Updated on 03.26.12

Reader Mailbag: The After-Rain Smell

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. Taking sick days
2. Ending a cell contract early
3. Homemade putty and playdough
4. International travel for wedding
5. Making everyone happy
6. Basic 401(k) and Roth issue
7. Emergency fund for family
8. Alleviating stress
9. Savings bonds and 529s
10. Big debt problems

There are few things I like better than the smell of the outdoors after a warm spring rain. Things smell damp and a bit musty, but things smell alive.

That alive smell comes from the plants and other things emerging from their winter slumber, gulping up the nutrients and water around them, and growing.

It’s a wonderful smell. It’s something that makes me want to spend the next nine months almost entirely outside.

Q1: Taking sick days
My company gives employees 10 paid sick days per year (in addition to 2 weeks vacation). Once a year, whatever remaining sick days are left are cut in half and employees are allowed to “bank” that half with no expiration. (For example, if you have 2 sick days left at the year mark, you bank 1 day to carry indefinitely). I’m in a position where my 10 sick days are about to be cut to 5 if I don’t use any. My company is very generous with flexible work hours, so I’ve never used them for routine appointments. I’m wondering what would be the optimal way to use paid sick time. I’m rarely sick with no medical issues. Should I try to use up my sick time each year since it’s a paid 10 days that I earn or should I try to bank as many days while I’m well for future unexpected events?

– Ronny

If you have a real medical reason for using them, then use them, of course. Also, if you’re not planning on being at that employer for very long (less than another few years), then I’d find ways to use them. If not, I think banking them is a really, really sound idea.

When I was in high school, one of the teachers who had been teaching for the district for quite a few years suffered a heart attack in the middle of the school year. Like you, his job allowed him to “bank” some of his sick leave. Because he had used so little of it over his career, his entire period of recuperation – more than half a school year – was paid. That was incredible peace of mind for him.

Banking those sick days is essentially a form of insurance – it ensures that if something truly bad happens to you (a heart attack, a severe car accident), you will keep receiving your paycheck as normal while you recuperate. The more days you have built up, the better.

Q2: Ending a cell contract early
My wife and I rarely use our cell phones and thanks to your encouragement we have decided to move to prepaid cell phones. The cost per month is going to be far lower and we can certainly use that money to dig out of debt.

The problem is that we signed a two year contract about a year ago. There is a hefty early termination fee (either $175 or $350, we’re not sure yet). Do you know of any ways of getting around such crazy fees?
– Dan

You have a couple options, at least. If you have clear examples of service that fall short of what was promised in your contract, you can be a squeaky wheel and raise the issue, requesting to be released from your contract. You can try to give your contract to someone else using a service like CellPlanDepot.

If those options don’t work for you, I would suggest just trimming your services down to the bare minimum you can have under that contract and wait it out.

Early termination fees are certainly one of the revenue streams that cellular providers rely on to make money for their company. They’re never going to make it easy to get out of that fee.

Q3: Homemade putty and playdough
I often think back to the many years I spend in the preschool setting, first as a teacher then as an administrator. I cannot imagine how many batches of play-dough I made during those 17 years, but it was time well spent!

One hint I have for you to make it last even longer is one that served us well. When children in a classroom are playing with play-dough it does tend to dry out a bit faster than batches at home, so I would take the those batches and add two things, warm water first and a bit more vegetable oil second, kneading each in to the desired consistency.

Another “cooking project” toy that we made was Silly Putty……. the recipe is even simpler than play-dough! Equal parts liquid starch and Elmer type white glue mixed together. If you want color it needs to go into the starch before adding the glue.
– Linda

Linda is expounding on the playdough recipe that’s been shared a couple times recently on The Simple Dollar: 2 cups flour, 2 cups warm water, 1 cup salt, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, and 1 tablespoon cream of tartar.

I’ve experimented with using more oil to keep the dough moist, but it’s something you can easily overdo, resulting in an oily clump of dough. A preschool teacher in another email mentioned a technique for saving slightly dry dough by adding two teaspoons of warm water and a teaspoon of the oil, just as you mentioned, and kneading it in.

The Silly Putty recipe works really well, too. The thing I like about these recipes is that they’re non-toxic, which means if my youngest child accidentally eats a little bit (as one year olds sometimes do), I know exactly what’s in it and I know it won’t harm him.

