Updated on 05.04.11

Reader Mailbag: Sun Tea Season

Trent Hamm

As I write this, I’m enjoying my first ice-cold glass of sun tea of 2011. Delicious.

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Student loan consolidation question
2. Tabletop or electronic games?
3. Retirement worries
4. Groceries and kids
5. Quality of life versus money
6. 401(k) or mortgage
7. How to handle second mortgage
8. Balancing gas prices
9. Real Prius numbers
10. Refinance or pay more?

Q1: Student loan consolidation question
Our youngest child graduates from college soon. I have five Parents Plus loans that total approx $45,000 in debt. Four of loans are at 7.65%, one is at 4%. I could consolidate all to a “Weighted Average“ interest rate of just over 7%, which would reduce the total payment by $80.00/ month. I could consolidate the 4 high interest ones, and reduce the total net payment of all by $65.00/month. I would use the difference in the payments to snowball all of this. Or I could leave them alone and just snowball the whole works.

– Sandy

Based on the information here, it sounds like consolidation would not actually help you reduce your interest rates. However, it would extend the term of your loans, which means that although your monthly payment would go down a bit, the term of your loan would grow longer at the same time.

Over a long period of time, this is somewhat a bad thing, as it means you’ll be paying more interest over the lifetime of the loan. Over the short term – the next month, for one – it’s a good thing, as your monthly payment will be lower.

I tend to take the long term view. I’d leave things as they are now and snowball the debts.

Q2: Tabletop or electronic games?
I know you play many strategy boardgames and I have been been interested in starting to play one/some with my boyfriend who plays tons of tabletop warhammer and other computer army strategy type games. We recently saw that the online downloadable section of xbox live has many of the starter games you have suggested over time like carsconne, ticket to ride, and one other I can’t recall right now. They are priced around $10 to download. I thought the prices for buying the table top board games new you mentioned was a around the $20-25 range. What do you think about this option? Would it diminish the experience at all in your opinion if we were playing each other through the xbox?

We downloaded the trial of carsconne and liked that it showed us the legal tile placement and kept track of the scoring. That said, I have never played the real version so I don’t have anything to compare it to.
– Kristin

Electronic games and tabletop board games are such a vastly different experience that I can barely compare the two.

The biggest difference is the face-to-face interactions. Actually seeing the other players, watching their body language, and hearing their vocal inflections paired with mannerisms adds a rich dimension to board games that video games can’t match. There’s also the tactile experience of the pieces and lots of other little factors that come from sitting at a table with real live people versus playing a video game.

Board games also have the advantage of not requiring electricity for use. I can play a board game when the power is off provided I have a flashlight. In fact, I often do play such games when the power is off. The same is true for camping trips, etc.

Video games are a good substitute for game types that board games can’t capture. For example, I can’t see how something like Portal could be re-created successfully as a board game.

Q3: Retirement worries
I am afraid that i dont have enough money by the time i grow old. Or i do not know how much is sufficient to grow old with. I am aged 35, earning about RM 36,000 per year. So, about 3k per mth. I know the standard of living in US and Malaysia is different, lets presuming cost of living is equivalent as in 1usd to buy 1 usd goods, 1 rm to buy 1 rm goods.

Presuming a reasonable condo, cost about rm 200k to 300k. A macdonald value meal with french fries, a burger and a drink, cost about rm 9. I have no debt, own a car (year 1996). I am living with parents, but if they are no longer here, i have to move out as the house is belonged to my brother. I am not able to move out right now, as parents are old, need to take care of them.

I am thinking to buy a house or change a new car, but yet i am not sure, my salary is enough for all these. I like the way you plan for yr life, therefore would want to seek yr advice. I have 100k in stock investment. Everytime i got money, i just dump in. As you know, stock goes up and come down, so it is very hard to say what kind of dividen i am earning that with. But if i sell all those right now, i have 100k for it. Emegency fund around 3k. I save about rm 500 every mth. I have 2 life insurance policies which one of them include medical (very low), i know should have bought short term or medical only, but that was long ago when i purchased it so cant change much about it.

My friend told me that we need at least 1 to 3 million when we retired, as we are not able to generate income when we retired at age 55 and if living up to 90 years old. You have yr 401k , we also have employee fund, currently i have around 70k in those fund about dividen 5%.

Do you think i am in a bad financial position? Any suggestion to improve my situation? I would be gladly appreciate it.
– Nata

For starters, I would abandon the notion of retiring when you’re 55.

The traditional retirement age – 65 – was set at a time when life expectancy was barely beyond that. In fact, when it was mandated originally in the 1930s, the average life expectancy was below that.

If I were you, I’d investigate the life expectancy of someone your age and perhaps subtract a few years from it. That’s a more realistic estimate of your retirement age.

Using that as a guideline, retirement savings becomes much less pressurized. Do some calculation using those adjusted expectations.

If you still want to retire at 55, expect some challenges. It’s not an easy path to get there.

Q4: Groceries and kids
Looking at my budget, I know I need to cut my grocery bill but I have 2 young boys who already eat like teenagers. My 5 year old is still rather picky while my 10 year old will eat almost anything and in large quantities. Your family usually cook meals using little if any meat. I assume your kids aren’t picky eaters, true? Utilizing more veggies and less meat is cost effective but only successful if the boys eat it. Any suggestions?

– Denise

We make a wide variety of meals. If our kids don’t like what’s for supper some night, we just make them try a few bites of it. We don’t allow them to dictate an alternate supper and we don’t give them snacks afterward to make up for it.

They’re used to this, so they’re pretty willing to try everything. Like anyone, they have foods that they like and they don’t like, but they’re pretty well-rounded eaters.

We just don’t let them get away with protesting every meal until they get hot dogs and macaroni and cheese or something like that. If they don’t like what we have, they don’t have to eat much of it, but they’re not rewarded with other kid-friendly food later on. They always have the option to eat more of whatever we have for dinner.

Q5: Quality of life versus money
When I was younger I was extremely liberal with my spending on credit cards. With my wedding and the time my wife has spent off having my two children we have managed to accrue 24k in consumer(cc) debt. As well as a 96k mortgage. After a lot of soul-searching I was able to break my bad habits. I have lived mostly on cash for the last one and a half years. My debt has remained mostly unchanged during that time. Recently, I lost my primary source of income for a few months and took a job that provided regular paychecks instead of my quarterly windfalls that I counted on to keep current on my debt. I fell behind on payments and have basically given up on caring about due dates. I am floundering with a lack of direction. I want to pay off my debt and regain control of my life but I also want to maintain a normal life for my children. We have cut spending to the bone, but, I wonder if bankruptcy would help me achieve these goals faster than conventional debt repayment techniques. I am only 25 and have a good prospective working career at my feet. Any tips for someone in my position? Any help is good help.

– Jeff

Whether or not you’re able to handle that debt depends on a lot of things: your actual family income level, the cost of living in your area, the extra costs of your employment, and so on.

It may be that bankruptcy is your best option here, but unless the rest of the picture is really awful, this is a recoverable situation without bankruptcy. Bankruptcy usually doesn’t make your debts go away. It usually just means the courts create a debt repayment plan for you.

Managing weekly paychecks is far different than managing windfalls. It takes practice.

Q6: 401(k) or mortgage
Would you stop your 401-k to if you could pay off your mortgage by the end of this year? I am 44. Husband is 42. His contribution would not stop. Our mortgage balance is 32k.

– Sheila

Unless there was some sort of major life change occurring in the next couple of years that would involve a severe drop in income, I wouldn’t change a thing.

That is, unless you’re way ahead of where you should be on your retirement contributions. Use a retirement calculator and figure out where you’re at for your age. If you’re ahead of where you should be and you’d like to get that mortgage finished off, make the short term switch.

