Updated on 03.19.12

Reader Mailbag: Trail Walking

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. Frugal meal tip
2. Picnic planning
3. Roof repairs and homeowners insurance
4. Maternity leave challenges
5. Tax blues
6. Saving on phone service
7. Retirement savings and deductions
8. “Walking Dead” thoughts
9. Gas price recoup
10. Planned spending as saving

After a few months off from hiking trails, Sarah and I spent a ton of time hiking this weekend while our children were visiting their grandparents, and we both may have overdone it.

Sunburn, sore feet, sore muscles… all of the usual stuff.

Even after that, though, I can’t wait to get out there wandering through the woods again.

Q1: Frugal meal tip
I went on a day-trip with my girlfriend to a nice town about 45 minutes away. After walking around for a while and window shopping we decided to get something to eat and walked up to a random restaurant. The prices looked decent on the menu, between $10-$20 for an entree so I figured we’d end up spending about $50 by the end of it with a tip and everything, not great but it’s a solid investment in a solid relationship. We both ordered our meals and each ordered an appetizer first because we were both very hungry. After I ordered the waitress looked at me and said “Anything else for you?” and I brushed it off as courtesy and said “No, thank you.” My soup and her salad came, she couldn’t finish all of hers so I partook and then her entree came and I sat up waiting for my Fish and Chips, and I waited, and waited, and waited and finally thought that either the service was miserable or there was something wrong. I was pretty annoyed- I’m a stickler for customer service. After about 20 minutes I remembered when the waitress asked if I was having anything else and realized she must have not heard me order my entree.

Then it dawned on me. I looked at my girlfriend who had given up on her gigantic meal, I looked at the 1/2 of her hamburger that was still sitting there and realized something. There really wasn’t any need for both of us to go to a restaurant and force ourselves to eat these gigantic portions. Sometimes when we go out to eat we each order something, finish about 1/2 and then take it home to either be reheated or forgotten in the refrigerator. She offered the rest of the sandwich to me, I ate it, and we both felt satisfied, not sluggish with food.

We decided then that it made much more sense for us to just share something if the portions would be huge. Rather then have to carry the stuff home and reheat we can enjoy the closeness of sharing something and both feel satisfied, not stuffed.
– Tim

This is a very good idea!

Here’s the thing with a restaurant: you can always order more, but you can’t order less. If you’re there with a friend, why not just order a single dish and share it? If it fills up both of you, then you’ve saved some money. If it doesn’t, then order a second meal and share that one.

Sarah and I do this sometimes when we’re eating out, particularly at restaurants with a reputation for large portions. We just share a meal and often find that when the plate is empty, we’re both sated.

Q2: Picnic planning
How do you go about planning a picnic and make it not overly expensive or complicated? Every time I try to plan a picnic, it ends up being way more work than I ever wanted.

– James

I stick with simple foods whenever I plan a picnic. It’s never anything complicated: simple sandwiches, a side dish that can easily be eaten with fingers, some beverages, and maybe a cookie for dessert.

We usually pack our picnics in a backpack along with a blanket. We package all of the food in reusable food containers and usually toss in a reusable ice pack to keep things cool.

Just eat simple fare. If you’re having a picnic in a park, there’s no need to have a gourmet meal.

Q3: Roof repairs and homeowners insurance
The roof of our home is leaking in several areas. One of the leaks was actually a result of our chimney taking on some damage during hurricane Gustav or Ike (can’t remember which one). We contacted our insurance agent at that time and they accessed the damage at below our deductible so we never followed through with the claim. It took us a while but we finally had our chimney repaired at a cost of about $3,000. We were not aware of the other leaks when we called our insurance company about the chimney so those were never looked at that time. I thought one of the leaks was just condensation dripping out of an air conditioner vent so I ignored it but after a recent severe rainstorm that “condensation” was all over my kitchen ceiling! I crawled into the attic and discovered one of the attic vents had water just pouring into it. After craning my head in an awkward position I could see that the vent was bent on the inside and that was how the water was coming in. My question is this, since the time frame to file claims on hurricane damage is expired can I still use my homeowners policy to cover the repair of the roof ?