Q4: International travel for wedding
My sister moved to Turkey a few years ago, and now she’s getting married! She and her fiancee came home to visit my family in Phoenix and they actually got married at the courthouse here, so they’re technically already married. I brought the whole family (wife and 3 children) and I assumed that our presence at the civil service here in Phoenix would mean it would be OK if I didn’t go to their other wedding in Turkey.

I recently got an email from my sister letting me know that she expects me to be at the Turkey wedding in September. I gave her a few dates that would make it easiest for me to attend, but she chose another date (the day after my wife’s 40th birthday).

The way I see it, I have a few choices:

1. Not go, and deal with her being upset
2. Go alone, leaving the rest of the family at home. My wife let me know that this option will make her upset
3. Bring the whole family (our youngest is 18 months), which won’t upset anyone but might be very stressful, and will definitely blow our vacation budget for years.

Do you think it’s reasonable for me to not attend? Are there other options I hadn’t thought of? What would you do?
– Mark

My honest suggestion would be to sit down with your wife, lay out the pros and cons of each option, and get her input on this decision.

As you’ve mentioned, there are clear pros and cons with each option. However, given the financial impact of the decision (especially considering the third option) and how that will impact future family plans, you should really discuss the options with your wife.

I can’t really advise you on the family dynamics of this, because each family is different, but in my situation, I would consider it more important to make sure my wife was fully on board with the plan than angering a sibling because I couldn’t travel halfway around the world.

Aaron writes in with a similar issue.

Q5: Making everyone happy
Often, it seems like a lot of my money is spent keeping everyone else in my life happy. I’ll drive my wife and children to different places. My money is spent on things I don’t want. The other night, when I was working late on a project, my wife just took the kids out to eat “because Dad wasn’t home.”

This seems like a lose-lose situation because I either lose money all the time or get into a constant war with my family. Any suggestions?
– Aaron

It sounds like you’re letting others entirely make the decisions with regards to your time and your money. That’s a mistake. While it is always a good idea to consider all of the stakeholders, you are absolutely one of the major stakeholders here and you’re being overlooked.

I suspect that the initial steps of this are going to be hard, because there seems to be a pattern that exists where you are relied on to give up your time and money with little input. I would suggest starting to change the tide by making lots of suggestions in those situations. Suggest other buying practices and other transportation methods.

If your spouse balks, sit down with her and with the numbers and discuss how these things are unsustainable. Over the long run, this isn’t going to work, after all.

Q6: Basic 401(k) and Roth issue
I am currently contributing 25% of my income to my 401K. As I just moved from oversea to US in late 2009, my contribution up till now is only $26,000. My company has NYLife manage our retirement plan and they invest my money in Black rock path 2045 on my behalf. What is the difference between 401K and ROTH IRA and what is the best advice for me if I need to steer my money in another way in case I opt to go my way? Appreciate if you could me some detailed advices on this as I am not that familiar with the US financial system.

– Monique

First of all, you’re doing a great job investing 25% of your income for retirement. That is a great decision and it’s one that will set you up wonderfully for retirement in the future.

There are several differences between a Roth IRA and a 401(k); I’ll summarize the big ones for you. A 401(k) plan is usually run by your employer, while you usually have to set up a Roth IRA for yourself through an investment house (like Vanguard or Fidelity – it’s pretty easy to sign up once you decide to do it).

With a 401(k) plan, the money is taken directly out of your paycheck before taxes, meaning you only pay income tax on the portion of your paycheck that’s left after the 401(k) money is taken out. With a Roth IRA, you use money out of your take-home paycheck, which means that today, you’ll pay more in taxes if you put $5,000 in a Roth than if you put $5,000 in a 401(k).

However, when you go to withdraw the money, the situation is different. With a 401(k), you’ll have to pay income tax on the money you withdraw in retirement. With a Roth IRA, if you’re of retirement age, you can take the money out of the account tax-free, including any investment gains you’ve earned.

The general advice given is to put money into your 401(k) up to the top of your employer match. Many employers offer some sort of matching program for their employee’s 401(k) plans – I’m not sure if yours does or not. Anyway, once you’ve contributed enough to get all of an employer match, the usual suggestion is to max out your Roth IRA contributions, since you have more investment freedom with a Roth IRA and the tax benefits are usually deemed to be better. If you still want to contribute more, put the rest into your 401(k).

