss as to what to do with that money. I have my own Roth IRA, and I thought of rolling over my 403(b) funds into my Roth IRA, but the catch is this: I would only be able to rollover my contributions, which are about 10,000 (essentially losing all of the past employer match) which would be taxed before going into my IRA. So my question is: should I rollover my 403(b) into my Roth IRA and lose the employer match or should I just let it sit for the next 30 years and receive a small pension check every month?

– Rhonda

You may already know this, but if you roll over your 403(b) into your Roth IRA, you’re going to take an immediate tax hit, as you’re moving pre-tax money into a post-tax account. You’ll have to pay income taxes on the money you move out of the 403(b), which could be a few thousand dollars, and you’ll have to cover it out of pocket.

While having the money in the Roth IRA is probably better long term (because you won’t have to face those tax bills later, which you’ll eventually have to do with a 403(b)), the tax hit is often painful for people, particularly on a low salary.

If you can easily handle the $3,000 (or so) tax bill, I’d roll it over. Otherwise, I’d just leave it sit.

Q7: Checking account sign-up bonuses
There are lots of offers out there to open checking or savings accounts at banks that offer you a sign up bonus for opening an account and establishing direct deposit. I was wondering if there was any actual downside to opening these accounts, making a few direct deposits, collecting the bonus, then transferring the money to my normal account and closing the account. My work makes it very easy for me to take part of my paycheck and allocate it towards direct deposit, so this is not an issue. I’m also aware that these bonuses would be considered as taxable interest income in most cases. I am more concerned about whether or not there are any hidden fees surrounding this, and then of course the moral implications of tricking the banks. Have you ever done this? Do you know if there really are any actual down sides legally or financially? As far as moral implications go, I suppose that is up to the individual if there aren’t any laws or regulations that are being broken.

– Dan

Most banks are wise to this “strategy” and put some caveats on the offer, such as maintaining a minimum balance for some period of time. Usually, the penalty for violating the terms of the offer is worse than the “bonus” you get for signing up.

If you can find a plan that doesn’t offer such caveats, then take advantage of it, by all means. The odds are, though, that you won’t find one.

Very rarely are the bonuses on an account worth the hassle, at least from my view. They’re worthwhile if you’re actually switching banks, but if you’re jumping through the hoops just to get a small bonus, it really doesn’t add up with the time investment and the risk of messing up the terms of the agreement.

Q8: Student loan versus down payment
I have a question and want to get your opinion on it. I am 28 years old and I still live at home. I want to move out but my mom says that I should hold off a little longer and save to buy my own place. She said that if I go rent I will be trapped and never have the chance to save for my own place. I live in the DC area and rent is extremely high here. It would cost me about $1000.00 a month to share an apartment.

I got finished paying my car off a little while ago ($250.00 a month). I have about 25K in student loans. To help pay these down quicker, I have been paying an extra $100.00 on them a month and saving the $150.00 for a new car.

The extra $100.00 a month goes to the smaller of the two student loans. It is about 5K. I have been paying on it for about 2 years now ($61.11 for ten years). I calculated that by putting this extra $100.00 amonth that I can have this loan paid off in three years verses eight more years! That would increase my cash flow by $161.11 a month after the three years.

I know that paying my student loans quicker does not save me any interest but it gives me peace of mind. So, my question is what would you do? Would you put that extra $100.00 on the loan or put it away to save for my own place.
– Lisa

Why wouldn’t paying your loans quicker save you any interest? Unless you have a loan arrangement that specifies this in some fashion (which none of my loans nor my wife’s loans had, nor did the loans of any of my close friends), early payments should reduce your loan’s balance, which would then reduce the subsequent amount of interest charged to your account. Even if you have a set monthly payment, it’s likely that extra payments are reducing your balance and thus your interest.

If I were you, I would try to get rid of that loan as fast as possible in my current situation. If the loan is gone and you’re still able to live with such low costs, I’d start saving as fast as possible for a down payment.

