Updated on 02.01.12

Reader Mailbag: Super Bowl Celebration

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. Repeatedly failing to achieve goals
2. Handling bill collectors
3. Rethinking mortgage payoff goal
4. Handling extra cash
5. Paying taxes at year end
6. Online business and credit cards
7. Buying home for parents
8. Heroes
9. Repair or replace used car?
10. Using emergency fund during schooling

What does our version of a Super Bowl party look like?

It’s a potluck dinner. The game is on in the background, but largely ignored. People sit around and play board and card games.

This year, my parents are actually going to babysit our children so we can do these things without children (meaning less distraction and less concern about child-unfriendly topics of conversation).

Q1: Repeatedly failing to achieve goals
All the time, I set these powerful goals for myself. I’m really inspired to get out there and start taking action on them. Then, about two weeks later, the fire just dies out and I stop making any progress on the things I want. I’ll sulk on it for a while, then set new goals and start off like gangbusters again, only to fail again. How do I break out of this cycle?

– Leon

First thing: stop making multiple goals. Focus instead on just nailing one goal at a time.

Second thing: stop making sweeping life changes to achieve your goals. Instead, focus on one manageable thing that will move you towards that goal. Work on nothing but that one specific thing for a while until it becomes second nature. Then, move onto the next specific manageable thing.

For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, pay off all of your debts, read a lot more than you were reading, and redo the entire interior of your house, pick one. Say that you pick weight loss. Focus wholly on eating no junk food for a month and replacing it with something healthy, like carrot sticks. Ignore the rest of it. Don’t even think of them as goals.

Q2: Handling bill collectors
I am working part-time (less than 20 hours a week) and currently seeking more gainful employment. I don’t make enough to get by and rely on help from others to pay my bills right now. I’m truly broke (like using coffee filters for toilet paper broke). I have debts that are in collections, and I can’t make payments on them. Is there something specific I need to do in regards to those accounts? Should I call the agencies and tell them there is no way I can make payments right now, or will that just encourage them to begin harassing me again (at the moment they seem to have given up on getting anything out of me)?

– Kevin

I’m not sure using coffee filters as toilet paper is a highly cost-effective solution unless you have a lot of coffee filters bought in bulk and no toilet paper on hand, in which case it’s a financial delay tactic of questionable hygiene.

The honest route is to contact the agencies and tell them that you can’t pay right now. Make it clear that you do not have adequate employment.

At the same time, however, I do encourage you to negotiate with them. Use your employment situation as a tool to play hardball. Tell them that you’re willing to pay a much smaller amount and suggest one. Debt collectors typically buy debts from large companies for pennies on the dollar, so anything they get from you is likely to be a profit.

Q3: Rethinking mortgage payoff goal
Our situation is this: We have ~153k left on our mortgage and we pay $320 extra each month. We also save $500 each month in a fund that we plan to use as a down payment for a new house. Our current house is pretty small. We have a toddler and another baby coming soon, thus the saving for the next down payment. The down payment fund has around 26k in it. In addition to the down payment fund, we have around 40k in cash.

The way I see it we have three options:

1) Continue on as we’ve been doing. Pay the extra $320 on the mortgage each month and save $500 for the next downpayment.
Disadvantage: Much more interest payments because of the longer loan. House not paid off until March of 2028.
Advantage: More liquidity, next down payment is not tied to current house.

2) Stop saving for the next down payment and divert that $500 to the current mortgage, so we’d be paying an extra $820 each month.
Disadvantage: The money isn’t liquid and if/when the value of our home continues to drop, the money is tied up until we can sell the house.
Advantage: Our house would be paid off in October of 2021, by my calculations, with far less interest payments.

3) Stop saving for the next down payment AND empty the next down payment fund to quickly lower our current mortgage down to 127k.
Disadvantage: Money tied up in the house AND we lose the liquidity of the next down payment entirely.
Advantage: The mortgage would be paid off 14 months earlier, August of 2020, with even less interest paid.

One idea in this whole situation is that if the mortgage is paid off, we don’t really need to worry about the next down payment. Once the mortgage is paid off, we can aggressively save for the next house and we would certainly have some equity in our current house, even in spite of the horrible market. What are your thoughts?
– Brian

It depends on whether or not you’re underwater on your current house, which I’m not exactly clear on. Do you still owe more than your home is worth?

If you do, then you’re going to have to get your mortgage down to the break-even point before you do anything else.

If you’re not underwater, then I would make minimum payments on the debt and start stockpiling for the next down payment.

Q4: Handling extra cash
I have a friend who I have sort of “taken under my wing” in terms of finances. He does fine with his money, he just isn’t very organized.

Background: He is single, early 30’s, base pay about $50k. He has no debt, old car, rents an apartment, probably has $30k in a cash cushion, and at least partially funds IRA/401k every year. He may move to another country in a few years, either with his job or to start a different career.

The question: He just received a gross bonus of about $140k, after taxes about $80k. He went ahead and fully funded 2012 401k with that (in his words, $13k to 401k), so that leaves about $65k to work with.

I am meeting him for dinner next week to help brainstorm about what to do with that $65k in his situation. He says he doesn’t want a new car at this point (he can walk to his job, weather-permitting, and I think he just doesn’t care about his car/cars in general).
– Andrew

Your dinner should be focused on what his goals are. What does he intend to do with his life in the future? Does he want to start a small business? Is there potential for marriage in the future? What about home ownership? These goals have different investment paths.

He may also want to consider using it to fund a Roth IRA for the next several years so that his retirement savings get a giant boost. That really depends on what other retirement savings he’s got to this point.

