Reader Mailbag: Time for Games

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. Removing credit card users
2. Making your own shoes
3. Clothing budget for teenage girl
4. Board games for two
5. Too tenacious on debt repayment?
6. Getting child out of nest
7. Car opportunities
8. Blogging mistakes to avoid
9. Financially responsible versus happy
10. Medical school question

Many people ask me how I find time to play so many board games.

Each Wednesday evening, I get together with a small group of friends for the sole purpose of playing board games and chatting. We usually play for three or four hours.

About every third Saturday, Sarah and I get together with a few others for a dinner party that’s usually prefaced and followed by board games and card games.

About once or twice a week, Sarah and I will play board games against each other in the evenings.

Board games and card games with friends are a big – and pretty inexpensive – part of my normal social routine.

Q1: Removing credit card users
I have a question regarding an issue I am having with a credit card and the company (it is a PNC Bank VISA). I am fairly young (27) and I have had this card since 2006, it is the oldest credit card that I have and oldest credit I have aside from student loans (which are long paid off). Additionally, I do not have any debt but I do have a few credit cards that I use regularly and pay off every month.

I recently broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years. During the time that we were dating I added him to the credit card as an authorized signer for various reasons that made sense at the time. Now we have broken up and I have been trying to remove him from the account. First I filled out the form online to remove him from the card and was told I had to fill out a form and mail it in. After doing that, I received a response saying that they could not remove him from the account because they could not verify his address.

I called customer service today to ask about it and was told that he could not be removed for credit score reasons, but they were pretty vague about what that meant. First it seemed they were saying that his being on the account was keeping his credit score up and for that reason he couldn’t be removed. Then I was told that he couldn’t be removed because they want him because then both of us are responsible for paying the bill. This card is seldom used, has never carried a balance, and has always been paid by me. And he is unemployed and disabled (has been for some time) and has no money and must have a terrible credit history/score. The customer service rep said that the only thing I can do is to cancel the card and apply for a new one.

I am confused as to why this sort of situation would even exist. It was my card first, I have always paid it, and now they are telling me I cannot remove him. He has cut up his card, but as far as I know still has access to the account information online and if he has the numbers saved somewhere he could in theory rack up a significant bill, that I would have to pay. Have you heard of this sort of thing happening? What should I do here? I don’t want to cancel this card since I have had it for a long time and it has a very high limit, so it would mess up the length of my credit history and also my credit:debt ratio. Are there any steps that I might be able to take that could make it possible for him to be removed from the card? Or is cancellation my only option?
– Erin

My guess is that the credit card company in question here changed their standards for who to issue a card to since you initially applied for the card. Under the revised standards, both of you would be needed to keep the card.

My guess is that if you cancelled the card and applied for a new one, you probably wouldn’t get the same card or same rate you currently have.

My suggestion would probably be to get a card from a different company, then cancel this one. Of course, if this is the oldest card on your credit history, you may have a downward bump on your credit score right after you cancel it (since you will have shortened the length of your credit history), but you should recover over time. I know I would be very uncomfortable having a card out there with an ex on it as an authorized user that I couldn’t remove.

Q2: Making your own shoes
A couple of years ago I bought a cheap pair of shoes from a Chinese shop. They were surprisingly resilient and comfortable, and lasted me about half a year after which I glued them and they lasted about a year before the in-soles got too worn out to wear comfortably. I then put them aside for a long time having bought some in-soles to replace the the old ones.

Last month I got back to fixing them, and this is the total cost breakdown (although originally in local cost, converted to US$):

Original shoe price: +/- $ 8.00
Price rubber glue: +/- % $ 1.50
Price in-soles: +/- $ 4.00
Pair home-made slippers made of car tyre for sole: +/- $ 7.00
Price rubber glue (a long time had passed): +/- $ 1.50
Price cheap pillowcase (to replace back end): $ 1.00
Seamstress – sewing old in-soles to new, sewing up back end: +/- $ 8.00
Cobbler – stitching soles to shoes: +/- $ 7.00

Now this wasn’t all at one time. First I glued the soles to the shoes, then in-soles were too worn away, as I stated before. Then with the help of a seamstress I fixed the shoes (she stitched the old in-soles to the bottom of the new ones and stitched a piece of the pillow case to the back end of each shoe) and glued the in-soles and the soles back on. The soles soon came off again and I waited until I got paid again to get the soles stitched back to the shoes. All told, it cost me three times as much to keep an old pair of shoes going than it would have been to get a new pair.