However, it is never a good idea to take your retirement savings off the rails for a while just to gently accelerate a debt repayment.

Q7: How to handle second mortgage
We’ve recently had to take out a government (FHA Title 1 Loan) loan to do some necessary repairs on our house, which we’ve only been in since late 2008. We purchased it from a family member and now we have some unexpected repairs to make. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough equity at the time to take out a loan to cover the repairs (which have cost in the neighborhood of $25,000 to be done), so we had to find an alternate route for funding. Luckily I found a bank that offered a loan that was specifically set up for this purpose and was government sponsored, which turned out to be our ONLY option. The down side is that the interest rate is a little high (It’s ~8%) and we had to borrow the maximum amount ($25,000).

While we’re still waiting for the necessary permits and everything to be approved so that we can begin the work, my wife and I have both been working hard to build up as much of a savings account as possible so that we can pay off as much of the loan in one lump sum as soon as the work is completed. We don’t want to drain our entire savings, but we have about $10,000 in “extra” savings that we can put towards the loan.

My question is, what do we do about the remaining $15,000 part of the loan?

My concern, first of all, is having such a big loan that uses our house as collateral. It’s got a fairly high interest rate, and although we’re working hard to pay off the loan, I’m not comfortable with maintaining such a high balance with something so important. I’m also not fully comfortable with the company that we’re dealing with to pay off the loan (I’m guessing the bank sold the loan as soon as it was made), because they don’t offer an online overview of your account, or any real communicative statements, and they just seem to be a little behind the times in terms.

We both have credit cards with a $0 balance (inspired in part by your blog!) with interest rates LOWER than the interest rate on the loan. My credit card is at 7.6%, and my wife’s is about the same. Unfortunately hers is based on a variable interest rate which is the prime rate + a certain percentage (right now it’s pretty low). Both of our cards offer 0% balance transfers for at least a year.

With this information, do you have any advice on whether or not it would it would make sense to pay our loan down to $15,000 and then split the remainder between our two credit cards with a 0% balance transfer? Is it any more “safe” to have a somewhat high credit card balance than having a second mortgage? Is it possible that if we transfer a large balance to my wife’s card that her interest rate will go up more than minimally because it’s based on the prime rate?
– Joe

I would get rid of this home loan first.

For one, it has a higher interest rate than your cards do. For another, it’s collateralized, while your cards are not.

Unless one of your cards suddenly spikes in terms of rate, I would focus entirely on paying down the second mortgage.

Q8: Balancing gas prices
I have a gas price question for you. Right now, we have two vehicles. Our Jeep Liberty is paid for, and has been for years. We are happy with it and have cared for it well, but it only gets 12.75 miles to the gallon. Horrible! It is due to the tow package on the truck. With gas prices as they are, is it better for my huband to continue to drive it (About 40 miles per day) or for us to purchase another car with better gas mileage? We would probably be looking at a used Prius or a used Volkswagon TDI for the gas mileage. Can you help me look at it from a financial standpoint?

– Marta

Although I can’t guarantee that it’ll be worth it (you’ve always got the “lemon” factor to worry about), I would think it’d be worth it to trade to a car with better fuel efficiency.

Let’s say you drive 40 miles a day for 300 days. That’s 12,000 miles a year. If you’re driving your Liberty, that’s going to eat up 941 gallons of gas a year. If you’re driving something that gets 30 miles per gallon instead, that’s going to eat 400 gallons, a difference of 541 gallons. With $4 per gallon gas, that’s $2,200 a year. It doesn’t take long for that to make a HUGE difference.

If you can trade without sacrificing anything else, do it.

Q9: Real Prius numbers
Since your wife has had a Prius for two years now, I’m wondering if you could share some real mileage numbers with us. I have been thinking about getting a highly fuel efficient car like a Prius but I’m trying to figure out if they’re really all that great in the real world.

– Ed

Over a very long period of time, the Prius has gotten 43 miles per gallon. Mostly, this is my wife’s commute and she tends to have a bit of a lead foot – if she kept it near 55, I’m sure it would be better than that.

This vehicle replaced one that got approximately 26 miles per gallon.

She’s putting about 15,000 miles per year on the car. That’s a savings of 228 gallons per year, which, at current prices, is about $1,000 per year in savings just from the gas mileage.

Over the lifetime we hope to own the car, that’s going to be about $10,000 in savings. We’re pleased with that.

Q10: Refinance or pay more?
We owe $95,000 on our home, mortgaged at 6% interest. We recently were approved for a 15 year re-fi at 4.37% interest. When we saw that the fees would increase our mortgage to $99,500 again, we balked. Thinking long-term, which would be best: to keep our current (30 year) mortgage at 6% and just pay extra principle each month, or to grab the new loan? I’m going to find out about early payment penalties or fees, should be make the progress we intend to make.

I realize you may need more information to go on, but I’m looking for a gut-instinct on this one.
– Debi

The real answer here depends heavily on your behavior, but if you’re not going completely crazy with the repayments, you’re better off refinancing.

The interest rate reduction will make up for the difference in balance in just a couple years. Now, if you were going to be overpaying to the extent that you’d pay off the loan in two or three years, then it wouldn’t make sense to switch because the fees would be more than the extra interest accrued in just a couple years.

However, it sounds like you’re in for more than just a couple years. In that case, the refinanced loan is almost assuredly the better deal.

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. Allie says:

    Trent, the Xbox Live version of Carcassone supports up to four people in local multiplayer. Playing that way you don’t at all lose out on “actually seeing the other players, watching their body language, and hearing their vocal inflections paired with mannerisms.”

  2. Wesley says:

    Agree with Allie.

    We have a group of four that plays Ticket to Ride on my 360 quite often. It mostly just removes the physical board as we all sit around the TV and have that same type of interaction while looking at the board on the TV. I like it better than the physical copy because:

    A. No fiddly bits to lose, which isn’t a big problem for me but is always annoying when it happens
    B. It is cheaper, as in…$10 compared to 40.
    C. You can download more maps, they generally cost about $5, but that is still much cheaper than buying a different map for a physical copy.

    We also have Carcassone like Allie, but in general we just prefer Ticket to Ride.

  3. Deborah says:

    I also love my (2010) Prius. I drive about 120 miles a day, almost all of that on the interstate at 70 mph. I’ve had it for 18 months, and right now I’m averaging 47 miles per gallon. I’ve actually improved my gas mileage from 44 mpg when I first got it, thanks to the various ways the car displays how you’re using fuel and the battery. When I’m on vacation and just driving around town, I average right at 50 mpg. Since this car replaced an old Camry that got 25 mpg, I am incredibly happy – which you can tell by the length of my comment!

  4. Luke says:

    Trent, every time you give someone advice involving bankruptcy, I cringe a little bit; I feel like you have perhaps not taken the time to research bankruptcy very well, but rather are simply spouting off some common misconceptions. Forgive me if this is inaccurate. For example, in your answer to Question 5, you said, “Bankruptcy usually doesn’t make your debts go away. It usually just means the courts create a debt repayment plan for you.” Whether that’s true depends on the type of bankruptcy filing you do. If it’s a Chapter 7, the debts will go away, with a few special exceptions like student loans or tax debts. A Chapter 13 is the one involving payment plans. I just think it’s important that people are encouraged to more deeply investigate for themselves the possibilities and ramifications of bankruptcy for their particular situation and not just accept these misleading blanket statements as the last word. Otherwise, I continue to appreciate your thoughtful and helpful work here.