If he doesn’t have a goal, then he should sit on that money. Since he has a cash cushion, I would suggest that he puts most of it somewhere where he can largely forget about it for the time being, something that has some risk but also has some potential for a decent return. I’d probably put it in a very broad stock market index fund.

Q5: Paying taxes at year end
My husband did our taxes this year, and in the end, we owe the federal government money. It’s mostly due the unforeseen consequence of using an education award from my service with AmeriCorps, which pushed us into the next highest bracket. Is there any way for you to outline the process of repayment to the federal government? What are our options? Luckily it’s not an earth-shattering amount, and we’ll be able to cover it, but I am curious if there is a way to set up a payment plan or something like that. How would you avoid a windfall like this in the future, when we so often rely on a tax refund for extra “fun” money (to pay for vacations and incidentals)?

– Kelly

You certainly can set up a payment plan with the IRS. It’s easy to do and they’re pretty good about working with you if you’re clearly trying to pay your taxes.

My rule of thumb is that for every dime you bring in that isn’t already taxed, you should save a nickel of it for your tax bill. I do this with every dollar I bring in.

If you owe less than that (and you most likely will), treat the remaining savings as your tax refund.

Q6: Online business and credit cards
I am a small business owner. I have accepted credit cards for 15+ years, but only process a handful of credit card transactions per month.

My credit card processing company keeps raising their fees, raising their fees, raising their fees…..and lowering their level of service; they will no longer even send me a monthly statement, without charging me a “statement fee.” At this point, due to their fees, if I process NO credit cards, my annual costs are $500+! Add in the transaction fees (3% or more per transaction), and it’s just become outrageous.

I would like to be able to continue accepting credit card payments as a convenience to my clients, but these fees have become unbearable.

Besides Paypal, are you aware of any way to accept credit cards without these high fees?
– Shelley

My immediate suggestion would be to use Google Checkout, which seems to be just what you’re looking for here. It will handle your transactions easily, Google takes a small cut, and you move on with business.

I’ve been using Google Checkout for a while now on a project I’ve helped some other people with and it’s worked great.

Paypal is convenient, but as a seller, I’ve heard a lot of stories about frozen accounts and the like and that makes me fairly nervous. I’m assuming you’re wanting to avoid it for similar reasons.

Q7: Buying home for parents
My boyfriend Jim and I have been together for 4 1/2 years and are planning on marriage in the next couple of years. My question is about Jim’s parents. Their real estate business went bankrupt when the recession hit and they have been having a very difficult time making ends meet. Jim’s father is now underemployed doing factory work and looks for minor home maintenance work on his days off. His mother has been disabled for the last few years due to extremely debilitating arthritis. She cannot work. They’re making it, but barely. Jim has been helping his parents out financially since he started working – roughly the amount of their mortgage payment monthly. I know this is something we will need to do for the remainder of their lives unless we do something like buy them a home.

Jim and I are financially solvent enough to buy their home, due to a large inheritance I received – it would cost us less than 5% of our assets. We would like to keep it in our names, and we would let them live there, free. The reason we hesitate to put it in their name is because we do not want them able to take a loan out on the home. Jim’s father has been irresponsible with money in the past. If we bought their home, it would fix all financial problems they are having, barring catastrophe. They would be able to save for an emergency fund, retirement, have enough money to make ends meet, and have a little something left for themselves to enjoy. It would be a very large increase to their quality of life.

Do you think I should buy their home for them? If I buy it, should there be strings? Would “strings” of “forced savings for retirement/emergency fund” be unreasonable? I tend to think strings are a poor idea because of the way it would affect the relationship between us and his parents. I don’t want them to view us as their landlords. I badly want to turn their situation around, but I want to do it in a way that will allow them to remain self sufficient after we do so, and cause us to not need to intervene in their financial lives on a regular basis.
– Kathryn

If you buy it, I wouldn’t attach any “strings” on their behavior. You’re opening the door wide for future conflict.

If you can easily afford it, buy the home and just let them live there without rent. When they no longer use the home, you can fix it up and sell it, possibly turning a small profit on it.

One thing I would suggest from personal experience, though: make sure you establish who’s responsible for property taxes and insurance. Given the situation, it’s likely you’ll be responsible for it, but be sure you’re aware of that before you jump in.

Q8: Heroes
Who are your heroes? What people inspire you greatly?

– Charlene

Most of the people I think of as “heroes” aren’t famous. There are so many people out there doing things quietly in their community, changing lives in a positive fashion, and they never get lauded with celebrity or fame.

I admire the couple in our community that run the food pantry. They spend quite a lot of time on it, collecting food, keeping the doors open, and making food available to the needy in the community. It’s a constant commitment of time with no real reward. They don’t get fame from it. They barely get any recognition from it. Yet they do it, week after week, month after month, year after year, because people in the community need help.

To me, that’s a hero.

Q9: Repair or replace used car?
My wife and I plan to look for and hopefully purchase a house this spring. We have been pre-approved for a decent amount (~$400K). Although we are looking now, current inventory is lacking and we feel after the new reality season in our area (traditionally the week following SuperBowl Sunday) we should be able to find something we like and can afford. With the market being what it is, we are determined to find a house that we can easily live in for at least a decade.

In the meantime, we currently have two automobiles that eventually need to be replaced. We plan to replace them with newer used cars.

My 1997 Mustang needs $1200 worth of repairs to make it safe to drive. This includes brakes (~$400) and new tires (~$400). It would be a game of Russian Roulette to continue navigating Chicago Winters (read: snow) with my current set of tires. [I actually ended up putting in $400 in repairs to the clutch cable and a few other things the other day.]