I don’t regret it, as I got a lesson from that, these orthopaedic in-soles make the shoe much more comfortable than when they were brand new, the car-tyre sole and the cobbler’s stitching means they will last for a good while longer than they did the first time, plus I have a one-of-a-kind pair of Frankensteinian shoes. But I can’t help but think that maybe it might have been better to get a new pair of shoes for say, about $ 35.00. By the way I later bought another pair of shoes, same make, same price, different type and it’s almost annoying how long they’ve lasted, much longer than the first pair.
– Des

My understanding – and your story matches with that – is that if you’re buying a relatively low-end shoe, it’s less expensive to just buy one than to assemble it yourself or have a cobbler do it. However, that situation gets a little less clear with very high-end shoes (the kind of shoes that, honestly, I’ve never owned).

As for why one was poorly made and why another was well made, my guess would be it’s the difference between workers or, possibly, a demand on that shoe factory to improve standards. It is very hard to tell which one it is.

In the future, unless you’re going for a very high-end shoe that a cobbler may assemble for you, I would just buy one off the rack.

Q3: Clothing budget for teenage girls
Any suggestions on how to structure a clothing budget for a teenage girl? Not the dollar amount, but what it should cover, how it should be doled out, etc,? I want my daughter to learn how to budget and spend wisely. She is actually very careful and does not have a lot of clothing, but she needs to learn how to manage money and shop wisely. When I was her age my mother gave me a certain amount of money, and then insisted I spend it on my winter coat (of her choosing). Should I cover underwear, socks, a pair of everyday shoes, her winter coat, and then give her money to budget to buy the rest? Or should she have to budget for it all herself? I am worried that might be too much to manage all at once. Also, if I give her a monthly allowance she might not have enough for all the things she needs when the weather changes. (She is still growing.)

– Rhee

My honest opinion is that you should set an overall budget for her and require only that she buy the minimum amount of underwear and socks that she’ll need (and maybe a few other simple rules regarding tasteful clothes).

I would probably do this seasonally with a growing child, revisiting the issue each season. Buying clothes when a teenager is in their growth spurt can be difficult.

I would also suggest that you start off by thrift shopping with her. Don’t start at the high-end shops. Go thrifting to start this process off and let her discover that there certainly is “cute” stuff to be found in such places.

Q4: Board games for two
My husband and I, sadly, don’t have friends yet. We just moved to a new state and are busy job-hunting (hubby), and starting a new business (me). We love to play Scrabble and chess, but they’re getting old. I have Ticket to Ride already; can you suggest others that we might like?

– Lisa

If you like chess, I would suggest trying go, Hive, or Arimaa. All are excellent abstract games; Arimaa is absolutely wonderful and can be played with the chess set you already have, and go can actually be played with two pieces of paper.

Two player games that my wife and I have enjoyed over the years (that are a little less abstract than the ones above) include Dominion, Pandemic, Carcassonne, Mr. Jack, and Lost Cities.

Check each of these out. I think you’ll find at least one that you’ll like.

Q5: Too tenacious on debt repayment?
I’m age 25 and have spent most of my adult life struggling to go to school and to survive largely on my own. I racked up credit card, student loan, and private loan debt to the tune of about $57k in order to scrape by. I’ve finally graduated with a Bachelor’s degree at age 25 and now have a steady job where I make $51k per year.

I’ve been here about 7 months and I’ve been following an aggressive debt repayment plan going by interest rate. I’m down to about $42k. (I recently got a used vehicle for $9,000 so that’s part of the 57k.) I put as much money as possible into my debt every month and predict I’ll have everything paid off by May of next year.

When I say I put as much money as possible, I mean as much money as possible to the expense of everything else. I am so tenaciously paying it down I have elected to pay nothing to my 401k and I have even declined health insurance from my employer, all for the sake of having more money to pay that debt down with.

So I have no retirement savings, no emergency fund, no health insurance, all for the sake of paying down my mountain of debt. I have very little to worry about in terms of liability – I live very cheaply, I have no kids, I am in great health and don’t engage in any risky behaviors, I live 4 miles from my employer so the car breaking down is not a huge concern, I rent so no house repair emergencies, and my job is a government contract so it’s likely I won’t lose it. I’ve been growing slightly more worried as the months go by that I don’t have 401k or emergency savings, but I thought I’d get your opinion on it.
– Amanda

The declining of health insurance is a bad move. I would get your health insurance reinstated as soon as possible. If you have a health crisis, you will need it.