– Jude

First of all, do you know that the hurricane is what damaged your attic vent?

It sounds to me like you’re assuming that your attic vent was damaged by the hurricane, but could it have been damaged by the chimney repairman? Are there other natural events (a tree fall or wind or other such things) that could have potentially caused it? Did that recent storm cause it?

Whether or not this is covered depends on your policy and the person assessing the damage (assuming the insurance company sends someone to examine it). I don’t see any reason not to call them.

Q4: Maternity leave challengs
I know mat leave is set up differently in Canada where I live, but I would like to pick your brains on a childcare issue my husband and I are having now, as we plan for the future. I will get government support for 50 weeks, worth 55% of my income. I don’t expect my employer to top up this contribution at all. After this time is up, I don’t foresee going back to work (at least not full time). My husband, however, wants me to pull in an income, and go back to work. I don’t want to be viewed as lazy – I just want to put child-rearing first. I really don’t want to rely on a public daycare center, or burden our mothers with babysitting. I want to raise our child with the values that we find important, and I don’t want that compromised. Basically, I’m willing to take a financial hit for a better home-life where I can support the family. My husband is employed by my father, and I know that he will be getting a significant raise when I’m off work (he has refused a raise thus far based on that we don’t need more money with both our incomes, and more money in the company is better longterm, as he’s going to take it over one day). We could make it work. I know we hope to have more kids, so any work I do is going to be temporary, to a degree. I would love to work part-time from home while we have just one kid, but I definitely don’t want to go back full time.

Did you go through any of this with your wife while expecting your children? How can we get this figured out so we’re all happy and our family is put first? I have such amazing memories of my mom staying at home with us as kids, and I know times have changed but we can make it work.
– Sharon

My wife planned all along to go bck to work after having our first child. She is pretty dedicated to her work and passionate about it. She’s one of those people who just found what she is born to do and loves doing it.

After our third child, she did take a period of extended maternity leave simply due to the family challenge of having three children that were under school age at the same time. Once the oldest one reached school age, she was immediately anxious to return to work and did so.

This is a really important issue that you and your husband need to discuss carefully and in detail. It sounds like you have very different feelings and desires when it comes to long-term maternity leave, and you need to be on the same page when it comes to such a large issue with regards to your home life and your income level. I will say that, regardless of what you read or what others tell you, there is no right answer here. There is only the correct answer for you and your family.

Q5: Tax blues
After calculating my taxes for 2011, I realized that I earned far more money than I thought with my side business (making wooden furniture). I don’t actually have enough money on hand to pay my tax bill. Thankfully, I have a bit of time to figure things out. Any ideas on things I should follow up on here?

– Ron

You have a lot of options.

For starters, you can easily request a filing extension from the IRS, allowing you to wait until October 15 to file your taxes. This is done with a very simple IRS form. Note! This does not delay your need to pay the taxes, as pointed out by the readers in the comments. You still need to remit some form of payment at the usual filing date. This will just give you more time for things like hunting for deductions and making sure you have your business data in order, which leads to the next point.

You might want to make absolutely sure that there aren’t deductions for business expenses that you’re not thinking about. I usually spend quite a bit of time examining my own business expenses so that I’m sure I’m deducting everything I should, and that time spent almost always pays off in terms of my tax bill.

If you’re still stuck, you can request a payment plan from the IRS. You don’t have to pay a lump sum when filing your taxes. Here’s info from the IRS on payment plans.

Q6: Saving on phone service
I have been following you for about 2 – 3 years now and have really enjoyed incorporating some of your ideas for saving money and living a simpler life into my own life. Here’s my current dilemma: I have a child who has now reached the age at which my husband and I feel comfortable leaving her home alone for short periods of time to run errands, etc. We do not currently have a landline phone and have not had one for about the past 8 years. We were not using it and we were paying roughly $40/month for service so we canceled and have been using cell phones only since then.