My wife’s car, a 2002 Trail Blazer, is in better shape but has worse gas mileage than the Mustang. I currently drive her car 26 miles to work (one direction). Her transmission is starting to fail. Our future perfect world scenario would be to replace the Trail Blazer with an Element and the Mustang with a more fuel efficient car to be determined later, perhaps a hybrid or even an electric car if we have the infrastructure, though we’d likely replace the Mustang first and get an Element.

The question is, do we repair the Mustang or use the $1200 toward purchasing a new used vehicle. As I see it, if we invest the $1200 into the car, we reduce our emergency fund and/or downpayment fund (both separate at the moment). However, if we take on even a small auto loan, the interest rate we get for our house might be slightly higher than we could get otherwise and over the life of the home loan, even a quarter percent higher equates to ~20K extra interest paid.
– Ron

It really depends on the reliability of the Mustang other than the things you’ve mentioned.

Has it reached a point where you can barely go three months without something going wrong with the car? Or is this just a conflux of things that’s fairly unusual for an otherwise reliable car?

If the car can’t get you reliably to work and back, you need a different car. Yes, that might slightly postpone your house plans, but if the alternative is having your boss tell you to take a hike because you can’t consistently get there on time, then you don’t really have a choice.

Q10: Using emergency fund during schooling
I am a LPN in my late 40s who will be returning to school in the Fall pursuing the additional education to become a registered nurse. My children have completed college and are out of the house. My husband and I have a house payment of $850 (for another 4-5 years) but otherwise no debt. We have about 6 months of our monthly income in savings, and I have about $150k in a 401k.

When I return to school for the year, I hope to either quit working altogether or work no more than 20-30 hours per month. (I make $20 per hour). My husband will be changing his withholdings from his check once I stop/reduce working, as we both claim zero dependents and have additional money taken from each of our paychecks. So his checks will increase to some degree when I reduce my hours. I will attend a local community college, so educational costs will likely be $4000 -$5000 for the year, and I intend to pay out of pocket for this.

My question is this, if we are financially strapped during the course of my year of schooling, is it better to take out a student loan (since they are at such a low interest rate for 10 years) or potentially deplete/reduce our saved money? Should our savings be used only for “emergencies” ? or do you feel that is precisely what a “savings” is for? I have considered taking out a student loan and putting it in savings and only using it if we are strapped. If I don’t need it, then I’ll repay it immediately after I finish school and have returned to full-time work. (It isn’t always a quick process to obtain a student loan, which is why I have thought about doing it whether or not I need it initially. If I wait until I need it, it might take too long to obtain the funds needed.)

(By the way, I’ve been “couponing” for about 6 months and have nearly a year’s supply of all toiletries and paper products that we will use during the course of my schooling. I also garden and have a significant supply of frozen and canned produce to help us get through this time.)

I’d appreciate your thoughts and insight. I’m excited, but nervous, to be returning to school. RNs in our area typically make 10-15k more per year than LPNs, so it won’t take long to see a return on my educational costs, but more importantly, there are probably 10 RN job opportunities for every 1 LPN job opportunity, because so many facilities are no longer employing LPNs.
– Linda

Don’t even think for a second about what you might earn after this schooling. Betting on earnings that your future self might make is a route to financial despair.

Instead, look strictly at the difficult year. Make a budget for that year. What is your family income during each month? What are the required bills that are going to have to be paid?

If it doesn’t add up, delay this move for a year or two until you can save enough to make it work. Remember, this does not constitute an emergency, so you should not deplete your emergency fund for it. If you do deplete it and then something goes seriously wrong, you’re going to be in a desperate pickle.

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. CNP76 says:

    Q10: If you know that the local facilities are hiring new grad RNs, if you have been talking to local unit managers and have some idea that they want you and if you know you can get through the classes (remember at my local community college fully 50% of our class didn’t make it), then take the small loan. This is one area where Trent has no experience, healthcare. Also consider going part time for the associates degree. I know it won’t be a lot of help when you get to clinicals but I knew women who worked throughout the process and passed.

  2. David says:

    I trust you record the Super Bowl, so that people who miss the party can come round some other time and ignore it then.

  3. Johanna says:

    Q4: Your friend may move to another country in a few years – has he lived in that country before? If not, he could spend some of his extra money on taking a trip or two there, to help him prepare for the move and make sure it’s something he really wants to do.

  4. Raya says:


    I think it’s great that you want to help. Just make sure you take your time and really think this through.

    For example, you don’t mention anything about what Jim thinks. After all, they’re his parents. So while you will be the one providing the money, it cannot be solely your decision. You wouldn’t want that.

    Also, you and Jim are not yet married. Have you thought about what happens if you buy the home and then you guys split up for some reason?

    As to attaching strings – I wouldn’t. You can’t control their behaviour and even if you could, that would probably be not good for your relationship with them and Jim.

    If you (and Jim) are positive that you want to help the parents, I’d say talk to them about what kind of help they’d like and will they be willing to accept it. Don’t just go and say “We’re buying you a house!” – maybe the parents would like a different kind of help. Or they might be too proud to accept.

  5. Telephus44 says:

    @Q3 – unless you are going to keep your current house and not sell when you buy your next one, the interest savings/payoff date don’t matter. If you sell, you’ll pay off the mortgage in full when you sell it on whatever date.

    @Q5 – you can avoid windfalls by checking a couple times a year if your withhlding are on track. Figure out what the tax implications are, and then adjust your withholdings if needed. I do this quarterly, maybe that’s overkill, but it’s worth it if you change jobs, have a child, buy a house, go back to school, or something that will have a large impact on your taxes.

  6. Josh says:

    I always wait until after the Superbowl to plan my annual budget. The new commercials will let me know how I should be spending my money this year.

  7. asithi says:

    Q3 – I would stop paying extra towards the existing mortgage and save for a bigger down payment on your next home. And even if you do not end up moving, you might need the extra cash when the new baby comes along.