My back of the envelope math says that you’re earning around $50,000 a year, so you should be fine with regards to the income caps for a Roth IRA (high wage earners can’t contribute to a Roth).

Monique has a second question.

Q7: Emergency fund for family
What do you suggest as a good emergency fund these days for a family of 4, a couple and 2 kids? We have an emergency fund of 20K, we have just bought a house of 200K and still owe 44K. We do not have any credit card debt, car payment or student loans to worry about and home mortgage is the only monthly due (apart from utility bills) that we have to take care of but still, we think it is painful to pay more than $3,300 as the annual bank interest. Do you think we should reduce our emergency to 10K-15K (which is approx. 4-6 months of our expenses) and therefore save a bit more on our annual interest?

– Monique

You’ll hear opinions on this topic all over the place, my friend.

My feeling is that, in your financial situation, it’s good to have two months of living expenses per family member in savings. In your case, that would be eight months of living expenses.

Many people feel that amount is excessive. I fully admit to being on the conservative side with such things, perhaps because I’ve witnessed many families struggle mightily after an unexpected crisis.

If you have a clear plan in place in the event of a severe loss in income or the passing of one of your family members (due to insurance or other means), you’re probably safe to cut things back a bit to the level you discuss above.

Q8: Alleviating stress
The past month or so has been really stressful at work. Over the last week, I’ve found myself sick to my stomach pretty much all the time, rocking back and forth in my chair, biting my nails and it’s all due to the stress I’m pretty sure.

How do you deal with stress? With the amount of writing you do and the deadlines you constantly have, I would imagine that dealing with stress is something you handle all the time.
– Anna

I simply find things to do to relieve my stress level that aren’t self-destructive.

Often, the best thing for me is just addressing the problem head-on. I feel less stressed if I have articles written for the future, for example. If you have a task completed early, get a head start on something else so that you don’t feel constantly swamped.

As for stress relief in the short term, working on my fiction writing is very cathartic, as is playing board games or reading a novel that pulls me into another world or another way of thinking. Meditation and/or prayer also works well for me.

Q9: Savings bonds and 529s
Since my children were born, each year on their birthday, my grandmother sends us a US Savings Bond (usually for $100 or $200 maturity value). Calculating their value today, I think they would cash out for about $500 total for each child. My question is whether there are any disadvantages or advantages to doing that and putting that money into a 529 plan. Would my grandmother be able to make contributions to the 529 plans going forward (either directly or indirectly)? Would there be any tax issues to consider (doubtful assuming we’re talking about $100 a year or so)? My main motivator for doing so is to have the college savings in a separate bucket that my wife and I would then start regularly contributing to as well, for convenience sake. I realize that we could do this without moving the savings bonds, but for some reason, it feels better to streamline the savings instead of having paper bonds sitting in a desk drawer (and I realize the US Treasury is no longer issuing those paper bonds, at least for this type – series EE) We do not currently have any college savings for the children, and they are 5 and 7.

We have held off on starting 529s because we had other financial priorities (emergency fund, paying down credit card and student loan debt, saving for retirement, etc.) but we’d like to start putting something aside, even if it’s only $50 a month or so now so we can take advantage of compound interest etc.
– Larry

Cashing in savings bonds to fund a 529 is a tricky issue and there are reasons to go each way. This web page lays out the issues on both sides very clearly. For me, it would really come down to the interest rates that the bonds are getting right now. If it’s close or if you think you can get a better return in the 529, cash them in and move the money over.

Your grandmother can certainly contribute directly to their 529, but I’m always hesitant to look a gift horse in the mouth, particularly when it comes to small amounts like this. If I were you, I might mention the 529 to her and mention that other family members can contribute, but don’t push her to change what she’s doing.

You’re making the right move thinking about these issues now rather than later, and you’re making an even better move by starting to contribute to their education.

Q10: Big debt problems
I’m locked into some credit card debt, and I’m not sure what the best way to try to get out of it is. I’ll try to be as specific as possible. I owe almost $34,000 on 18 different cards, with interest rates ranging from 11-29%. I’m old enough to know better, but until recently I just really didn’t care.