  5. TLS says:

    Concerning question 3:

    In some countries, you are pretty much required to retire when you reach a certain age (it may also depend on the job). I do not know if this is the case in Malaysia.

  6. Brandon says:

    Q2’s answer shows most of Trent’s normal biases and lack of looking into things.

    You and your boyfriend could get those games and play them locally or over XBL. Playing the games that way is a good and inexpensive way to try them out especially if you are uncertain about them.

    I think some work better than others though. For example, Carcassonne is pretty much spot on to how it works in the real game. The only big differences is that it shows you all the legal placements automatically. This is good in that you do not have to spend a lot of time analyzing all possible placements, but the downside is that it is harder to bank on your opponent missing a good play.

    Ticket to Ride on the other hand let me down. Your hand is supposed to be secret in TTR. As a result, you have to have the other player look away from the screen while you are taking your turn. Also, it makes sound effects when you complete a route. This is also supposed to be secret, but now the other player will know.

    I think Catan might suffer a bit from this as well though in Catan all card getting is public so someone could technically track your hand’s contents, it is easier to see it on screen. The advantage though here is that Catan is only 3-4 players, but you can play with computer players on the XBox version.

    Personally, with most games, I agree with Trent that I like the tactile sensations of dealing with the “bits”. There are some exceptions though. Through the Ages (not on XBL, but online) has an enormous amount of upkeep (moving pieces around at the end of and between between turns) that is much easier to have a computer do automatically. Diplomacy has moderately complex arbitration rules that are also nice to have executed automatically. That said, Diplo is more intriguing to play in person.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    Q9/Prius – I know someone with a 3 year old Prius who just had to replace the batteries, to the tune of $3300, so she figures if this is going to happen every 3-4 years, the savings on gasoline are going to be pretty well eaten up by the battery replacement costs.

  8. Melissa says:

    Denise (Q4) – If your boys aren’t willing to eat the veggies, have to tried hiding them. It might not work on the 10 yr old, but probably with the 5-yr old it would. There are a couple cookbooks on the market w/recipes that hide pureed veggies in main dishes. Also, if you want to incorporate more meat into your meals, try buying things like whole chickens, while on sale. I will roast a chicken for Sunday dinner and then I have leftovers for something like burritos and chicken divan. Beef is trickier…we buy cheaper cuts. Watch the flyers for ads and sometimes you can get the meat that is marked down in the middle of the week. Freeze it and save it for later. My biggest money saver is meal planning. Go into the store with a plan and stick to it!

  9. valleycat1 says:

    Q3 – search online for retirement savings calculator – many of the larger financial houses & some financial advisors have free, easy to use calculators where you plug in just a few #s & they let ou know how much you need and how much that translates into that you need to set aside monthly for however much longer you’ll be working.

  10. Pattie, RN says:

    Re Q4~there is no such thing as a “picky eater” in homes or locations where food is limited. I raised two sons pretty much the way Trent suggests: meals were two options, take it or leave it. If they were hungry after refusing food….then they would stay hungry until the next meal.

    To me, catering to children at mealtime is silly. AND….no healthy child has ever voluntarily starved themselves to death. Serve healthy food that they can eat (or not), throw in a mulivitamin with iron as a backup, and the problem of “picky eating” will do away.

    And hungry kids who are not obese? Whole wheat bread, fruits (fesh or dried), air popped popcorn and lots of ice water or decaf tea will hold them over until the next meal.

  11. Dangerman says:

    “it sounds like consolidation would not actually help you reduce your interest rates”

    It NEVER does!

  12. Steven says:

    I’m not impressed the the gas mileage on the Prius. Aren’t these cars supposed to be amazing? I just drove from Minneapolis to Florida and back in a 2003 Chevy Impala and averaged 33 mpg at around 75 mph the entire way, stuck in traffic at any large city, and driving around the towns I was spending time in.

    Either I’ve got a strange car (sources say it should average far less than this) or the Prius isn’t really THAT great of a gas saver.

  13. Mary says:

    @Q4 – As a 24 year old self-proclaimed “picky eater” I grew up in a family where my parents fought ruthlessly with my brother and I’s pickiness for certain foods. My brother and I fought back of course, and about half the time we won (when we were older, that is). I’m still a picky eater to this day as a result, which sucks because I am dating someone who loves any and all types of food, and I feel bad for turning opportunities to try new food down all the time. He’s always getting me to try new things though, like seafood. And I am getting better as each year goes by. I like a lot more foods now than I did 10-20 years ago. Just comes with age I suppose.

    Looking back I would rather have my parents stick to their guns. Because at 24 it’s embarrassing. I plan when I have kids to make sure they eat their veggies so they are open to new foods.

  14. Johanna says:

    Q4: I don’t have kids, so I don’t have any direct experience with this. But I really like the advice given by Dina Aronson in a blog post called “Getting kids to eat vegetables and other healthy foods.” (I can’t link to it, but you can google it.) It’s specifically about vegan foods, but should be equally applicable to omnivorous households.

    I disagree with the suggestion to hide pureed vegetables in other foods. It may seem like a good idea in the short term, but it just reinforces the notion that vegetables in their ordinary, recognizable forms are *not* worth eating. There’s going to come a day when you can’t feed your kids grilled cheese sandwiches with pureed cauliflower anymore (or whatever godawful concoctions those books suggest) – and then what are you going to do?

    Last but not least, learn to cook vegetables so that they taste good. So often, the reason kids get the idea that vegetables taste bad is that the only vegetables they’ve ever been served have been plain, unseasoned, and overcooked. Even if you treat vegetables primarily as “side dishes,” pay as much attention to them as you do to the “main dish.” Experiment with sauces, seasonings, and different cooking techniques. Cookbooks by Jack Bishop, such as “Pasta e Verdura” (which is unfortunately out of print) and “Vegetables Every Day,” are good sources of ideas (although as I said, I can’t vouch specifically for their kid-friendliness).

  15. L says:

    I second the comment by Mary. Mealtimes in my house growing up were a never-ending battle; I think that became a constant power struggle that no one was determined to lose. I remember being force fed, throwing up, hiding food in trash cans when no one was looking, having to sit at the table for hours, screaming, crying, spankings, you name it. Think that gave me and my siblings a healthy attitude towards food? And we’re all crippled by it now. We all have extreme food issues now. I think between my brother and sister and I we won’t eat any more than about 25 different foods total. Vegetables are the worst. My sister and I literally gag, vomit with certain textures and smells; my brother is slightly better. Weight issues, eating disorders. I so wish my parents would not have made such a big deal out of this, just let us be and try it if we wanted, not forced things. It is crippling; none of us are married, terrified to go out, can’t date, it’s like we’re always kids. How many people in their 40s live on milk, pbjs, pasta, cold cuts, and about 5 other kid foods? I’ve been to therapy for years about this. Please, parents, you do your kids no favors by turning this into an epic battle, nor by giving in and letting the kids live on chicken nuggets and pizza.