Now, what about the retirement savings?

First, I would build up an emergency fund. Cut back on your debt payments to the bare minimum for a bit until you have $1,000 in cash savings.

Next, I’d look at the debts I still had and focus on the high interest ones first – the ones with an interest rate above 10%. Get those all paid off.

Once that’s done, I would kick off the retirement savings, contributing 10% pre-tax to my 401(k).

After that, I’d build up the emergency fund a little more – up to about two months of living expenses – and then focus on the remaining debts.

You have enthusiasm for debt repayment and that’s excellent. Keep it up – just give yourself a bit of a safety net first.

Q6: Getting child out of nest
I am the parent and my son has been living at home with me for the last year. I cannot keep doing this…I have no savings and I am not making it on what I recieve from SSD and VA benefits. He seems to have no interest in looking for work out there, but most here there are really no good or fair jobs for felons, which he is one. He has a GF with 3 kids by him. I am not sure I want to do this anymore…I would love to buy him a cheap car so he can go out without having to use mine. As well as the gas I put in it. Is there a way to maybe have his GF help support him? He can’t live with her because of his felony-the landlord does not want him there. I see no way out of this. If you do, could you please tell me?

– Sarah

You’re really in a bind here. The punishment felons go through doesn’t end when they get out of jail. It is very difficult to find great employment once you leave prison unless you have some spectacular skills that can overcome the felony.

The worrisome element here is your son’s unwillingness to help himself. You’re going to have to decide if you’re willing to actually give him the boot or not.

If you aren’t, be prepared to live in this situation over the long term. If you are, sit down with him and start setting up a timeline for him to leave. Take every step you personally can to make it happen.

Q7: Car opportunities
My question involves getting a car. I am 27 but in deep financial debt. I had my identity stolen by a family member when I was 18, but did not realize until I was 20. This means that my relative had 2 years to rack up over $10,000 in credit card debt before I found out. I have worked hard and have the balance down to $1,500. I have my own credit card debt of $7,500 that I am on a payment plan for and have no credit cards at all because I don’t trust myself with them. I am also on payment plans to repay my student loans from college ($168/month).

I worked as a teacher right out of college, but I was a private school teacher, which means that my salary was no where near the public school salary (even though a public school salary is still not what it should be for the amount of work teachers do). My first year of teaching, I made $20,000 before taxes and had no benefits, but I was living with family and paid menial rent. I made a move to Virginia and made $29,000, still with no benefits, for two years, but had a $900 apartment, utilities not included, on top of food, gas, etc. Needless to say, neither job allowed for much wiggle room in saving, especially since I had a $3,000 hospital visit my second year in Virginia.

I am now a secretary at a church. I make $17/hour (no benefits) and have an all-inclusive rent of $700 very close to my place of work. I have also begun tutoring with a local company. I have 6 students and tutor about 12 hours a week at a range of $21-$25 an hour. The company does not take taxes out of my paycheck, so I created a separate savings account and take 30% off each tutoring paycheck and put it in the new savings account as a “tax fund”. The tutoring job requires constant travel, usually to 3 different homes an evening. I have a 2000 Ford Focus, fully paid for, but it is not always very reliable. Since October, I have had to use practically all of my emergency fun to pay for repairs when it broke down (about $2,000 all together). The car is only worth about $500 and when I took it to the shop last week, the technician told me that I would have to make another repair around $700.

I am tired of spending the money I work my butt off on this car instead of lowering my debt. I have a friend who works at a car dealership who says I can get a newer used car for a monthly payment of around $150 (with a high interest rate because my credit is shot) with a dealer warranty. I have about $2,000 I can put down on the car initially and I believe that the monthly price fits in my budget if I cut costs in other areas. Would you advise this plan or am I being a complete idiot?
– Jennifer

First of all, your story at the start about identity theft is, quite simply, frightening. Any relative who would do that is a pretty poor example of family.

As for the car question, it certainly sounds like you’ve reached the point in your car’s lifecycle where the repair bills are adding up to more than the car is worth. That’s usually the time to move on to a new car.