Now that we will be leaving our daughter home alone, she needs a phone available in case she needs to call us but I can’t figure out what the most cost efficient thing to do might be – add a family plan and additional phone to my wireless bill, hook up the land line, or find a prepaid cell phone. It seems like no matter which of these options I choose, it is still going to cost roughly $30 – $40/month. There are so many options out there that make it confusing to figure out what will cost us the least amount of money for a phone that is going to be used very little! Can you shed a little light on this dilemma and maybe provide any resources that you may know of to research this further?
– Jill

It depends entirely on whether your daughter is going to use the phone for more than just emergency calls to mom and dad.

If it’s just for such emergency calls, a prepaid phone is going to be the best option for you. There are many phones that you can get for extremely low cost that work perfectly for the purpose of the extremely rare phone call. Many phone operators, such as Verizon, offer $0.25 per minute pay as you go plans that will total up to $100 a year or less for such infrequent calls.

If you’re going to get her a full-fledged phone for other uses, you should be shopping around. You will likely find that adding her to your own plan is probably the least expensive option, though.

Q7: Retirement savings and deductions
I currently make 115,000 a year, married, with 1 kid. I’m debt free, and will begin investing in a Roth IRA. If I invest the maximum allowed (5k for each my wife and I), will I be able to deduct this from my taxable income (i.e., lessen my AGI) such that I will have less income to be taxed, and thus, less tax to owe? If not, can you explain why? Also, if not, would you suggest different avenues for retirement investing (Roth 401k, Traditional IRA, Traditional 401k, other?)

– Jeff

A Roth IRA will not reduce your tax burden this year. Money put into a Roth IRA is post-tax money, which means that you’re paying taxes on it now to provide you with the ability of withdrawing it in retirement tax-free.

What about a traditional IRA? The deductibility of those depends on whether you or your spouse participate in retirement plans already in your workplace. The full details are spelled out here.

If I were choosing between a traditional IRA and a retirement plan at work, it would depend on whether or not the employer offered any sort of matching. If they did, then I would invest in the work plan to get every dime of matching. If not, I would max out the IRA (whether Roth or traditional), then put the rest into the plan at work.

Q8: “Walking Dead” thoughts
You and Sarah watch “The Walking Dead,” right? What did you think of that season finale?

– Arnie

We enjoyed the entire season, actually.

I’ve read most of the comic book/graphic novel, so part of the fun for me has been watching the things that are different between the two. There have been lots of things, such as Shane’s life and the entire character of Daryl, that are different.

The season ended well, moving them clearly towards a new setting and situation. If it goes where things seem to be hinting that they’re going, the next season will be an amazing one (knowing what happens in the graphic novel).

Q9: Gas price recoup
When I read “It will take X amount of time to recoup the increased cost of a hybrid vehicle via saving on gas” does that length of time depend on the price of gas at the moment someone says that? For example if someone had said it would take me 8 years using current prices in January 2012, would the time now using today’s prices, which have increased substantially?

– Linda

It’s usually based on the price of gas at the moment of the calculation.

Because the price of a gallon of gas varies so much, it’s always a good idea for someone writing about such calculations to mention the price of gas (I try to do this) that they’re using in the calculation.

If you see an article with such calculations in it without stating the price of gas, try to base it on the date. Use data like this and look up the gas price as close as possible to the date of the article. Take the current price of gas and divide that by the historical gas price and you’ll get a conversion factor. You’ll want to divide the “x months” mentioned in that article by the conversion factor to get a ballpark estimate of the time in terms of today’s gas prices.