  16. AndreaS says:

    Re Q4, As I have previously mentioned, my daughter owns a day care… pre-school really. She and a friend bought an existing business. It just drove her nuts about the poor quality food most kids brought with them. So she and her partner changed the school policy, and for $3 more per child per day, they would provide food for two snack times and a lunch. (This covers food cost, and also extra staff needed during food-prep time). Menus are prepared a month in advance, with no repeats of lunches and a few new recipes each month… this variety insures that confronting new food becomes the norm. They have two rules: 1) kids must take a no-thank you bite of each food served and 2)kids must eat all food they serve themselves (they are reminded of this when they serve themselves up).
    It was a little challenging at first, but once kids realized teachers were not going to cave in, they complied. Over a period of months more adventurous recipes were added. The kids no longer knee-jerk with the assumption they won’t like things. Instead they try and surprising often they “love” unfamiliar foods, such as ham-lentil soup. There have been almost no misses. So far, only one kid is gaming the system, eating a no thank you bite, then chowing down only his favorite food (such as a whole bowl of raisins).
    The parents (and grandparents) are reporting that this is spilling over into home life, with kids now eating a very wide range of foods.
    Most everything the kids will learn in pre-school they would eventually get anyway when they enter regular school. The one major exception is her meal policy. This is something these kids likely will carry with them their whole lives and is a great service to them. I most proud of my daughter’s efforts.
    As the parent, you are best able do decide what foods are in the best interest of your children. This includes that you decide what is most nutritious, what is easy for your to prepare on hectic days, which food you need to use up, and which foods are most economical given your family’s financial picture. This is not a decision for a child to make. My own adult children have many times expressed gratitude for the skill we taught them, which is the ability to politely eat foods they don’t greatly enjoy. It has served them well in various social situations.
    One of the children in this daycare is my daughter’s niece, who has learned to eat foods at school. My daughter has since observed the niece at the grandparent’s house. The parents are not supportive, do not follow through, and the mom says things like, “That’s disgusting, I would never eat that.” Consequently the niece is a good eater at school, but not with her parents. It is very important both parents be good eaters, and important to refrain from suggesting to children they might not like a particular food.
    So I second Trent’s advice, and the advice of previous posters. My daughters situation demonstrates that older kids will adjust to news rules, as do children from a variety of backgrounds.

  17. valleycat1 says:

    Another way to encourage children to eat veggies is to have them help with a family garden. And by garden I mean anything from one small pot on the windowsill to a full fledged garden. Let them decide which veggies to grow. There are a lot of good resources out there for children & gardening.

    On gas mileage: We drive a Pontiac Vibe (same as the Toyota Matrix) and average almost 35 miles on freeway trips.

    Loan consolidation – the advice I’ve always been given by those I trust is to never get a later payoff date than what you’re already committed to. For example, if you’re consolidating loans that would be paid off in 15 years, don’t consolidate with a 20 year term. For one thing, that will make it clearer to you what amount you’ll be saving. Unless you’re really strapped for cash, you should be consolidating to save money overall, not just to reduce monthly payments.

  18. MC says:

    Q7: Trent answered a different question.

    I would say where to have the $15k financed depends on how long it will take to pay it off and how much money can be thrown at it at in an ongoing basis. 8% is a lot, but you will pay a transfer fee to teh credit card and the rate will go up after the 12 months. You just need to figure out what the interest rate costs are with the different options and go with the lowest.

    Q10: These numbers aren’t exact, but they are easy:

    It is costing you $4500 to refinance. The interest paid on the current mortgage is $5700/yr ($95k*0.06). The interest rate on the new mortgage would be ~$4350 ($99.5k*0.0437). The difference is $1350.

    $4500/1350 is 3.3 years. Therefore if you have the loan for longer than 3.3 years you will save by refinancing.

    As I said, these numbers aren’t exact as your principal will change with every payment, especially if you are significantly overpaying, but it should be close enough to give you an idea.

  19. Corith Malin says:

    Re #12:
    “Either I’ve got a strange car (sources say it should average far less than this) or the Prius isn’t really THAT great of a gas saver.”

    Many people don’t realize that as you double your speed (in Earth’s atmosphere) your power requirements go up by the square. So if you require 16 horse power (hp) to go 30mph, you require 256hp to go 60mph.

    So the fact that the Prius gets 42% better gas mileage when going at comparable speeds (not quite the same speeds according to your message) is a pretty significant engineering feat.

    Most of it doesn’t come from improvements in the combustion engine (unfortunately), but rather in aerodynamics (which is why the Prius *looks funny*).

    I have friends all the time that compare their car’s mpg of high 20’s or low 30’s to others’ cars that get mid 50’s and think, “That’s not that much of a difference.” It is and requires a lot of engineering R&D.

  20. Des says:

    This may be callous, but I don’t understand Mary’s comment. You are 24 – it is now your choice to be a picky eater. I think you are too old (and obviously too self aware) to be blaming your eating habits on your parents.

    My sister is very picky and will only eat Mac & Cheese, Hamburger Helper, party pizzas, Top Ramen, and PB & J. Fruit means canned peaches, vegetables means pickles and baby carrots (and are only to be eaten when she’s on a diet.) That is the kind of food we grew up on. Packaged food was all my working-poor parents could afford.

    OTOH, I would rather eat any kind of veg, or ethnic food, or even tofu! I’ll try anything a few times (knowing some tastes are acquired). What caused the difference? I decided I *wanted* to like more foods. I chose to start incorporating new foods into my diet and slowly, over the last decade of my adult life, my preferences have changed. It started with pepperoncini and onions on my Subway sandwiches, then moved on to coffee (first with sweetener, then black), then beer and wine, then “weird” vegetables, etc. Life is more fun when I like more things.

    As an adult, you have the privilege and attendant responsibility of managing your own life decisions.

  21. sjw says:

    #3 – I disagree with the comment that you should assume a later retirement date to feel less pressure.

    Unfortunately I have seen too many times that people get to a certain age & level within an organization, and if they are let go, it’s really tough to get back in. These can be good people, but perceived ability to apply skillsets, salary expectations, etc etc means that they’re out of work for years and years.

    Some of them have basically fallen into retirement years before they planned to. It might just by my industry, but I suspect it is a problem for a lot of professions. Be realistic.

  22. Similar situation says:

    Q4 Denise – I have 2 boys as well and between the two of them and my husband, I think they could eat our entire paychecks. My teenager will eat about anything now, but my 4 year old is still very picky. I completely agree with the others about standing firm, but thought I would offer you another source of information.

    There is a blog out there called Hillbilly Housewife. The whole theme is “Low cost cooking from scratch” and she has recipes for homemade convenience foods which save both time and money. Good luck!

  23. Wendy says:

    Q4 – Regarding kids and food there’s a really great division of labor in Child of Mine book by Ellyn Satter.

    Parents decide what, when and where meals and snacks happen.

    Children decide whether to eat and how much.

    This means no “no thank you bite” since that’s the parent stepping into the child’s responsibility. No forcing, no bribing, no cajoling. Offer the food and they decide whether to eat it or not. It may not be easy but it means you’ll raise a child who feels in control of what they put in their body.

    Only offer the foods you’re okay with the child eating.

    She recommends always having one food at each meal that’s easy – she recommends bread. So even if a kid doesn’t like the other items in a meal they can eat bread to tide them to the next snack or meal.

    A great quote “You can’t control or dictate the quantity of food your child eats, and you shouldn’t try. You also can’t control or dictate the kind of body your child develops, and you shouldn’t try. What you can do, and it is a great deal, is set things up for your child so she, herself, can regulate her food intake as well as possible, and so she can develop a healthy body that is constitutionally right for her.”

    It’s a well written book and while it focuses on birth to age 5 the principles apply to older children. She also has Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.

    Q5 – It sounds like you need to make a budget of absolute necessities and then debt payments (including due dates) and your weekly income.

    Also, it sounds like your kids are still under 5 years old. Their sense of what’s normal is what you provide. If you provide new toys and expensive outings that’s normal. If you provide free parks and playgrounds and an occasional second hand toy or make your own toys that’s normal. I’d try stripping away all your assumptions of what you need to provide your family and start from scratch – do they really need this in order to live? Is there a less expensive way we can obtain this? If it’s not necessary, can we afford it and keep with our goal of paying off our debts.

  24. leslie says:

    #20 – my thoughts exactly.