If you’re currently spending much more than $150 a month in repair bills on average – and it only takes a few big bills to get there – then you’re probably better off switching cars. Get what you can for your old car, then switch. You’ll be money ahead.

Q8: Blogging mistakes to avoid
I’m starting a blog on dating and relationship issues. What are some pitfalls to avoid?

– Kelly

There are lots of mistakes that every blogger will make along the way. I’ll point to three that I particularly wish I had figured out before I started.

First, figure out what your “privacy line” is. What aspects of your life are you going to talk about, and which ones are off limits? What about the life of your spouse? Your friends? Your children? Sometimes there are situations in your life that are difficult to explain without crossing that line, and what I’ve found after a few mistakes is that you’re better off avoiding anything that comes close to it.

Second, figure out your policy for reader privacy. It sounds like you’ll be giving advice to readers. Figure out how you’ll handle their privacy. What will you do if they change their mind after the article is posted? How will you explain your solution to the readers of the article if you have to change it later? Not having a good policy on this caused me a lot of trouble a few times, causing readers to leave the site at least once.

Third, just avoid controversy that isn’t directly in your topic area. If you’re writing about a controversial topic that’s all about relationships, great. It’s just not worth it. At one time, I believed talking about my thoughts on specific issues would create a greater understanding between myself and my readers. Instead, I just drove them away. It’s just not worth it.

If I understood these three things before I started, I would have avoided almost all of the worst mistakes I’ve ever made on the site. Learning is all about messing up sometimes.

Q9: Financially responsible versus happy
I’m female, 56, single, have owned my own company for almost 30 years, make a gross income of $60k/year (gross) on average. I never know from one year to another how much work I will have, but the workload has been consistent all these years. Some years I have made 80k. I work out of my home.

I have no debt. Because of some financial issues in the past, I now have only $125k in online “high-yield” savings and $10k in a Roth. I live in a state that has no state income tax and my yearly expenses (including federal taxes) are $45,000.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago and had surgery and treatment. I am more anxious than ever to have a good quality of life, which I do not have here. I moved to this state a few years ago to save money and to live near my son, but he has taken a job in another state. I am completely bored here and have no real friends and now no family. I don’t like the cold, the snow, and the environment here. If I move to be near my son, which he wants me to do, my healthcare premium will double, I will have state tax, and there will be other expenses I don’t have here. On average, my monthly expenses would increase about $700/month, not including state tax. I would be much, much happier elsewhere, but then I’d have financial anxiety and also wouldn’t be able to save as much money every month. I worry about cancer recurring, I worry about not having enough money in savings, and yet I also worry about wasting my life here in a place where I have no life.

Considering what I consider my bleak financial picture for my age, would you recommend that I bite the bullet and stay in a place where I’m not happy living but am able to save money (and travel to see my son), or make the move? I am able to save about $15k/year here, but every single day I am miserable, although I do find comfort in the thought of being financially responsible. But is it responsible to save money but be miserable?
– Valerie

My first question is how much your company is worth. Is it something you will be able to sell when you’re unable to continue working? Do you have assets with value tied to this business?

The more your business is worth, the less urgent this question is. I can’t tell from the email what that business asset you’re holding is worth.

If I were you, I’d move. I can tell by your description that you’re not living in the lowest possible place in terms of cost of living, and I can also tell that you’re not happy where you are at. You should either go all-in on the saving and move to a place where you’re truly minimizing your costs or move to where you’re happy.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which one to do. I would encourage you to calculate your net worth as well as the worth of your business and see where you’re at overall.

Q10: Medical school question
I am 21 and will be starting medical school this fall after working for a year. I will have saved about $12,000 at ING. My question is this: should I open an index fund (with maybe $1000) or use all the money toward medical school? Basically, do the benefits of an extra 7 years (med school + residency) outweigh the debt I am going to accrue through private loans?

– Eve

An index fund is not a secure place to put your money over a seven year period. It is too volatile over that period. You have a strong likelihood of losing money over that time frame.

If I were in your shoes, I’d minimize the debt that I came out of school with rather than bothering with an index fund. An extra $1,000 invested in your first year of medical school reduces that first year debt by $1,000. That’s six years of interest on that $1,000 saved before you even get out of medical school.

If everything else is in place to succeed in school, minimize your debt.

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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