    Q7: Please wait until you are married before purchasing the parents’ home. While I would never attached any strings to such an arrangement, please make sure there is an understanding with the parents that they can live in the house for as long as they want, but it is still your house in the end. Also, you might want to ask yourself, if you are ok with the parents’ poor money management. While you help them out this once, you might indirectly become an enabler. What happens when it time for a replacement vehicle? Or who is responsible for the cost of repairs around house? I would talk this through with all parties involved once you and Jim made the decision to help the parents out.

  8. Jen says:

    Uggghhh…Why does Trent always sound so pompous even when describing his superbowl party??? The game is largely(adverb alert)ignored, so we can do something more worthwhile such as board games…AND it’s a potluck, so we’re great that way too!!! I need to stop reading this site, but I am addicted to his poor writing skills and all of the the comments.

  9. Nick says:

    Nice answer on Q8 Trent. Famous people get plenty of coverage, but the unsung heroes are often who do the dirty work.

  10. valleycat1 says:

    Q2 – this seems like really bad advice from Trent. If you are as poor as you say, and the collectors have quit calling, then just live your life and try to get to a place you can save up a little money. Then, if they do call again, you can decide whether you ignore the calls or suggest a minimal payment that you can afford – and be sure to get it documented in writing if they accept, write an actual check & keep a copy of it AND the cancelled one.

  11. valleycat1 says:

    So I can call any party I have on Sunday a superbowl party? If you’re ignoring the TV, then turn it off; if someone wants to track the score, then turn it on occasionally (or use the internet) – & you’ll save a nickel on your electric bill.

  12. BJD says:

    Q1: it’s good advice to focus on one goal at a time. But based on Trent’s announcement of his 2012 goals, this is a . Trent set 4 public goals for 2012 and at least 3 of them are very time consuming goals – 200 hours of community service (about 4 hrs a week), writing 2 novels, and losing over 50 pounds.

  13. Gretchen says:

    9 doesn’t make any sense to me.
    Brakes and tires are normal maintenance.

    Ditto Jen at 8 on the party.

  14. Tracy says:


    I would add – figure out WHY you want to achieve the particular goal. If you’re falling into the traps of setting goals for the sake of setting goals rather than because you really *want* what’s on the other side, you’re not going to care enough. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but the fact that every few months you’re setting new (I’m assuming different) goals, you’re probably setting the wrong goals. What do you REALLY want?


    I’m not sure why Trent’s suggesting Kevin try to negotiate a smaller payment for his debts right now – he can’t do it. He can’t even pay his CURRENT bills without help from others.

    Also, Jen +1

  15. Steve says:

    @Q2 I agree 100% with Trent. If you are underwater on your current house, you need to reverse that situation. Otherwise, you need to save all your extra money towards the down payment. That will give you the most flexibility when buying your next house.

    @Q5 You seem to have made the classic mistake of confusing refund/owe in April with tax liability; for every dollar you earn, you pay some in taxes but you get to keep most of it. You also seem to have the classic misunderstanding of brackets. “Pushed into the next tax bracket” does not change the tax rate on everything below that bracket. Only the extra money is taxed at the higher rate. There is (almost) never a reason to avoid a windfall just becase you’ll have to pay part of it as taxes!

    @Q10 And Trent continues to beat the “You should never count on the future EVAR” drum. Now you do of course have to be careful when taking on debt for a potential future career. There are many things that could go wrong – including one’s own impulsiveness. But more often than not, if you have considered the career carefully, volunteered in the field to know that it’s something that will work for you, do your best to minimize expenses during the time you are in school, and understand the drawbacks of student loans (including that you can’t discharge them in bankruptcy). Then education debt can be some of the highest ROI debt opportunities you will get in your entire life.

    It’s funny that Trent thinks you should never count the future when it’s yourself for income, but he also thinks you should always put money into a Roth because he apparently knows that in the future, the government will raise tax rates but won’t find a way to tax Roth assets.

  16. Steve says:

    #6 Josh nice one! Great comments today.

  17. valleycat1 says:

    #12 BJD – my thoughts exactly – Trent’s advice is to do exactly the opposite of what he’s planned for the year, even though he;s admitted he struggles with his goals (except reading).

  18. BirdDog says:

    Q10: I know very few RN’s who are looking for work. Any RN’s I know who are unemployed are only unemployed because they have chosen to be. Ignore Trent’s advice and go for it. I would advise against a student loan, it sounds like you should be able to make it by tightening your belts, so to speak.

    @Jen #8: This site was helpful to me when I was turning my finances around but I seldom seem to gain anything new from it now. However, the comments do seem to keep me coming back each day.

  19. Kevin says:


    And don’t forget the nauseating pablum about how Trent’s idea of a perfect evening is snuggling up under a warm blanket with his kids and watching a heartwarming, family-friendly Disney movie.

    Curiously though, it seems his kids aren’t welcome at his Superbowl party. A contradiction, perhaps? I thought kids were the be-all-end-all? How can it be a “perfect” party without his wonderful, well-behaved, way-smarter-than-average kids? Maybe his 4-year old daughter will be too busy reading entrepreneurial books?

  20. Jackowick says:

    #3 Q4 Johanna is right, if this person has never been there, plan a trip or two, maybe bring a friend so they can share in where the future life is going. Or plan a trip to an opposite part of the world that may not be accessbile easily after the move.

    As far as the comments on the Super Bowl party, not everyone is into the football game you know. I am a huge NFL fan, but when the teams aren’t an ideal matchup, I’d rather stay in than go out. But it’s on “in the background” while I iron or do laundry.