  25. Tamara says:

    Extreme picky eating like what Mary and ‘L’ describe has recently been added to the DSM as ‘Selective Eating Disorder’. A common trait among these people is that they have a distinct preference for bland food like cheese pizza, and nearly all of them like french fries.

    Dear Prudence of slate dot com (don’t want to end up in moderation hell) ran a letter a couple weeks back about a woman who is partners with a selective eater. She didn’t realize how much it would affect her, too, having to make separate meals and being limited to pizza parlors for date nights.

    This is part of the reason I have such a disdain for so-called ‘kids food’. If kids are expected to want nothing but chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, etc. how will they learn to appreciate anything else? Infants eat a variety of foods, why do toddlers only get a few to choose from? I do have a couple strong food aversions though…up until I was 15 or so my family was poor (wearing hand-me-down underwear & shoes falling off my feet poor) and we ate plenty of fish sticks, spam, and canned vegetables. I won’t touch them with a 10 foot pole now.

  26. leslie says:

    I should clarify my rather short post above (#24). I do have great sympathy for people with what I call “food issues” and those that have to live with them and, even worse, have to cook for them. My son (who is 9) did not develop the ability to chew as he grew up. When it was time to move from pureed baby foods to anything with more texture he couldn’t do it and chocked on everything he tried to eat because he was trying to chew with his tongue (among other ways he was trying to cope with textures). He eventually refused to try anything beyond the handful of foods he knew he could eat. We spent over a year in dysphagia therapy with him teaching him how to chew…it took 6 months for him to master drinking from a straw. Even after he finally mastered the ability to chew though he was still afraid to try anything new and it took us FOREVER to get him to try something not on his mental list of 5 acceptable foods. I could have (and did for a while) catered to his issues and allowed him to eat the things he wanted to eat because it was frankly a pain in the ass to do anything else. Then his little sister started getting old enough to see what was going on and we were afraid that she would go from eating anything we put in front of her to limiting her diet because she saw her big brother doing it. It wasn’t easy, we started small (one bite of one thing were were eating, for example) and we had more than one dinner served at breakfast because he didn’t eat it the night before. However, we went from a kid that screamed bloody murder if you put something in front of him that he wasn’t familiar with to a kid that will generally try anything (except ice cream…really?!?). Does he like everything…absolutely not. But most people don’t like everything so I don’t consider that a problem.

    I just wanted to share this because I really feel like if we can take a kid that can’t even chew to the point that he is reasonably open to new foods then anyone can. AND…it really annoys me to see people blaming their food issues on their parents. We parents for the most part do the best that we can and once your an adult you really need to own your issues and stop blaming others.

    Off my rant…for now…

  27. jim says:

    Q5 Jeff : How about you talk to one of the non profit consumer credit counseling agencies first? Bankruptcy should be an option of last resort.

    Q7 Joe: Pay the loan off as fast as you can with extra payments. Don’t empty your savings to pay off the loan either. You need to keep some emergency fund in cash. I don’t think putting your loan on credit cards is a great idea. Credit cards are not fixed and they could raise the rate on you up to 20-30%, which would put you much worse off.

    Q10 Debi: Shop around for better refinance terms. Unless you’ve got poor credit, that refinance sounds like a bad deal. You’re paying over $4k in closing for 4.7% on 15 year. I can get quotes for $2k fees on 4.3%. In general, refinancing is probably in your best interest. It wouldn’t be hard to get the rate down to 4-5% with fairly low closing costs. You could always refinance to 30 year and then pay extra if the higher 15 year payments are difficult. But now is a good time to go to 15 year fixed.

  28. Shawn says:

    I’ve had my Prius for more than 4 years now and I’d say it was the best car I’ve ever owned. I average around 45/50 mpg most times, even on the highway.

    @valleycat1(#7) – Yes, the batteries will be expensive to replace if/when the time comes, but this is not the norm. The batteries in your friend’s car most likely had some kind of defect. Consumer Reports did a study a few months ago, not sure which month issue it was, where they estimated that the batteries in most cases wouldn’t need to be replaced for several years and in most cases would last the life of the vehicle.

    @Corith Malin(#19) – It’s more than just improved aerodynamics. The batteries assist in storing energy recovered that would normally be lost when breaking and coasting. It also has a variable transmission.

  29. jim says:

    #7 valleycat said: “I know someone with a 3 year old Prius who just had to replace the batteries, to the tune of $3300, so she figures if this is going to happen every 3-4 years”

    The battery should not fail in 3 years. She probably just had a faulty battery. If it failed in 3 years then it should have been replaced under warranty. This is no different than any other faulty part covered under warranty.

    The battery warranty is 8 or 10 years and 100k or 150k miles. Many many people out there have 10 year old Prius with original batteries. Consumer reports tested couple 10 year old models and the batteries were still fine.

  30. jim says:

    #12 Steven : “I’m not impressed the the gas mileage on the Prius. Aren’t these cars supposed to be amazing? I just drove from Minneapolis to Florida and back in a 2003 Chevy Impala and averaged 33 mpg at around 75 mph the entire way….”

    The Prius has the highest city or highway MPG of any gas car. Its a good 10-20% better than the next closest.

    Many cars can get 30-35MPG highway. Thats not at all unusual. Very few cars get over 40MPG.
    If you look at 2011 models, there are over 200 cars that get >30MPG highway and only about 20 that get over 40MPG.

    The CITY mileage of the Prius is where it really shines compared to most other cars. If you look at city MPG then only 34 cars get over 30MPG. ONly 8 cars get over 40MPG city. The Prius is at 51 MPG city. The Prius is 20% better city MPG than the 2nd place car.

  31. jim says:

    I think the people asking questions really ought to give a little more detail about their financial situation if they want good advice.
    In particular it is really useful to know your annual income and also good to know expense levels.

    For example Q5 is about someone with $24k in credit card debt and a $96k mortgage. But we don’t know what their income is. Do they only make $20k a year, or maybe $60k or possibly $120k? $24k in credit card debt is a much different situation if you’re making $15k a year versus $150k a year. Then in addition to the income level we don’t know whats going on without any information on expenses. If you’ve got a higher income level, maybe you also have some higher expenses we wouldn’t know about. I mean if you make $100k and spend $99k on luxuries then the answer is to cut your spending. If you however make just $25k and struggle to pay for necessities then thats a much different situation and maybe bankruptcy is a more practical solution.

  32. Jessica says:

    My husband was raised in a home where his mom catered to his pickiness and as a result, he eats only apples and bananas for fruits, only corn, green beans, peas and carrots for veggies, bread/pasta/potatoes, dairy and meat. He will not eat cereal, popcorn, salad, onions, peppers, tomatoes… and on, and on.

    I enjoy mostly anything. My parents did not cater. I grew up in a poor family and either you ate the food for dinner, or you didn’t eat and there wasn’t other food.

    We do a mixed approach. We require our 4yo to try three bites of everything. I show a good example to counter my husband. My 4yo is picky but my baby is not. He’s eating table foods and eats everything, and a lot of it.

    My husband’s parents regret catering to him and suggested we not repeat that mistake with our kids!

  33. JS says:

    Q2: I started playing tabletop Warhammer (Fantasy) when my now-husband introduced me to the game. It does provide hours upon hours of entertainment, but it is expensive. The models and books don’t go on sale, and I’ve never seen a coupon except for free shipping. You can sometimes find used stuff for sale, and you can shop around for the painting supplies and game accessories, but it’s still a significant outlay to start. Additionally, Games Workshop regularly releases updated versions of the models and game books, so it’s not a one-time investment. Finally, my husband is an avid collector, and the stuff takes up more room than I’d like. It’s fun, but not the most budget-friendly game.