Full Disclosure, I’ve always been terrible with money, and again until recently, I never cared about how it was going to work out. I just kind of went along, and if I had money in my account I was good. If I didn’t have any money in my account and I thought I needed it, or it was a “big” purchase I put it on a credit card. I was a sucker for every offer to finance it interest free for a year, but I never followed through on paying it off before the year was out.

I have had to start thinking about my future due to a few recent events. First, my girlfriend and her son recently moved in with me. Second, I will soon be forced to find a new living situation. Third, which I just recently woke up to, is that I’m tired of spending over ¾ of my monthly income paying credit card bills.

I have an SEP plan with about $25,000 in it, and I would like to use a portion of it to put a large dent in my credit card debt. I know that is not generally advised, but I’m not sure to how else to be able to do this quickly. I’m paying close to $1600 a month in credit card payments, much of it going strictly to interest.

Why do I want to do it quickly? Well the first two events I listed. My preoccupation with what I owe is really starting to affect me personally, which is putting a strain on my relationship, as well as putting unnecessary pressure on the two most important people in the world to me. The second thing, I currently have no housing costs. I live in a house that is owned by my father, which we remodeled together, specifically for the purpose of moving my girlfriend and her son into with me. Not paying rent is a gift from my father, for various reasons. The house is paid for, though, so he is not losing money.

Why will that be changing soon? My house is on the same lot as my father’s house. He bought the lot and the houses from his father, who built them originally. Since they were constructed, the city zoning laws have changed, and the structures on the lot are too close together to sell the houses individually, it must be sold as one property. My father is getting close to retirement and has the opportunity to build the house he always wanted for scratch. He will be starting in a month. Once we have his new house built he will be selling his house (and mine), and I will have to find a new place to live.

With the amount of money I’m paying out for credit cards every month, I really can’t afford any type of housing payment. I stopped using the credit cards over a year ago, so I’m not adding to the balances other than interest. If I didn’t have my housing situation, as well as the housing situation of two other people involved, I wouldn’t be considering this. I feel tremendous pressure to get something done now, and I really don’t have another way that I can think of to obtain a large sum of money.

I’m already assuming that you wouldn’t recommend doing this, but if I did, what kind of tax penalty am I looking at in total. I understand the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty, but what would I be likely to owe the IRS at tax time next year?
– Rick

Usually, when money is taken out of a SEP IRA early, the person receiving the money is subject to a 10% tax penalty on top of the normal income tax burden for the money. There are several exceptions to that, but I don’t think you qualify for any of them.

Your actual federal tax burden from doing this, then, depends on your current income level. The more you make, the higher your tax bracket and the higher your tax burden from this move. For example, if you’re in the 25% tax bracket when you do this, you’ll be giving at least $8,750 of that money straight to Uncle Sam (that’s $6,250 for the 25% tax and $2,500 for the 10% early penalty) – and possibly more if it moves you up to a higher bracket .

Now, that does still leave you with $16,000 or so to put toward your debts, which may or may not be the right move, but it does put a major damper on your retirement savings. I wouldn’t recommend the move overall.

My suggestion to you would be to look for extra money in your current situation and throw every dime toward your debt. What possessions do you have that you don’t really use any more that could be sold for some value? Could you possibly get a second job that solely exists to help you get rid of your debts? These would be better options than cashing in your retirement, plus they will help with the stress because you’re actually taking action toward that goal.

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. julie says:

    Trent, I still cannot open your website in Firefox. I have tried this on multiple computers. Please fix.

  2. Johanna says:

    Q4: What about going to Turkey with just your wife, and leaving your children with friends or other relatives?

    Q5: Aaron, if you’re married, it’s “our money,” not “my money.” Treat it accordingly.

  3. Paul says:

    for Question 2 — Outside of getting out of the fees, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should keep the phones. Look at how much you will save by switching to the pre-paid to figure out if the penalty is worth it. If you go from $100/month, to $50/month (Saving $50/month) they early term fee’s actually worth it ($175/12months = 14.59). by paying the fee, you still save around $35/month in the first year.

  4. Matt says:

    In regards to Sick Days, bank them. When you choose to leave or retire, the company pays you at your current wage for the sick days you did not use. I had 21 sick days when I left my prior employer that were unused and my last paycheck was well compensated.

  5. Misha says:

    Julie, it might be specific to a certain version of Firefox? It works fine for me using Firefox on my home computer.