    Not everyone likes everything you do or does everything you do, and taking his commments as “pompous” is taking them too personally. I love the SuperBowl and do watch it every year, but my attention/concentration on it varies widely.

  21. josh says:

    Anyone else think that the use of “reality” in Q9 is a Freudian slip?

  22. Jen says:

    @20…it’s his overall tone…if he doesn’t mean to come across as pompous(y), then he needs to change the tone of his writing. I don’t think I’m taking it too personally??? I don’t see how this fits; I don’t care what he does for the Superbowl. I’m sure he’ll have a great time talking about “child-unfriendly” topics and playing cards while truly enjoying a delicious potluck dinner;-)

  23. Tom says:

    Q3 are you saving for a home purchase in 2020? It sounds like you’ll want to move much sooner than that, so I agree with Telephus at comment 5.
    It’s hard to make a recommendation without knowing your downpayment goal and realistic timeframe to move. Assuming house prices remain steady, you’ll eventually get that extra principal back out of the house when you sell, so your current setup seems fine to me.

    Q4’s friend is likely going to realize about $180k of income this year, so he better not contribute to a Roth IRA until 2013, assuming he doesn’t get another bonus that’s almost triple his base pay.

    I know this is something we will need to do for the remainder of their lives unless we do something like buy them a home
    You kind of ARE buying them a house right now. I second the notion that you should be careful about being an unintentional enabler.

  24. Mister E says:

    I don’t read this particular column as being too over the top but Trent does have an eye-rolling way of speaking about family and friends often times.

  25. Izabelle says:

    Q2: You may need to see a trustee or a bankruptcy adviser. I don’t know the laws in your area but it may be for the best if you end up relieved of your debts in the end.

  26. Des says:

    Q1 – I disagree with Trent’s advice here. Focusing on one goal to completion just gets boring. For example, the first couple weeks of a diet are interesting because you are learning to count calories, or working out a new exercise routine, or whatever. But after that, it is really just more of the same. It only requires that you follow your routine, there is no more novelty to it.

    For me personally, I have learned that my interests and energy come and go in waves. Rather than forcing myself to complete goals I am not fired-up for at the moment, I try to use my fired-up times to set habits and routines for when I lose that fire. So, as long as I stay in the habit of tracking what I eat, even if I am not actively dieting, it keeps me from backsliding until my interest waxes again. If I do the budget heavy-lifting now while I’m into it, all I have to do is follow what I’ve laid out for a few months until I have the energy to re-evaluate if its working.

    Rather than simply ignoring all goals until you’ve finished one, I would suggest using your energy to find ways to force your future-self into routines that will make progress towards your goals even without actively working towards it. Easier said than done, to be sure.

  27. Johanna says:

    Q2, @Izabelle: If he’s still underemployed and unable to make ends meet, now is not the right time to file for bankruptcy. Since you can only file every seven years, if he continues to have trouble finding a job, he will be up the creek.

    Better for him to hang in there as long as he can, and wait until after he gets a job to consider bankruptcy.

  28. Barb says:

    Q10: Ignore Trent’s advice on this one.

    Your plan is great!! Demand for RN’s will continue to increase as boomers experience more health/aging issues so your future is bright. Definitely get the student loan, but use it strictly for school. Use your emergency fund for a fall-back in case of a true emergency and the student loan as a buffer for your schooling expenses. Worst case you end up paying the student loan back like anyone else after you graduate. I would apply for the student loan immediately as the rules may be changing. Your number one goal should be graduation so do everything you can to reduce your need for part-time work. Concentrate more on passing the classes and learning the material than on being super-frugal, just for this one year.

    Good luck!! We need more RN’s!!

  29. AnnJo says:

    @2, @Izabelle, I agree with Johanna that this is not the time to file for bankruptcy. The point of filing for bankruptcy is not just to clear the decks of past debt, but to protect current assets and income from garnishment and execution on account of that debt. Since Kevin has too little income to be subject to garnishment and (I’d guess) no seizable assets, there’s no real reason for him to file bankruptcy.

    On the other hand, filing for Chapter 7 (full discharge) when you have a decent income, i.e., once Kevin becomes employed full-time, is harder than it used to be. If there’s any realistic prospect of paying off debt from future income, you are now required to go the Chapter 13 route. (I think. I don’t strive too hard to keep up on bankruptcy laws these days.)

  30. Jonathan says:

    I can’t even begin to understand how someone could think that “It’s a potluck dinner. The game is on in the background, but largely ignored. People sit around and play board and card games.” sounds pompous. Sure, if you project your ideas about what you think Trent means, it can be perceived how ever you want to perceive it.

    What if I made the following statement about Thanksgiving dinner, would you think I were being pompous?

    “It’s a potluck dinner. The parade is on in the background, but largely ignored. People sit around and play board games and card games.”

  31. Petra says:

    Q7: if the house is on your name, your parents-in-law cannot take a loan on it, because it is not theirs. They cannot use it as a collateral, because they are not the owners. So I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

    I would pay a financial advisor and/or a lawyer to find out the best option here on how exactly to do this in the best possible way, considering all these items: finances, taxes, and any rules/agreements with your parents-in-law on how they use the house, who pays what, etc.

  32. mary w says:

    Q7. My advice is to “let” your boyfriend continue to pay his parent’s mortgage and keep your money out of the deal.

    However, if you decide to buy a house for them to live in, do it with care. The house should be your name, not yours and boy friend’s. You should have a rental agreement with his parents with at least token rent to cover insurance, property tax, etc. You should talk to an accountant about income tax ramifications for no/below market rent – you probably won’t be able to write-off expenses that you could in a normal rental situation.

  33. Johanna says:

    Q7: I agree with Raya. That is all.