    Q9: I carpool with a 2010 Prius driver who gets 47-56 mpg, and I drive a well-maintained 2004 Elantra that gets 25-33 mpg. Based on both of our experiences, we believe that a Prius is worth the extra money if you drive a lot and in a lot of city or stop-and-go traffic. In stop-and-go traffic like on our 45-mile round-trip commute, the Prius often averages over 50 mpg and my Elantra averages around 25 mpg. However, in steady highway traffic, my Elantra easily gets 30-33 mpg; unless you drive a very large amount, it would take awhile before you’d make up the difference in purchase price and insurance costs between a new Prius and a new Elantra with gas savings. While the amount of miles you drive is probably the most critical factor, I think the type of driving you will be doing is important as well.

  34. Steven says:

    I guess I was just expecting more, or was surprised that I got as much as I did. I’m not saying that it’s not important to get good gas mileage, or isn’t an engineering marvel, but I expected more…

  35. Amanda says:

    @24 I agree about your definition of “normal”.

  36. Amanda says:

    My comment has been in moderation all morning.

  37. Amanda says:

    @33 corn is a grain, not a veggie.

  38. kristine says:

    Q7- I do not think the question was answered. The question was: Since I am not comfortable having my house at risk with a mortgage debt of 15K after I make a big payment, should I transfer the debt to my credit card, with a zero% interest for a year?

    Yes, but only if you have spectacular financial control and can guarantee that you can pay it off within the year. (Factor in transfer fee to see if it is still a good deal.)

    No, if there is any chance AT ALL, that you may lose a job, or whatever, and not be able to pay it off in a year. Then don’t. The financial fall-out from going over the year may be a worse headache than carrying the mortgage. Besides, if carrying the mortgage is of concern, then you are probably not certain you can pay it off quickly.

    No idea why the blogger said pay to off the CC first- that came out of thin air. The questioner said they have a 0 balance on the cards.

  39. Des says:

    @37 – According to my highly reliable google-ing, corn is technically a fruit.

  40. AndreaS says:

    I have a cousin who was born when I was about 20. Her mother, my aunt, believed that children will naturally eat healthy foods, and so never required her to eat any foods she didn’t want to. As a result she grew up eating a very limited selection of foods, mainly high-calorie foods. Thirty years later, she had gastric-bypass surgery. This is anecdotal and proves nothing really, as I know picky eaters who have low body weights. But conversely, that one today has an eating disorder may not be the result of parenting.
    If you never want to compel a child to eat even a bite of food there is an alternative strategy I read. Say you have for supper meat, potatoes and vegetables. Put a tablespoon of each food on your child’s plate. The rule is that the child can’t have seconds of any food until they eat all three foods you served them. So they are allowed not to eat a specific food. If your child always refuses to try asparagus, couple that with his or her most favorite meat dish. Likely he will eat the asparagus if he wants more meat. If you are not satisfied with your child made a good effort at the table, of course there should be no snacks between meals. In this process, it is obviously important for the parent to remain calm and not say a whole lot.
    One of my daughters is newly engaged to a 26-year-old guy. He grew up an extremely limited eater but is now making a grown-up effort to overcome this. One evening for dessert I had made parfaits with strawberries, yogurt and whipped cream. Literally, he had never before tasted any of those items. He found he liked them all.

  41. EngineerMom says:

    “Parents decide what, when and where meals and snacks happen.

    Children decide whether to eat and how much.”

    This is the philosophy I grew up with, and the one we employ at our house. I do make certain allowances for the difference between a 2-year-old’s palate and an adult’s (when I make chili, I serve my son the toppings and sides (cheese, plain yogurt, corn bread), since we like it spicy, and he can’t eat it that way), but what he is served is what he gets.

    At this age, he’s definitely NOT an adventurous eater, and never has been. Even as a new-to-solids baby, it was tough to get him to try new foods.

    One thing I plan on doing as he gets older is to take him to farmer’s markets and get him to help prepare food in the kitchen. That was how my mom got all of us interested not only in cooking, but in trying what we cooked and therefore discovering new foods.

    So get your kids, especially the 10-year-old, to help pick out a few veggies at the store or farmer’s market and help prepare them at home. Kids are much more likely to try what they’ve worked on!

  42. Nancy says:

    I think that young children have a limited palate due to underdeveloped taste buds. But as I’m reading this, I’m snacking on baked kale. (Toss 4 cups of leaves stripped from the stems with 1 t of olive oil, sprinkle with a small amount of salt.) I remember gagging on V8 juice as a young teen. I now prefer it over soda. Don’t give up the fight! My kids will occasionally complain that there is “No good food in the house!” (Junk) Cake is for birthdays…

  43. Pattie, RN says:

    Glad to see so many young parents with a sensible attitude toward feeding their kids.

    My d-i-l is expecting son #2, and swears she will not indulge this kid like she did the now six year old. He has a very limited roster of food he will eat (Although as a GOOD m-i-l I never said a critcal word when he was a toddler!)

    She also states that this kid will sit in a highchair, not roam around the dining room. I am glad she figured this out without ME!

  44. prodgod says:

    #15 L says: “Please, parents, you do your kids no favors by turning this into an epic battle, nor by giving in and letting the kids live on chicken nuggets and pizza.”

    So what DO you suggest? Especially for a defiant child? My child has no interest in what we’re eating; has no interest in trying new foods; has no interest in helping with meal preparation. Very frustrating.

    I was raised to eat EVERYTHING on my plate, no exceptions. Of course, I didn’t always care for it, but I acquired pretty adult tastes at a very early age and am grateful.

    Like all things regarding child-raising, there are no one-size-fits-all answers. Each child is different and some cannot be motivated easily.

  45. Interested Reader says:

    I’m a sort of picky eater. I don’t think of myself as a picky eater because I’m willing to try anything and I’m willing to revisit certain foods. However there is a list of foods I do not like because of taste or texture or both.

    For example – fresh tomatoes (except in salsa) I don’t like the taste OR the texture. I always get asked – but have you ever had one fresh from the garden? And the answer is -yes, yes I have. But I still don’t like them. However, I developed a senstitvity to them so now it’s a moot point.

    For parents of p icky eaters – have you tried offering different varieties of a fruit or a different preparation?

    For example I don’t like green or red grapes. I like black grapes however. And I like brussel sprouts, but only if they’ve been roasted. I didn’t think I liked asparagus until I tried it grilled.

    I also don’t like yogurt or sour cream or cream cheese – I don’t like the sourness. But have found I like So Delicious (coconut based yogurt) if it’s Chocolate or vanilla. (Although I will eat any of those if it’s cooked in something or sweetened enough. I love cream cheese frosting).

    I don’t have experience with kids except my 2 1/2 year old nephew. He likes tons of fruits and vegetables and yogurt, cottage cheese, etc. He also loves pizza if you let him have it, but his parents always offered him a variety of things. Once he got away from baby food and baby cereal he just ate regular foods. He was never fed prepared toddler food. It was easier and cheaper to feed him things like yogurt, sweet potatoes, fruit, beans, peas, oatmeal. Occasionally some of those all mixed together. When he’s taken out to eat they usually order him something off the adult menu if the kids menu is only french fries, hot dogs or grilled cheese. It’s usually something like a salad with chicken, and then he’ll also get bites of whatever the adults are eating.

  46. Nancy says:

    I forgot to mention to bake the kale at 350 for 15-18min!

  47. David says:

    The term “vegetable” is not part of any modern taxonomy – though Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, divided living things into two kingdoms: animals and vegetables. To these, brilliantly foreseeing the development of twentieth-century parlour games, he later added minerals.