  6. julie says:

    I have the latest version on my Mac at home and an older version on my work PC. Doesn’t work on either one.

  7. Andrew says:

    Doesn’t work using Safari on the iPad either.

  8. Valleycat1 says:

    I have IE on one of our computers & still can’t see the site on it. It is set up with a firewall that has been an issue with a few other sites but TSD used to work fine most days.

  9. Shawn says:

    Q#1 is a really good one which I think a lot of us struggle with who never gets sick (knock on wood). Banking sick days are a good idea, but some companies have good short term disability insurance that cover extended period of absences due to sickness with a large percentage of your salary. If you have short term disability, I’d suggest banking enough sick days that would cover the period that short term disability would not. If there is still excess sick time, take a “mental health” day now and then or if you have doctor’s appointments, simply take entire days off around them.

  10. CNM says:

    As I understand letter #1, it is not whether the writer should bank more days. It seems that he or she has banked so many days that the employer will cut the annual 10 days down to 5. So the question is whether the writer should start using up banked time to keep the annual 10 days coming in. And to that, my answer is why not?

  11. Laurie says:

    I’m on a Mac using Firefox 11 and it is working fine for me.

  12. Katie says:

    I’m having the Firefox problem on my home Mac and work PC as well. No problems in Safari or IE.

  13. Jonathan says:

    Great responses. I try and minimise sick days wherever possible, primarily because I hate being sick! I can’t stand sitting at home doing nothing watching rubbish TV

  14. Susan says:

    I liked your response to Q5 (about not being happy about his money was being spent).

    I was struck by the writer’s use of “my money” rather than “our money”. Perhaps it was just a random choice of words, but perhaps the family considers it “our money” and the husband considers it “his money”. If that is the case, then the family might need to talk more about that as well as how the husband needs to be an equal stakeholder in the family.

    I mention this because I would be disappointed if my husband characterized our income as “his money”.

  15. Dee says:

    Re: Q4 International Travel for Wedding

    Your first obligation is to your wife and children. I would say to tell your sister that while you’d love to go, it’s just not the best time for your family but you are glad that you had the opportunity to share the experience with her at the courthouse.

    Your wife’s 40th birthday is important and missing that for a wedding for someone who is already married isn’t going to cut it.

    Send your sister a nice gift.

    Personally, I feel like it’s selfish for people to have weddings far away, or that cost a lot in some other way, and get upset when others can’t come. You anticipated this and did your part to share in her special day. She should understand.

  16. Dee says:

    Q1: Sick days

    Do you have short term or long term disability insurance? If you do, I think that should negate the need to worry about banking sick days (someone else who knows more about this insurance, please pipe in!)

    I’d start using the days for routine appointments if you want, but I wouldn’t make up reasons to drain them. It will reflect negatively on you as an employee.

  17. PennySaved says:

    Q10. I am wondering if the girlfriend has a job and income that can help with housing costs. If she has a child, does she get child support? If they are all moving in together, the discussion should be on the finances of the group as a whole. His question makes it sound like he is taking on the housing expsenses for all three on his own.

  18. min hus says:

    RE Q8: Alleviating stress

    I find vigorous exercise to be a great stress reliever. For me, stress that comes from something like work, feels like extra energy I just need to get out! I do this by going on a bike ride or walk and writing (journal writing is a great way for me to deal with issues at work). Also remember to breathe deeply whenever you find yourself getting too stressed at work, and if needed and you can, maybe take a minute to take a walk, stretch or “go to your happy place.” I go to icanhascheezburger.com and look at funny pics of cats. It helps.

    Also, be kind to yourself and do activities at home that you enjoy whether it’s reading, watching a favorite movie, taking a long bath, etc.

  19. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I asked our technical support about the issue and they suggested clearing out all cookies associated with The Simple Dollar. With Firefox, you just go to Options and then check under the Privacy tab (the exact way of doing this depends on the version of Firefox).

  20. Evan H. says:

    @Q10: Rick, with 18 different cards and $34,000 you seem to be a perfect candidate for the debt snowball. List your credit card balances from low to high. Throw all of the money you can at the lowest balance card while paying minimums on all other cards. You will gain serious momentum as you start to take down those accounts. You will pay more interest in the long run but, as Dave Ramsey says, if we were making mathematical sense then we wouldn’t rack up credit card debt in the first place. Good luck to you!