  34. Tracy says:


    Actually, yeah, it does sound as pompous. it’s less the activities/content, than it is Trent’s style of writing. Trent has a very cold style of writing, very emotionless and flat. Combine that with the present tense and it sounds incredibly stiff. This wouldn’t have sounded as ridiculous:

    “This year, we’re having a potluck with friends for our “Super Bowl” party. Nobody’s really into the game, so it’ll probably be mostly background noise for the card and board games – but we’re looking forward to it.”

    Do you see the difference in how that comes across from:

    “What does our version of a Super Bowl party look like?

    It’s a potluck dinner. The game is on in the background, but largely ignored. People sit around and play board and card games”

    (Actually, Trent’s style sounds very like a DM setting the stage for an RPG campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s influencing his writing, but it’s not a great fit for first person blogging)

  35. Tamara says:


    I think it’s because he’s referring to it as a Super Bowl party though he & his guests are paying little to no attention to the purported reason for the get-together…and having the same damn party that he seems to have every time he mentions a party (board games & potluck). Also, given his frequent anti-TV polemics (God help you if you like The Big Bang Theory) I’m sure it’s not too far from the truth that he believes having a party to watch a specific TV program (even a once-a-year gig like the game) is ‘nonproductive’ and a ‘waste of time’. Which, whatever floats your boat, but why call it a Super Bowl party when it obviously isn’t and subtly deride those that /do/ care about the game.

    (And I say this as someone who could give a fig about football – but I’ve been to a few SB parties and watched the game though I don’t understand the rules much…!)

  36. Misha says:

    Q5 is using the word “windfall” in a completely bizarre way.

  37. Gretchen says:

    “Every year we have a party during the superbowl, even though I don’t watch the game. It’s more of an excuse to just get together, eat salty snacks, and play board games. “

  38. Tracy says:

    Hah, I like Gretchen’s even more!

  39. Johanna says:

    If Trent had actually mentioned salty snacks, though, I bet the Food Police would have taken that as an invitation to concern-troll his diet again some more.

  40. jim says:

    Q2 : If they stopped calling then I would let it lie unless you come up with some money to try and pay them off.

    Q3 : Theres not enough information. We don’t know when you might buy another home, we don’t know the interest on your current mortgage, we don’t know if you’re underwater.

    Q6: How much of your business is from credit cards and how many of those people would pay via alternate methods? If taking credit cards doesn’t impact you much either way then stop taking credit cards. But if you need to take credit cards as most consumers prefer to pay that way then you ought to shop around for alternate card processors who can give you better rates. Costco has a credit card processing service that is in the 1.5-2% range without annual fees and Square has 2.75% flat fees. Just a couple examples.

    Q7 : Don’t buy your boyfriends parents house until after you’re married. They aren’t your parents. What happens if Jim and you break up? You can always buy that house later on down the road. If /when you do get married then spending 5% of your assets on a house is not a bad idea. But you’ll need to make sure everyone is agreed on how that will work. They may very well treat you like a landlord and expect you to fix everything that breaks or even expect improvements. Might be just as good for you to save money to use if/when they ever end up destitute. Buying their house may just give them the idea they can waste all their money elsewhere and not improve anything. It really depends on the situation and how responsible they can be.

    Q10 : Linda if you can live OK off your reduced income then go ahead and go back to school. Its not clear what your budget will be when you return to school. You need to figure out if your income will cover your expenses adaquately. If not then go ahead and take that school loan (assuming its a govt. backed one, not private). Returning to school sounds like a smart move for you given the increased income. You can recover your costs and repay the loan within a few years and then have extra income for a couple decades.
    I disagree with Trents philosophy of assuming nobody will make money in the future. An RN is a fairly safe bet. Of course you don’t want to start spending your future wages now, but investing in education to get a better job is not the same thing. The whole point of that education is to get a better job.

  41. jim says:

    Oh no, Trent doesn’t watch the Superbowl the right way? Someone call Joe McCarthy! Seriously I didn’t see anything wrong with how Trent described his Superbowl non-watching party. If he wants to get together with his friends and ignore football thats no skin off my nose. I do see how people could take it as somehow disdainful of the Superbowl itself. Like if I said that for Christmas we planned to get together and exchange gifts, eat some food and ignore Jesus. But the Superbowl has higher ratings than anything Jesus related.

  42. Johanna says:

    Oh no, somebody had a subjective reaction to Trent’s post that was not the same as jim’s and Jonathan’s reactions? Someone call Joe McCarthy!

  43. Icarus says:

    @Gretchen, re: Q9. I think it’s the age of the car and the issue of putting more money into it with no ROI other than keeping the car running for a few more months versus biting the bullet and getting a newer used car in better shape.

  44. Steve says:

    @Q9 and #43 Icarus. “repair car or buy a new one” is a perpetual question. In general the repair costs are pretty much always cheaper than the depreciation and (if you buy it with a loan) interest costs on a brand new car. Of course if it is a huge hassle because it’s in the shop all the time, and you value your time and have the money to spare, sure you can buy a new car (that’s what I do). And with really old cars, sometimes the cost to perform a particular issue is more than the value of the car after it’s fixed, in which case you could use that money to buy a different but running junker. But in general if your goal is saving money, fixing the old car is going to be your best bet.

  45. jim says:

    Not loving the Superbowl is clearly UnAmerican behavior befitting of senate hearings and several decades worth of blacklisting in hollywood. Disagreeing with Trent, disagreeing with people who disagree with Trent, failing to agree with Johanna, disagreeing with Johanna are not UnAmerican and I’m sure Joe wouldn’t care.
    And if you’d noticed I entirely see the point about why people took exception to Trents comments about the Superbowl. It just didn’t strike me that way.