Similarly, I’d keep my eye out for work outside of the DC area where the cost of housing isn’t so back-breaking.

Q9: What is an ESOP?
The company that I worker has a 401(k) plan. I make contributions of 8% of my salary to my 401(K) plan. The company does not make a matching contribution to the 401(K) but instead makes contributions to an ESOP account (i.e. safe harbor contributions of 3% in which I am fully vested). I would like to know long-term if the ESOP would be as beneficial to me, than if the employer otherwise made contributions directly to the 401(K) account. What benefit does the company have in maintaining an ESOP plan? What exactly does an ESOP do?

– Charlie

An ESOP is an Employee Share Option Plan. Essentially, instead of contributing to your 401(k), your company is giving you shares in themselves at some rate (3% of your salary, apparently). When you leave the company, you receive the shares and the company usually buys them back from you immediately (this is probably specified in the paperwork with the ESOP).

I would not view this as a retirement plan. Instead, I’d view it more as a severance bonus for when you eventually leave the company. This may be at retirement or it may be earlier (if you find another job).

The danger with an ESOP – and a big reason why I encourage people to not bank their futures on it – is that it’s not diversified. If your company suddenly starts struggling and collapses (like Enron, Worldcom, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, etc.), your ESOP will have almost no value. If your company’s stock drops through the floor and then you’re let go, you’re going to get pennies on the dollar. That’s an enormous risk, and not one I’d ever bank my future on.

View this as a perk and plan your retirement as though it has no value. You’ll be a lot safer that way. Who knows? You might wind up with a very nice severance bonus some day because of your ESOP.

Q10: Disguising questions
I’m often stunned at the personal information that people share in the questions they ask you. I certainly hope that you (and they) protect their privacy.

– Adam

I often change personal information and other specifics in reader questions, from names to personal details. Often, when you hear a question discussing something that seems a bit vague, I’ve eliminated a specific element from the question.

Sometimes, readers ask me to change stuff after it’s published and I do that to the best of my ability, though it often changes the answer I give to their question. This has gotten me into trouble more than once, because I place a higher priority on protecting identity information for readers than on my own “need” to look perfect.

When I’m really unsure, I often don’t publish the question at all.

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. Tracy says:


    This seems like terrible advice. Why advocate losing 10,000 of free money (plus all of the interest that will accrue on that 10,000 over 30 years!) JUST to switch the account types, PLUS pay a tax penalty? You always (rightly) advocate trying to maximize employer match … and now you’re saying throw it away?

    Leave it where it is. Your future pension check may be small, but it will still be something. My mother has something similar – I think she gets a check of 60 or 70 dollars from it every month and she considers it her fun money.

  2. Tracy says:

    (I will say I assumed a 100% employer match, but even if it’s less than that, the logic still applies)

  3. EmilyP says:

    Lisa, are you currently paying your mom rent? Do you *have* $1000 a month? I’d recommend setting up your budget as if you were renting, and seeing how that works out for you financially for a few months. So, make a separate savings account, and put into it $1000 rent, plus estimated utilities, and any additional expenses that you’re not paying directly right now (like groceries). If you’re currently giving your parents money for household stuff, start paying that out of the new household account (also consider differences like metro card or gas money for different commutes). Now you’re accomplishing two things: finding out whether you can handle the new tighter-budget lifestyle, and saving up money for your upcoming independence so your parents can worry about you less. This is counter to Trent’s advice to go ahead and pay the student loans; I guess what I’m recommending is basically pre-building your emergency fund instead.

  4. valleycat1 says:

    Q8 – Trent – at least one of the student loans we took out for our child required payment of full principal + interest no matter how much extra we paid per month.

    And, Lisa, do you expect to remain in the Washington area for a long time? If so, then saving toward a starter home (not your ultimate dream home) might be a good idea, assuming all the expenses of home ownership are essentially equal to your monthly rent/housing expense. If not, then renting would be the better option, as it gives you more flexibility down the road. I think #3 EmilyP had a great suggestion for test-driving your options.