  21. Petra says:

    Firefox 11.0 works fine with me.

    @Q4: I fully agree with Dee. It is very inconsiderate of your sister to insist that you join her second celebration of her wedding at the expense of your wife and of your finances. You could just tell her you can’t come. Maybe you can suggest visiting them sometime in the future with the whole family, when you have a week or two to stay in Turkey and enjoy each other’s company.

    @10: I wanted to wish you good luck with the credit card debts. Also: pay off highest interest first to get ahead quicker. (of course make minimum payments to all credit cards ,but any leftover money should go to the highest interest rate card).

  22. Andrew says:

    Thanks, Trent. That worked perfectly using Safari.

    As for Anna in Q 8– if your job is causing you such stress, and you expect it to continue as such, it may be time to seriously start looking for another job. I know finding one may be difficult, but it sounds like you are currently setting yourself up for major health problems if things keep on going as they are.

  23. Cam says:

    Is declaring bankruptcy an option for Q10?

    If he’s only making ~$2130 a month, I’m not seeing much of an option other than moving in with his dad after his dad sells the house. Would his dad agree to sharing some of the proceeds from the sale?

    Why is his girlfriend and her son moving in with him if his current housing situation is tenuous? Is her credit as bad as his? How old are these people? Does she know that they are about to be homeless?

    Cashing out the SEP would give them some breathing room, but will it be putting them in a bigger hole in the long term?

  24. Tippy says:

    Q1 – Besides the fact that banking sick days are nice insurance for when catastrophe strikes, sick days are for the days when you’re *sick*. They are not vacation days, “mental health” days, or days to be used to hit the White Sale. Using them for anything other than for sickness or injury without prior approval from management is in fact theft.

  25. jim says:

    Q1 : Taking sick days for any purpose other than sickness is deceptive and unethical. Unless you have an arrangement with your employer where they let you take sick days for whatever purpose you want, then you should not use them unless you’re sick. You could lose your job for doing that. Imagine if you were taking a sick day and your manager saw you at the movies.

    Q2 : Probably best to just pay the contract off. Unless you only have a few months and paying the remainder of the service period would be cheaper.

    Q5 : I don’t really understand the problem. From the sounds of the question it seems as if nobody but you is allowed to spend money and all money must be spent on things you like or that directly benefit you. Surely thats not your attitude? You need to let your wife spend some money and have some fun too. You didn’t say anything about financial hardships, if you’re struggling and your wife is acting like a spendthrift then thats important detail to relay. Otherwise the way you ask that question you come across as selfish and too controlling of your household finances.

    Q7 : An emergency fund equal to 6 months of expenses is a good rule of thumb. The more the better. I don’t like Trents (people x months) formula. It makes no real sense to me.

    Q10 : You have a LOT of debt compared to your income. You’re not going to pay that all off anytime soon. I’d recommend talking to a non profit consumer credit counseling agency. Do a search for National Foundation for Credit Counseling and look up your local agency. They are non profit and won’t charge you and they can help you negotiate repayment terms with your debtors.

  26. Ali says:

    Hi. I think your ‘back of the envelop’ math was wrong on Q6. If 25% of the chap’s salary equals $26K…his annual salary is in the $100K range, not $50K.

  27. Pamela says:

    Re Question #2 and cell phone contract
    Do some math. It may be cheaper overall to pay the termination fee rather than continuing to pay the monthly costs until the end of your contract.

    Using FF 11.0 here on Windows 7 and have no problems viewing TSD.

  28. Lacey says:

    Q1: Listen to your wife. Your commitment is to her and your family. Plus, if you cannot justify the cost, then do not try to. Send a nice gift and explain how sorry you cannot make it.

  29. Evita says:

    Q5 Aaron: you are supporting a family. Now understand that “my money” is now “our money”. This is what you spouse understands too.
    If you want better time and money management, sit down with her and ASK for her input. Don’t lecture, don’t shame her, don’t put your way as gospel. You are a team after all !

  30. julie says:

    Thanks. Clearing cookies helped.

  31. KathyG says:

    For the person with all the credit card debt – go to Consumer Credit Counseling (a non-profit, legit group). I wasn’t in as much debt as you, but they are able to negotiate AMAZING low interest rates, so you pay your debt down much quicker. Was it hard? Yeah, but I would be paying down credit card debt still if I hadn’t gone to them. It took me 3 years but I did it.