Q10: Planned spending as saving
I’m trying to figure out how much of my income I actually save. There’s the money I put into my 401K, the money my employer contributes, and then there’s money that I put into several savings accounts for various purposes. These savings accounts include an emergency fund, but also a vacation fund, new car fund, home remodeling fund, Christmas gifts fund, etc. Does this still count as “savings” if I plan to spend it at some point, whether in a few months (Christmas) or in a decade (new car)? When personal finance advice says you should put X percentage of your income toward savings, does that mean long-term/retirement savings only?

– Jules

All savings is intended to be spent at some point. Keep that in mind.

Now, when articles talk about saving X% of your income, what they mean by that depends a lot on the author. Some are talking about retirement only, while others are talking about all savings with retirement as a component.

My feeling is that as long as you’re confident that your retirement is being planned for, you’re making progress that makes you happy towards your other goals, and your debt level is dropping slowly, the exact percentage you’re saving isn’t that important.

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. Johanna says:

    Q5: No, no, no! An extension for filing your taxes does *not* extend the amount of time you have to *pay* your taxes. Regardless of when you file, if you don’t pay what you owe by April 15, you’ll owe penalties.

    Contact the IRS and ask to work out a payment plan. As I understand it, they’re very helpful about that.

  2. MSHAH says:

    For Q5: Note that an IRS extension doesn’t mean you have longer to *pay* your obligation, just longer to file. You’ll still be hit with interest and penalties for paying late.

    If you know you owe, check with the IRS on your options – installment plans should be available.

  3. Misha says:

    Q5: The 4868 request for extension of time to file does NOT give an extension of time to pay taxes due. You will owe interest on any balance not paid by April 17. From the form’s instructions: “Although you are not required to make a payment of the tax
    you estimate as due, Form 4868 does not extend the time to pay taxes. If you do not pay the amount due by the regular due date, you will owe interest. You may also be charged
    penalties. For more details, see Interest and Late Payment Penalty on page 2. Any remittance you make with your application for extension will be treated as a payment of tax.”

    I would strongly suggest trying to set up a payment plan instead.

    Q6: I paid $20 for my Tracfone (a one-time cost) and pay $20 every three months to keep the service active. If this is only for emergency calls, it is unlikely to ever run out of minutes and does not need to have any capabilities other than voice and text. It can be done, really.

    Also, WordPress, I am not posting comments “too quickly.” Seriously, breathe.

  4. Steven says:

    “Sunburn, sore feet, sore muscles… all of the usual stuff.” No, this is not “the usual stuff.” Unless you’re hiking mountains…

  5. Tracy says:

    What Johanna and Misha said! Your taxes are DUE on April 15th (or that Monday) every year! You’re supposed to pay everything you’re owed, or you’ll pay interest and penalties on the difference!

    An extension just gives you more time to file and organize paperwork.

  6. Kevin says:


    “I don’t want to be viewed as lazy – I just want to put child-rearing first.”

    Really? Then what if it was your husband who wanted to quit his job and stay home to raise your child, while YOU kept working? Would you feel the same way then?


    Then is it really about putting “child-rearing first,” or is it possible that it’s maybe a little bit about not wanting to work anymore?

    This is a discussion you should have had waaay before you got pregant, and even before you got married. I think this is going to cause a lot of friction and resentment in your relationship. Regardless of what you decide to do, one of you is going to be unhappy with the decision.

    Good luck.

    P.S. – Is anyone else getting the “You are posting comments too quickly” WordPress error, even when posting for the first time?

  7. AnnJo says:

    Q6, if you are a Costco member, check out the phone kiosk at your local store. I purchased a phone there for $50 and 1000 minutes for $100. The minutes are good for a year and will carry over if you purchase another unit of minutes (for as little as $10). The phone has all the basics including camera, texting, etc. Since I use it on a very limited basis, I’ve obtained three years of phone service for about $60 a year.

  8. Johanna says:

    And of course, Misha’s right that the deadline is April 17th this year, not the 15th.