    The decision of the United States Supreme Court in the deservedly immortal case of Nix v Hedden established as long ago as 1893 that the pedants could go and boil their heads; a tomato was for practical purposes a vegetable, whatever the botanists might say, because people ate tomatoes as part of their main course and not as a dessert. This admirable distinction ought to be borne in mind by restaurateurs everywhere, who should not ruin perfectly good entrées by putting bits of fruit all over them.

    Corn is indeed a grain; it is also (botanically speaking) a fruit; it is also (practically speaking) a vegetable. There may arise in the minds of some people a question as to the proper classification of mushrooms: these are not plants according to modern taxonomy, so they may not be vegetables either. But since they are horrible, this probably does not matter.

  48. Lis says:

    Comment #47 (David) made me literally LOL

  49. prodgod says:

    Agreed; great post, David!

  50. SwingCheese says:

    Me, too, Lis! Also, to Interested Reader: I have NEVER liked raw tomatoes, with the exception of salsa/brushetta/caprese salad. For me it is an issue of texture. I don’t like them in salads, tacos, sandwiches, etc. But I’ll eat cooked tomatoes, or tomatoes cooked in tandem with another meal, all day long. I’ve run into a lot of adults with the same aversion.

  51. Julie says:

    I have an 18 year old and an 11 year old who will try everything and have very few dislikes. Then I have a 16 year old who has been extremely challenging as relates to food. Certainly I have made some mistakes, but I am convinced that he was born with the pre-disposition toward pickiness. Certain textures made him gag even as a very small toddler. I have spent many hours worrying over him…but when I read just how picky some other eaters are, I realize he could be much worse. The reality is that he likes every kind of meat, fish and seafood, about 7 types of vegetables and the same amount of fruits. There are just a few items that he won’t eat that drives me completely crazy….such as salad and cold cereal with milk.

    Yet sometimes I wonder if we just expect too much of our kids. Several readers commented on how pickiness doesn’t exist where poverty is present. However most often variety doesn’t exist either. Third world parents don’t feed their children Pad-Thai on Monday, Tacos on Tuesday, Sushi on Wednesday, Curry Shrimp on Thursday and Lasagna on Friday. This is a wide variety of flavors to become familiar with.

    Science is also pondering whether pickiness might be related to the “taster/non taster gene” (both my boys did this experiment on the family in jr. high) which might then make pickiness somewhat hereditary and possibly more out of our control that we realize.

  52. Nate says:

    Q4-I agree with what many people say here-cook what you want and don’t cater to your kids. Outside of an allergy or raw seafood, I don’t believe there should be separate meals for parents and children once they’ve started eating table food.
    My niece and nephew are picky eaters due to what I consider poor parenting. They don’t like veggies and almost never eat them at home. When they stayed at my house for the summer they got….OMG… VEGETARIAN FOOD! And, carrot sticks for snacks. No candy, soda, or junk food. Amazingly enough they didn’t go hungry. In fact that was the one thing they didn’t complain about. There were times when they didn’t like what I cooked but they ate it anyway.
    I’ll be the first to admit that most kids don’t like broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers and such but they should be introduced to them over and over at a young age. Eventually, they develop a taste for them. I personally didn’t like pineapple until adulthood but as a child I loved spinach.

  53. Gretchen says:

    It is my understanding the “I hate tomatoes, doesn’t matter I became allergic (paraphrase)” could be quite common.

    Subconciously, you are not liking something becuase it’s not good for you.

  54. Annie says:

    My parents always gave us food that they ate,i know sometimes kids get different meals that adults but my parents were against that. My dad make Friday pizza and hoagies night so that is were we had room to eat junk for the week. After that it was back to chicken, brocolli, fish or good quality food. I like this balance becasue it thought us how to eat right and splurge once in awhile at the same time exploring food and making it creative. I think parents that force their kids to eat something they don’t like is abuse and some that i have known grow up to have eating disorders because they were deprived of things they wanted.

  55. Geoff Hart says:

    I can confirm Troy’s mileage numbers for our Prius. Ours are on the low side because we live in Canada, where the winters are harsh enough that they radically slash fuel economy for many months of the year. It’s a combination of inefficient fuel combustion at really low temperatures and the too-small motor of the Prius; it doesn’t generate enough heat to keep the car warm unless you run the motor constantly. That really sucks gas.

    Gas prices in Canada are about 50 to 100% more expensive than U.S. prices, depending on the current exchange rate. And the government incentives were lower when we bought the car. At that time, gas was at least 20% cheaper than it is now, and we estimated that gas savings at those prices would pay the additional cost of the car compared to a conventional Honda or Toyota within 5 years. Since then, gas has increased by 20 to 40% or more, depending on the week, further shortening the payback period.

    The larger question is one I discovered when vacationing in France a couple weeks ago: we drove a Citroen clean-diesel that — if the consumption gauge was correct — was consistently getting 60 mpg. So why don’t we have these cars here in North America? Are the automakers really that stupid?

  56. Jonathan says:

    Q2 – Several commenters have mentioned positive experiences with electronic versions of traditional tabletop games. I agree that these games can be enjoyable, but I agree with Trent that they provide a different experience. As someone who prefers tabletop games I don’t think you can compare the two. While the electronic version may be just as much fun, it provides a very different experience. I think Trent’s answer was spot-on.

    Q4 – I’ll weigh in on the picky-eaters debate. I am a very picky eater. As far as I’m concerned, though, this isn’t because my parents did a poor job raising me. In fact, I think my parents did a wonderful job, and am thankful they didn’t try to force me to eat things I do not like. Sure, being a picky eater presents some limitations for me, but its never been a problem. I have expanded my food choices a bit over the years, but will always be a very picky eater. I just don’t see a reason to try to force myself to eat things just because other people think I should.

    My wife is also a picky eater. She does have some emotional problems related to food. Her step-father was one of those people who forced kids to eat things. For this reason, there are foods that she can’t even think about eating, and I suspect at times just seeing them causes a negative reaction. She has expressed interest in trying some new things, but just can’t seem to get over the negative emotions associated with them.

    Q9 – I realize that this is a financial blog, which is why most things are discussed from that aspect. I just wanted to point out, though, that many people do not buy a Prius (or any other hybrid or alternative fuel car) just for the savings. In fact, I believe that if presented with two comparable vehicles, the best choice is the one which uses less gasoline, as long as the lifetime cost of that vehicle is no more than the lifetime cost of the other. Of course there are other variables to consider, but this is my view when fuel economy and cost are the only differences.

  57. Lou says:

    Q8 – I wonder if it’s an option to take the tow package off the Jeep?

  58. Jane says:

    “Please, parents, you do your kids no favors by turning this into an epic battle, nor by giving in and letting the kids live on chicken nuggets and pizza.”

    I’m glad prodgod weighed in on this as well. My first reaction to this is that it makes no sense. If you have a very willful child like mine, then if you only serve them what we like, it WILL turn into an epic battle. I have chosen not to engage in the food wars. This is not to say that I let my kid eat whatever he wants. But he is not three yet, and frankly I don’t see the problem with letting him eat a grilled cheese on the night we would like to have curry or something that he would not like. We always offer him vegetables, and he almost always says no. And no, I don’t think I am setting my son up for a lifetime of problems. He sees us eat good things. I don’t think adults have a right to blame their parents for being picky. That is their fault.

    I will not force feed my child and see no problem offering reasonable alternatives. My husband apparently spent most of his childhood eating cereal for dinner, and now he eats almost everything (onions and peppers notwithstanding). What you eat as a child will not shape your whole future. That’s bogus.