  32. Nate Poodel says:

    Q4: If your sister is demanding/insiting you attend her Turkish wedding, then she is probably out of her mind (or a Bridezilla). I got married overseas to a local guy. His family and mine are separated by an ocean. If we had the wedding in the US or overseas family would miss the wedding. Unlike your sister I had my wedding 100% outside of the US. And, there is no way I expected anyone in my family to attend. Like you the costs they’d incure was enormous and I couldn’t put that sort of burden on my family. I was glad and thankful that I had 2 close family members and a few friends show up.

  33. Roberta says:

    RE Q4 and Dee’s response at #8 – I’m with you completely on this one. We got an invitation to a wedding in Hawaii (we live in Dallas) for a second cousin I’ve never even met (his father, my first cousin, moved to California after college and I hadn’t seen him for more than 30 years until he came back for his mother’s funeral). Were we supposed to take four kids to Hawaii for the four days of activities planned – or find a temp home for them and the dogs while we went? We sent regrets and a nice gift.

    Having said that, I do realize that not everybody stays in their hometown and marries somebody else from there so family is all close by. (I’m from New England and my family is still there, my husband is from Texas, and we met and married in North Carolina.) But I agree that it’s selfish for people to plan a “destination wedding” someplace wonderful they want to visit and expect other people to just jettison their financial plans to go. Maybe marrying a guy from Turkey doesn’t quite meet the definition of that. But if you and your wife agree that it’s not in your family’s best interests to go, I think that’s the decision you should make and stick to it. Good luck!

  34. Roberta says:

    Aaron at question #5 – My first reaction to your question and Trent’s response was – Duh – welcome to marriage and family life. Spouses and kids have this aggravating habit of costing money and wanting things you don’t like or don’t want to spend money on, like orthodontia and school supplies and pantyhose and shoes. Or in our case, guns and other hunting stuff. You seem to have some strong resentment about “my money” and your time being spent on things you don’t necessarily want or value.

    It’s hard to tell what your situation at home is though, from your short note. Is your wife also contributing to the family income and did she take them to McDonald’s once when you were working late? Or is she a spender who takes them out often to expensive places while not contributing her fair share in income and/or labor to run your household while you’re at work earning all the money? Did the two of you fairly budget “my money” to cover the essentials and the occasional treat? Or is she blowing the mortgage on stuff you deem non-essential? Non-driving kids need to be taken places. Does she not drive, or do you take the only car to work everyday leaving her at home with no transportation?

    Someone has to spend time and money dressing and feeding your family, putting a roof over their head, and covering their medical care. This is real life. But it doesn’t mean you should be a doormat with a wallet attached, either. Marriage (and childrearing) at its best is a partnership between you two. It is very difficult if you can’t agree on the basics. Do you two have a budget on which you both agreed that covers things like the occasional meal out? Or if you work late a lot, are there quickie favorite meals she can cook so they don’t miss Dad so badly, or wait until you get home to all eat together? Do you jointly plan everyone’s family activities so that each of you has a share of the time and money within your family resources to do the things you each want to do? Limiting kids’ outside activities was one choice we made when we both worked outside the home for money, and our time was more of an issue. Now that I work at home for love, we budget the money more tightly instead since my time is more flexible. We also realized that it was easy for him to start thinking of it as “his” money when he was the only one earning it. That became an issue which we had to negotiate, so that it stayed in balance for both of us. He may be earning the income, but me being home with children is something we jointly decided, so I’m still entitled to a share of family resources and still have an equal vote. Like any successful married couple, we had to learn to compromise so everyone gets some of what they want. We still disagree of course, but we’ve learned to live with each others’ differences – and he and I set the rules on how we spend and on what we spend, not the kids. We know that choosing to be in a relationship and choosing to have children means that we don’t have all the time or financial resources we did as single people. For us, the tradeoffs are worth it. And it is for a very finite period of time as well – children grow up and leave sooner than you think.

    If you’re smart enough to recognize this is an issue between you two, you’re smart enough to work it out fairly.

  35. Johanna says:

    Q5: Aaron, if you’re married, it’s “our money,” not “my money.” Treat it accordingly.