  46. Johanna says:

    jim, nobody is saying that Trent is being “disdainful of the Superbowl itself” by turning it on and not watching it. So no, you don’t entirely see the point.

    For the record, I don’t give a fig about the Superbowl, what Trent does during the Superbowl, or how Trent describes what he does during the Superbowl.

  47. Icarus says:

    @Q9 and #44 Steve. The question also involved the extra caveat of the couple wanting to buy a house and not wanting a car loan to impact their mortgage loan or reduce their down payment funds. I’m surprised Trent didn’t touch on this more.

  48. jim says:

    Johanna, OK, yes it seems the major complaint voiced objection to the perceived ‘pompous’ tone of Trents writing rather than anything about what he thinks of the Superbowl itself. But I do think Tamara at least may have been imagining that Trent didn’t care for the Superbowl itself.

    It didn’t come across as pompous to me, but I don’t know if I’d really call too much pompous unless it was way over the top.

  49. jim says:

    Question for everyone :

    What do people feel constitutes pompous language in general?

    Is it just cause it seems a little too ‘self important’? If so, how is what he said ‘self important’ rather than just mundane small talk about weekend plans? Is it something specific about the grammar?

    I’m honestly curious why people got a ‘pompous’ vibe out Trents comment which I myself don’t get.

    To me it just came across as Trent describing what he’s doing this weekend. He didn’t seem to act like his plans were special or better than anyone elses.

  50. Johanna says:

    @jim: I’ll let Tamara speak for herself if she wants to, but it sounds to me like she’s saying that Trent is being disdainful toward people who care about the Super Bowl, not toward the Super Bowl itself. That is not quite the same thing.

    I didn’t get a strong “pompous” vibe from the intro either, but maybe that’s because it pales in comparison with the first paragraph of the answer to Q2.

    To the extent that it does seem pompous to me, it’s because he introduces it with a rhetorical question (basically, “I’m sure you’re all wondering what I’m doing for my Super Bowl party”), and then his “big reveal” (potluck and board games!) is something he talks about sooooo much that it’s not going to come as a surprise to anyone who reads the blog regularly.

  51. jim says:

    Johanna, OK I can see how the rhetorical question setup could come across as pompous.

    So then did you think the first paragraph in Trents response to Q2 was more pompous sounding? To me it seemed more ‘inconsequential’ or ‘tangential’ than anything. I was generally assuming that Kevin who asked the question wasn’t serious with the coffee filter comment but if so it was just TMI.

  52. Johanna says:

    It’s very businesslike, formal-sounding language (e.g., “highly cost-effective solution” and “financial delay tactic”) for the topic he’s talking about.

  53. Tracy says:

    I agreed with the ‘pompous’ remark, but you have to look at what pompous means – to me, it’s in the vein of ‘stiff, stilted, and self-important’ For me, personally, it was really much more about the language than about the activities.

    Trent’s language:

    “What does our version of a Super Bowl party look like?
    It’s a potluck dinner. The game is on in the background, but largely ignored. People sit around and play board and card games.”

    There are a couple of ways that that passage comes across that way to me. First of all, it’s fake – it’s using present tense to talk about something that’s happening in the future. That’s a stylistic choice, of course, but personally I find it a really awkward/irritating one. It’s a bit grandstandy. Trent is probably going for some sort of dreamlike quality here, but … meh.

    Also, and this is another huge problem, Trent’s setting a scene here. It’s an intro – it’s not a complete thought. There should be an emotional payoff somewhere … but there isn’t. In Trent’s view, what he’s written is complete: the mental image of him and his friends sitting around playing games. But it’s really not.

    Related to the above, there’s nothing emotional in there. There’s no spark, no life, no personality. There’s no FEELING.

    This exact same setup could be people being happy, excited, enthusiastic … or bored, depressed, and uncomfortable … or any gamut. That’s part of the stiff and stilted. Is this ‘just another potluck’ or is it more? Who knows? Who cares? Why was this included? Stiff … stilted … self-important.

    Although to be honest, after all of Trent’s comments about ‘wasting time watching TV,’ I can *totally* see how some people would see it as him trying to be superior in the “We won’t waste our time watching the game” way.

  54. jim says:

    Johanna, Tracy, Ok thanks, I see what you mean.

    Would it be fair to say that it came across like something Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory would say?

  55. matt says:

    Q6 – check out dwolla. They only charge $.25 per transaction Much less than CC Companies

  56. Tracy says:

    I don’t think we’re allowed to talk about Big Bang Theory :p

    (The q2 stuff, probably – not the intro, very different persona constructions)

  57. deRuiter says:

    Q 7, READ #32 MARY W. If you buy house, put in your name only, have separate checking account dedicated to the rental of house only, in your name ONLY and dedicate rent to paying expenses like taxes, insurance and repairs. Have strong lease agreement. Prepare for them not to obey lease. Prepare for them not to pay you rent because they sound financially unstable. You are not married to this man so don’t put house in his name. What if your appeal is your substantial inheritance instead of your pretty self? That unpleasant but important fact stated, “They would be able to save for an emergency fund, retirement, have enough money to make ends meet, and have a little something left for themselves to enjoy.” may be a pipe dream and what are you going to say / do when they continue to manage money badly and toss it away on things of which you don’t approve? Keep separate finances until married and consult marital lawyer about keeping your pre marriage assets separate after marriage, which depends on the community property laws in your state. It may come as a surprise to you, but a lot of people are married for their money, and when the money is gone, they are dumped. Do not, under any circumstances, put house in your friend’s (that’s all he is, your friend) parents name. You need a lawyer, not a lawyer for both of you, YOU need a lawyer to advise you about finance. Go to see lawyer ALONE, not with your friend. It will be educational. Of course you are “in love” and it is “forever” but I suggest an hour or two with a lawyer who does matrimonal law BEFORE any problems arise. Protect yourself. The people who left you the inheritance worked hard to accumulate the money and save that money, don’t be a jerk and give it away and end up alone with nothing.