  5. Snowy Heron says:

    Re: Q2 on Balance Transfers. I am always getting these offers in the mail. The thing to be aware of with them is the fine print – they may be no interest rate for a period of time, but they do have “balance transfer fees”, which serve the same purpose (i.e., income to the bank). I you are paying the existing credit card off in the next 5 months, then depending on the fee, the transfer may, or may not, make sense. See what the fee comes out to as an interest rate.

  6. Kate says:

    If you find that you are having stomach bloating and cramping, Stevia might be the culprit. Also it is recommended that people who take medicine to control diabetes or blood pressure should not use stevia.

  7. J says:

    Re:Q5 – Brad – You said houses in Victor are 20K-40K more than in Henrietta, but did you compare the total costs of living in one town vs. the other. For example, you note that taxes are higher in Henrietta and there is only 1/2 day kindergarden, so you will need child care for the rest of the day. What will those increased costs amount to over time? Are your family and friends able to help with child care generally if you live in Victor, since they will be closer? What is the difference in commuting costs? Etc. Make sure that you factor in as many differences as you can find, not just the price purchase price of the house. Also, consider whether you would be happier living in Victor in a smaller (less expesive) house.

  8. Aaron says:

    If you wish to roll it over, you may do so tax free into a traditional IRA instead of a Roth. I completely disagree with Trent’s assessment that rolling it into a Roth IRA tax wise you’d come out ahead in the long run. The money contributed to your 401b already you paid 0 taxes on to this point. You apparently have a Roth IRA. Upon retirement, our current income tax bracket system will likely still somewhat resemble what it is today, with as an example 0% paid on income up to just under $20,000, a higher bracket from like $20K-$50K, etc. If you were to withdraw some of that money to fill that first $20K of income, then withdrew from your Roth accounts to fill the rest of your income needs, you’d pay 0% in taxes assuming the current tax brackets are unchanged from today. If however you were to rollover to a Roth, you’d pay tax on the money during rollover. The total net is rolling over has a good chance of increasing your tax burden.

    With all of that said, if you’re going to be paid a retirement benefit by leaving the money where it is, it may not be worth rolling it over at all. Be sure you have the number of years to qualify for that benefit. I was a public school teacher in Virginia for four years, and had about $10,000 in the account. I had to be there five years to qualify for a retirement monthly benefit, so I finally rolled it over to my Traditional IRA. My wife, who now doesn’t work, but also worked for a public school system, was at her job for eight years and therefore qualifies, so we’ve left hers alone because of that.

  9. DOT says:

    Q10 – Trent, yes privacy is absolutley the most important requirement! However, this is a public place and your advice to an edited question does need match,be close to perfect and understandable. If not it could do more damage than good to more than a few readers.
    If by editing your response seemed inappropriate to your readers and has gotten you “into trouble more than once” that should be a sign you edited too much and should not have posted the question at all.
    I think your “really unsure” bar is too high.. far too many questions/answers have come across as ridiculous and should not have been posted.

  10. Jennifer Wear says:

    Trent–have you ever tried agave nectar in your tea? It is low glycemic index and it super sweet so it only takes a drop. I totally love it, you should give it a try. I feel it is similar to honey, but honey has a much higher GI and is not as sweet so you use more.

  11. DOT says:

    Q2- I would not recommend a new card that you will never use again.One good rewards card is all that is needed. At $500 a month your balance will be paid off in approximately 7 months. Unfortunately, you will be out a few hundred buck in interest.. lesson learned to not carry a balance on your card.

  12. valleycat1 says:

    I’m sensitive to stevia – eating or drinking items sweetened with it make my throat itch terribly. And can’t abide the taste of artificial sweeteners. I’m of the camp that doesn’t think table sugar (in reasonable quantities) is evil, though of course you should follow medical advice if table sugar causes you problems.