  36. Dee says:

    Pamela is correct. My husband washed his phone. We were on a shared plan with Verizon. I went to the Verizon store and told the salesman that he only needed a simple phone for emergencies. The salesman looked up our account, did the math, and showed me how buying ourthis contract and buying a prepaid phone would save us money. His phone now just costs $100 per year and he never uses all of his minutes.

  37. Deb says:

    With regards to banking sick days, not all companies pay them out upon termination. Neither my current company nor my prior employer paid out sick days when you left. So I keep a bank of available sick time in case of a medical emergency, but I use the rest regularly.

  38. Steve says:

    Q1: There is no decision here. Either you are sick and take a sick day, or you are not. You don’t “earn” sick time; it’s a benefit that your employer provides you in case you, just like health insurance, in case you need it.

    My employer used to have a generous policy (it was a bit complicated but worked out to up to 25 days a year). They had to curtail is because of a few bad apples abusing it, because like you they felt they had “earned” those 25 days and made sure to take them every year.

  39. SLCCOM says:

    #5, if the kids are old enough to be going places, have you considered having a family budget meeting? Learning how to make choices with money is important for everyone.

  40. Sara says:

    @CNM (#10): That’s the way I read it at first, too, and that would be a very strange policy! I am pretty sure that is not the case, though. “Whatever remaining sick days are left are cut in half and employees are allowed to bank that half.” It looks like Ronny hasn’t used any of his 10 sick days, and now those 10 allotted days are going to turn into 5 banked days, but he will still be allotted 10 days for next year.

    I would suggest to Ronny that you look at your employer’s policies on taking sick days and see if you are allowed to use sick days for doctor’s appointments. Lying about the reason for your absence, though, is dishonest and a bad idea. Bank as much as possible and be thankful for your health.

  41. Martin says:

    Q5 There is an underlying current in Aaron’s question that Trent hit on. This guy is starting to feel unappreciated and trapped. This is leading to resentment, which is the set up for a mid-life crisis and all the fun that entails. He needs to act in a positive way now to avert this. I don’t see this situation as this being much different than a housewife who claims she’s sacrificed everything for her family and has spent years neglecting herself.

    Some years back, my wife announced that she was very happy with “our” life.

    From her point of view: she helped support the family financially by working part time one or two days a week; she was living in her dream house; she was able to spend loads of time with many friends either visiting, entertaining, or going out; she could support various school and community organizations and activities; despite my grumblings about money there seemed to be plenty since we weren’t sliding further into debt, were saving for retirement, and all needs were being met as they arose; the kids had reached a stage where they didn’t need constant looking after which freed up more of her time for other things; and she thoroughly enjoyed summer vacations spent visiting family and friends out of state.

    From my point of view: I was working a job that had morphed into something I didn’t like but felt trapped by the money; the house we had bought was becoming a money pit and I hated it; between all of her and the kids activities anything I wanted to do took a very distant third and was often chastised (subtly or directly) as being in competition with their activities; I would come home from work and at least once a week before I’d even taken my coat off I would be hit up for immediate money needed for something for the kids, house, etc.; yet my attempts to discuss budgeting were met with delays, avoidance, and flat out eye rolling about how I worried to much even though I felt at best we were treading water; despite the kids being older she had turned down an offer from her work to put in more days even though she’d always said she’d pick up more work as the kids got older; and finally I was getting tired with spending my vacation visiting her family and friends out of state every single summer.

    “Our” lives, though essentially the same in content, were very different in perspective.

    Fortunately my wife’s off hand statement let me recognize that there was a real difference in our views.

    My point to Aaron is that you need to recognize that two views of the same situation can be very different and you are going to have to find a way to commuciate with your spouse so you can understand and support each other’s point of view. Maybe she needs a better understanding of why you’re so concerned about money and maybe you need a better understanding of why things you think are wastes of money and time are important to her. An example I’ve dealt with is birthdays for the kids. My family had a dessert at dinner and maybe a present on a birthday. My wife’s family had blow out invite the neighborhood and all the cousins type parties where they tried to impress folks. So to me parties for a birthday are a waste of money, for my wife they’re an important part of being a family and an opportunity to be with friends and neighbors. By understanding this instead of just arguing about the money we were able to both recognize and come to an agreement on how we handled the kids birthdays.

  42. Julia says:

    @Ali The total amount that Monique has saved to-date is $26,000, not the amount that she contributed annually.

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