  58. Tom says:

    some people would see it as him trying to be superior in the “We won’t waste our time watching the game”
    Actually, that is entirely how I read it. I thought, why even call it a Super Bowl party?
    I will throw this caveat out there though – I regularly get together with a group of friends for the Super Bowl (no board games), and frequently we have more general interest in the NFL than the specific teams. If the game becomes sloppy or one-sided (it often does), it becomes a bit secondary to other conversation, commercials, food, or whatever.

  59. GayleRN says:

    Addressing question #10 as the only person here who knows what they are talking about on this one.
    First of all the current trend is to eliminate LPN positions altogether. She is in the untenable position of either more education to continue her career or the alternative of a) losing her job or b) getting demoted to nurse aide status with accompanying pay cut. That is what is happening where I work.

    Delaying the extra year of education which will net her at least an additional $10K annually for a 5K outlay makes no sense whatsoever. Particularly when you are already in your late 40’s. Time lost now can never be recouped. Just as a concrete example I recouped my entire tuition in just 8 weeks of employment post graduation.
    The only caveat is that many hospitals are requiring even more education to keep an RN position, going from ADN to BSN within a 5-10 year time frame. You end up forever working toward the next degree just to keep the job you already have.

    Sit down and run the numbers together and come up with a plan with and without the student loan. Then make a decision and a plan and next year you can enjoy your new job.

  60. getagrip says:

    Q7 I will echo deRuiter about seeing a lawyer alone before getting married and agree that you really need to consider this very carefully. I hear a lot of “we” in the description of your boyfriend’s parents problems (e.g. 5% of our assets, we have to do this the rest of their lives, etc.) but it appears that the bulk of those assets are coming from you. Has Jim any assets (saving for retirement/future, etc.) or is all his disposable income being paid to his parents and lifestyle? Is there a real reason why are you still not married after 4 and 1/2 years and not looking to be married for another couple? There could be a very reasonable explaination for this but combined with the rest of the question presented it’s giving me a negative feeling about the whole situation.

    All I see coming from this is a lot of conflict and potentially hurt feelings and lose of money if you have any expectations of Jim’s parents turning their monetary situation around. If you really plan on doing this, I wouldn’t until you were married, had discussed the expectations from both sides with Jim and his parents, and basically admitted to yourself you’re very likely to never see a return on your money as a minimum despite best intentions and promises. Best of luck with this situation.

  61. getagrip says:

    Q1 Goals are always a tricky thing. What I don’t get from the question is any consideration on your part about why you’re letting these goals fail. Is it boredom? Lack of progress? Just not really important to you? What?

    You don’t have to beat yourself up about why you fail, just consider how making some changes may help you succeed.

    I’ve found the best thing for me to do is make the goal part of your routine so that even if it is boring or uninspiring it’s pretty much automatic. For example, I’ve found if I go home and wait to exercise until after dinner, I hardly ever do it because at dinner we talk about our day, things that need doing, and often I find that I’m doing some other item or have found some other “distraction” and now I have to make a serious mental decision to tell myself to get upstairs, change, and then exercise. But I found that if I change into exercise clothes right after work (since I’m changing from work clothes anyway) and put the time in before dinner it’s like part of the routine of my day and while it seems such a trival difference, it’s made a big difference for me. Generally making a goal automatic or a routine part of the day helps me.

    Sometimes you have to shake it up at least enough so you don’t start looking at the goal as a chore or at least not so much of a chore (e.g. I change up my exercise routine between a number of DVDs, a treadmill, neighborhood walks, weights, etc.).

  62. sjw says:

    #57, #32

    Yes. To date & place me in a specific online subculture – AOL AOL AOL.

    I hope the poster scrolled through the whole “pompous” discussion enough to get to these comments.

  63. Evita says:

    Q7 I totally agree with deRuiter’s comments, and, for once, with her usual harsh tone. She is absolutely right! do not let this family take advantage of your good nature !

    Why does your boyfriend expect to be paying his parents’ mortgage for the rest of their lives ? this should not be required from any child. And while he is doing so, he cannot contribute to his future family, is this why you are not married after more than four years ?

    If you want to continue with this scheme, do protect yourself. The house that you will acquire with your money should be in your name only and a proper lease drawn up. Whatever you do, let the parents shoulder part of the burden. A “forever” gift is not a good idea. In any case, be aware that the family dynamics are not normal and might cause emotional problems later on.

    I repeat: protect yourself. An affluent woman is easy prey.

  64. JJ says:

    Q10 — Random question, but where can find some resources on that level of “couponing”? Sounds like you’ve been very effective at it!

  65. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, in my world, no, if I am concerned about a kidney stone, then what I might feel about a hangnail will not rise anywhere close to “concern.”

    You and I both have a tendency to serve as grammar police – telling people when they have made a grammatical error. I have never let on whether my feelings for such people include contempt (they don’t), and I may be mistaken, but I don’t think you have either. Your service as one of the thought police is similar – you are telling people when they have traduced one of the current tribalist fads. Fine, but that such error should force you to disclose your contempt for the errant suggests you are taking the duties of the job to an extreme. Here’s the Bing definition of contempt: “attitude of utter disgust or hatred: a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebody or something considered to be worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect.” Isn’t that a little severe for David’s supposed error?

  66. AnnJo says:

    Oops, sorry, the above comment was intended for a different post.

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