  13. Josh says:

    Instead of trying to replace Sugar with Stevia, you should be trying to eliminate these types of foods from your diet. Stuff like cookies should only be eaten on occasion, and as long as you limit yourself (which unfortunately most of society does not), a little bit of sugar won’t really be bad for you.

    Other than fruit, I rarely eat foods that contain sugar or artificial sweetener.

  14. bogart says:

    @Q6 I’d definitely leave the money where it is if moving it loses the employer match (though I was similarly situated and was able to move my contributions without losing the employer contributions, which I left where they were). Among other things, it may be that remaining invested in a vested plan that provides a pension also gives you access to group health insurance in retirement (an actual insurance policy provided by your former employer and/or the right to buy in as part of a group with the associated cost savings and legal protections), something worth hanging onto.

  15. Jayme says:

    Q2: Be careful of the fees on the balance transfer.

    Right now you’ll have that CC bill paid off in 7 months (if you don’t add to it). If you do the balance transfer, the fees might make it so you’re not really paying it off that much sooner.

    It might be worth it. Might not.

  16. Sonja says:

    Q4 – Brad: Your choice isn’t just about making a good money decision. It’s about making the best decision for your family’s well-being. You say yourself that you both WANT to live in Victor. It sounds like you can afford it, and although you have a commute you will save on child care and property taxes. $20-40K over the life of a mortgage is not going to make much of a difference in your monthly mortgage payment.

    You have family and friends in Victor and that means you have a good support system in place there. That is priceless. This will be good for you and your children and will make it easier for them to have a good sense of community. You can make this move and still be frugal and as you progress in your career you will make more money.

    To me, the benefit of being frugal is being able to afford what is really important to you. You say you can afford this, so if this is what you want it seems like a no-brainer to me. Enjoy!

  17. Jonathan says:

    “$20-40K over the life of a mortgage is not going to make much of a difference in your monthly mortgage payment.”

    This depends entirely on the amount of the mortgage. Sure, for a mortgage of $290k vs $250k over 30 years the difference in monthly payment would “only” increase maybe 16%. If the difference is between a 120k vs 80k mortgage, especially over 15 years, then the difference in monthly payment could easily be close to 50%. If Brad lives where I think he does (based on the towns mentioned), then a mortgage of this amount is entirely possible.

  18. Kathy F says:

    Q7 checking acount bonus. If opening a new bank account, be careful and allow enough time for your initial deposit to clear. I once opened a new account for the $100 bonus, but the bank took 9 business days to make my initial $300 deposit available. A week after I had made the deposit, I made an online bill payment of $14 so I could meet other terms of the agreement, then was shocked when I got a $35 draft overcharge fee. The money had shown up online as being in the account, but I did not notice it was not yet “available”. None of my other checking accounts had that type of feature and I was unaware of the implications. I tried to get the overdraft charge reversed but the bank would not budge.

    Apparently for new accounts they can take a while to approve your initial deposit. Customer service would not tell me how much time was required for deposits to clear, so I did not want to keep the bank account. So I just waited a couple of months and after I had gotten the $100 bonus deposited, I closed the account. So I only netted $65 bonus, but I learned a lesson.

    I also then read (belatedly) about lots of complaints online about this particular bank (BB&T) playing games with the timing of clearing depositas and applying debits so they could maximize fees. Also many banks have their rules and regulations buried in the web pages. So be careful about minimum requirements to keep it open (BB&T did not have a mininum). But some of the requirements of this bank were not stated in the policies up front. You had to click on many individual pages of frequently asked Q&As to find out all the requirements and fees.

  19. Sonja says:

    Q4 Brad and #17 Jonathan. Jonathan is right – I was thinking 30 year mortgage because I get the impression that you are still a young couple. You say you have frugal habits so you can pay extra principal but also have some breathing room with a lower fixed payment. So for a 30 year mortgage – whatever total $ loan amounts you plug into the mortgage payment calculator- your payment will go up by $100-$200 a month for the extra $20-40K you borrow. How much will half-day childcare cost you? Where I live it would be about $250 a month.