  59. Jen says:

    Trent, I’m not sure a hybrid is a smarter choice than a little economy car. I’ll give you numbers as to why.
    I compared my 2007 Honda Fit (which I bought new back then), to a 2007 Prius. Then I compared a 2011 Fit to a 2011 Prius. The 2007 Prius costs 7500 more, and the 2011 Prius costs 14600 more. The Pruis takes a $10300 depreciation hit, compared to $3200 for the Honda.
    Next, I assumed 21,000 miles per year for this, since that’s what I’ve actually driven. My fit has consistently gotten 33 mpg, so I compared to 43 for your Prius. So over those 4 years / 84,000 miles, your Prius would save you $3000 over my Fit, assuming $5/gallon gas. But it would have cost you, between the higher price and the much higher depreciation, about $14000 more. So the math puts me $11000 ahead after just 4 years, even driving a crazy amount of miles with $5/gal gas. So I guess I just don’t see the argument for an expensive hybrid over a cheap, fuel efficient Honda that holds it value.

    What do you think?

  60. Interested Reader says:

    @Gretchen – I’m not allergic to tomatoes. My dislike of fresh tomatoes predates my sensitivity to them. And I love marinaras and pomodoros and other tomato sauces as well as salsa.

    I developed intersitial cysitis (painful bladder syndrome) a couple of years ago and symptoms of IC can be exacerbated by certain foods. Tomatoes happens to be a big trigger for me so I stay away from them.

  61. AniVee says:

    Two comments on the picky-eater conundrum:

    1. I have always found that all kids will eat *what they helped to prepare* – letting kids help in the kitchen (they seem to love to push the dough thru the pasta machine, or knead/beat on the bread dough, roll out meatballs or make strange-shaped meatloaves, spice and mix the sauces, make their own “special blend”salad dressing, make cakes, fabulous desserts, etc.) – we had one day a week – sometimes Saturday breakfast – when each kid chose the menu and made the meal – usually pancakes or waffles or scrambled eggs, but we could do whatever we wanted.

    2. What’s wrong with letting each child have a 3-item list of “Things I hate and don’t have to eat” – the Rule might be that *once* a month you could remove ONE item from the list and add another. Personally, I hate any kind of liver and Brussel Sprouts leave me cold. And I’m a very adventurous eater otherwise. Good grief, everyone has something they don’t like.

  62. Jenn says:

    Trent, I enjoy your reader mailbags quite a bit, but this is at least the second time I thought, “Did Trent even read the question?” Your answer to Q7 was short and didn’t answer the real question from the reader.

  63. Mary says:

    I have to disagree with #8 you may be saving $2200 a year in gas but you now have a car payment and I understand these cars are very expensive. When we went through this 3 years ago, everyone told me to sell my Lincoln Cont, I can’t see trading gas savings for a car payment, it’s now 11 years old with 100,000 miles on it and drives great due to the service I give it, but still I will not get rid of it until it drops dead in street. I am putting the money back every month for another car when that happens, I plan my trips, car pool when I can and stopped the weekend driving around because we don’t have anything to do and have been able to cut my gas purchases. My last car was 16 years old when it finally died, broke my heart, I loved that car rust and all.

  64. Jonathan says:

    @Jen (#59) – I believe that the benefits of a hybrid over a fuel efficient compact car varies based on the situation. I myself drive a compact car, a Scion XA, which gets ~35mpg (I’ve gotten as much as 40mpg when I really tried). Personally, I wish companies were making hybrid versions of compacts. I’d love to have a Hybrid XA that could get 50-55mpg. I don’t drive a lot, so would save less than $1000 per year on fuel. That adds up to $15,000 or more over the life of the car, though, which should easily offset the additional cost.

    Many people dislike compacts, though, for various reasons. If you want a high mileage mid-size car, a Prius is a good option I think. I know someone with a hybrid Camry that gets about 35mpg, and I personally can’t understand the purpose. I’d rather have either a much cheaper compact that gets the same mileage, or a Prius that gets better mileage.

    Also, for people who only keep cars for a few years a hybrid probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. In your example, if you plan to sell the car after 4 years, the Fit is clearly a better solution.

    I do question your numbers a bit regarding the cost. From what I just found you should be able to get a 2011 Prius for something like $6,000 – $7,000 more than a 2011 Fit, which changes the calculation significantly from the $14,600 additional cost you used in your calculations.

  65. Brittany says:

    Seconded Des#20–if you have the mental awareness to blame your parents for something, you have the mental awareness to deal with it and to take responsibility for your actions now.

    I also agree with Johanna–my mom tried to make sure every meal had a vegetable, even on a limited budget supported by WIC and food pantries. But all vegetables were either canned or boiled (and sometimes coated in butter to help with the taste). Then I learned to cook and discovered how delicious vegetables can be. My roommate grew up in a similar vegetable situation and “hates” most vegetables. However, I can get her to eat and actually enjoy almost anything simply by a)cooking it an appropriate time for the type and b) including it with other ingredients/in a larger dish rather than serving it alone. It’s more work to make vegetables gross (boil alone for 10 minutes) than delicious (lightly pan-steam for 3 minutes and/or throw directly in the pot with everything else for the meal).

    I love the idea of a “3 things I hate” list. I am a decidely not picky eater, but have major food aversions to tabasco sauce and undercooked eggs and straight-up hate black pepper. There are other things I prefer not to eat, but I can’t even choke one of those down to be polite.

  66. deRuiter says:

    “So what DO you suggest? Especially for a defiant child? My child has no interest in what we’re eating; has no interest in trying new foods; has no interest in helping with meal preparation. Very frustrating.” I suggest your child be offered a plate with what the the rest of the family is eating, hopefully a balanced meal, with no pressure to eat. If he doesn’t eat, put the food away, and DO NOT GIVE HIM ANY FOOD UNTIL THE NEXT MEAL. Serve a variety of different foods, balanced meals, and allow no snacks between meals. Healthy children don’t starve themselves to death. Your child is testing you, and you are already weakening. Expose him to a wide variety of healthy foods, and keep no junk food in the house. Who’s the parent and who’s the child? I like the idea of a list of three foods, compiled by the child, of things he doesn’t like to eat, which are not even presented to him. This sort of “picky eater” thing isn’t a problem in Bangladesh, or among the poor in India who subsist on a dollar a day. Picky eaters, like anorexia, are confined to the well fed citizens of the world. Those who are faced with the choice, “Eat this or starve to death.” generally don’t suffer from anorexia or “picky” eaters. These are luxury syndromes.

  67. Leah W. says:

    Before today, I didn’t know it was even possible to hate black pepper!

  68. Georgia says:

    I had what I thought was a picky child. He hated all veggies, all fruits but apples. Between the ages of 1 & 5, I had to actually force him to eat some foods. DH said he would end up hating those. Actually, 2 or 3 I remember, he loves today. And some people said to just not feed him until he was hungry. He was so stubborn (got that from his DF) that he would have starved first.

    But, at 5 years of age, I realized his problem. He is a very control based person. He did not want anyone else controlling what he ate. So, I sat him down and told him that if there were 2 things on the table he did not like, he had to eat some of one of them. If three, some of 2 of them. It put the control over what went into his mouth into his hands. It stopped all the fuss.

    But, I did (lol) open my big mouth and tell him that if Mommie’s did not like to eat something, they just didn’t cook it. So, I told him he could list one item that he would never have to eat. He looked at me and said, “I’s lergic to peas.” At 43, he tells me it may be a “mental” allergy, but it still applies.

    But I knew we had raised a nice, polite child when he was a teen and we would go to friends houses and he would take some of everything and eat it – even something with peas in it. And, his tastes are very much broader now, even though he still loves his fries, macaroni & cheese, etc.
    His learning to cook may be part of that solution.

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