  20. Riki says:

    Sonja — that logic only works while they need childcare. Once all the kids are in school, the childcare expense would go away but the extra mortgage payments would remain.

    I think a $200 per month increase in mortgage is pretty big, myself.

  21. jim says:

    Q6 Rhonda : Don’t roll your 403b plan over. You said it qualifies you for a pension and that if you roll it over you lose the match. Losing your match would not be worth it. And as others have said you probably wouldn’t benefit from paying more taxes today to switch to a Roth. Its fine where it is.

  22. Tegan says:

    As someone who lives 100 minutes (on a good day) away from my partner and all my family and friends, and who commutes 25 minutes to work (a short commute here!), I say: If you can afford either city, just pick the one you like the most. 25 minutes is not a long way to drive to see friends and family, nor is it a very long commute.
    For what it’s worth, if I were you, I would choose Victor, it sounds like that’s where your ‘heart’ is. :)

  23. Sara says:

    I find these sweeteners not very safe. There is always loads of controversy regarding toxicity and carcinogenic potential and if you look closely at the research done you always find big flaws. If not, many studies have shown that people that drink stuff with sweeteners, the organism finds a way to compensate for it. I try using agave nectar. I find it tastes great and studies show it does not promote the dangerous spike in insulin that regular sugar and honey do and it dissolves in cold drinks very well (what honey does not). It’s definitely more caloric than sweeteners but a much safer bet in my opinion.

  24. Kevin says:

    What’s wrong with just using sugar?

    Just maybe don’t use so much of it. 1 tablespoon of sugar doesn’t make you fat.

  25. Carmen says:

    Trent, I have been using stevia powder for about a year now. I use the pure stevia powder, so a teaspoonful would be WAY overpowering in even a gallon of iced tea! I do find it does not taste like sugar… I haven’t quite gotten used to that. But, when I use in complement with sugar is when I find it works best. Example: cut down sugar in a cookie recipe and supplement with stevia. Add a touch to fruit smoothie to complement the natural sugars in the fruit.

  26. John says:

    Ronda: I would leave the money where it is you get the match, defer taxes and some states you don’t pay state income tax on pensions.

  27. matt says:

    Q3 – You make $160k a year, but barely have any savings? You should be able to save $50k in a year easily (in addition to roth and 401k contributions) if you manage your expenses. My wife and I make $87k a year and we managed to save 20k in 2010 towards a down payment while fully funding our IRAs and 401k. Unless your rent is $5k a month I’d be interested in hearing where the rest of your money is going.

  28. Katie says:

    Matt, she said they were aggressively paying down student loan debt. Not hard to figure out where the money was going.

  29. matt says:

    Katie – So why would they be using their roth as a down payment if they no longer have debt and can save all their money? a roth is meant for retirement, not a down payment on a house when you make $160k a year.

  30. jim says:

    Matt, They did say that $10k was worth 3 months of expenses so if we do the math from that we might assume that they spend about $3333 a month. Theres various reasons why they may not have more saved at this point. They may have had very large student loans that they put all their excess cash into. They may not have been making $160k for that long. Maybe they had some unemployment in the recent past. WE can only guess about their financial history.

  31. Maggie says:

    My company gave us ESOP shares about 10 years ago and we had to cash them in after a certain period of time. I rolled my money into an money market fund and left it there for about 3 more years since I was planning to buy a car. The interest I earned more than paid for the taxes I paid when I cashed it in and I was able to purchase a slightly used car for cash! I love my Malibu and could not be happier with the way I purchased it. Be sure to check the requirements of the ESOP plan. I did not know I had to cash it in after a certain time but the company did send out notices telling us when to do that. It’s a nice way to get some extra savings without contributing anything to it.

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