  9. Kevin says:


    Wow, what’s gotten into you today. Did you leave your computer unlocked and your account is being spoofed? Maybe you’re finishing off some leftover St. Paddy’s day suds? You’re unusually mischievous today.

  10. Joan says:

    I like your Q&A section. Never really thought about it on my blog. I agree with eating out – order one plate and share and you can always order more. Our rule is to eat out only once a week. We had to cut way back so I have easy and simple meals listed on my site too. Keep up the good work!

  11. Tom says:

    “Please be aware that an extension of time to file your return does not grant you any extension of time to pay your tax liability.”

    Kevin – if you can make a reasonably good guess at jim’s email address (jim the frequent, non-explicit commenter), then you can “hack” someones commentary account and skip over some moderation

  12. Mister E says:

    How long has the site been about couponing and personal finance?

    I just noticed the couponing today.

  13. Tracy says:

    And since the real ‘jim’ has his website linked to his profile and that probably has his email address listed somewhere, it’d be very easy for someone to do.

  14. josh says:

    woohoo! jim is back!

    As for e-mail address that is “required”, you don’t have to post a real one.

  15. Kevin says:

    Josh: Right, but my understanding is that the email address you provide gets “whitelisted” if your comment passes moderation a certain number of times, so that subsequent uses of that email address can bypass moderation altogether. Otherwise, “jim”‘s obnoxious and offensive posts would have been keyworded and moderated into obvlivion. The fact that they’re making it through today suggests that someone has discovered a whitelisted email address and is using it to dodge moderation while trolling.

  16. Tom says:

    “As for e-mail address that is “required”, you don’t have to post a real one.”

    That’s true, and good advice for anyone thinking of beginning to comment on any of these blogs. It all depends on how you get approval from the person running the blog.

  17. Misha says:

    Mister E, don’t worry, he’s already (and maybe has been for some time) recycling posts verbatim as a column for the Christian Science Monitor’s website. I guess that’s what he meant by “seeking new opportunities and experiences.”

  18. Courtney20 says:

    No hack needed. You can have multiple users with the same name (it’s not a log-in). Hence why I have a number after mine, because there was another Courtney posting on the same threads as me and we had very different opinions about things, and it got tedious to say “I’m the Courtney in post #, not in post #.”

  19. Johanna says:

    But when you post for the first time with a name or an email address that the system hasn’t seen before, you automatically get sent to moderation. Our friend the troll is bypassing that by posting under the names of other people (jim and a few others) who link to their web pages, which probably include their email addresses.

  20. Steve says:

    @Q5 This is not the first time Trent has made this mistake. (I don’t have a link to a previous example – if I did, we might find it was the same question re-posted).

    A lot of the outright errors we see are in these mailbag columns. It makes some sense – Trent is pumping out these columns twice a week, with 10 questions each. That’s not a lot of time to research each individual answer. Still, even though there is a reason for the errors, that doesn’t mean they should be accepted. How useful is advice if you can’t rely on it to even be factually correct?

    If these columns are popular (pull a lot of page views) then the Simple Dollar team should put more effort into fact-checking them. If not, or if they’re not willing to do the fact checking, then they should be discontinued.

  21. Viv says:

    Q #1 — please make a point to tip your server generously if you have a smaller than usual order. My waiter son, waiter brother, restauranteur father, and maitre d’ sister-in-law thank you.

  22. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I clarified the section about the late filing. The reason to do it isn’t to avoid payment, but to give yourself more time to find deductions and the like. I do this each year because I always find deductions in May or June that I know I would want to apply to my business expenses. Thanks to the readers for pointing this out and asking for clarification!

  23. jim says:

    Those posts were definitely not from myself, but just someone else using the same name. I assume Trent deleted them, thanks Trent.

  24. Courtney20 says:

    Johanna – I understand, but that’s not a hack. Nobody’s account has been compromised. It’s just…resourceful trolling. Or for all we know, jim the troll posted days ago with a normal comment that got through moderation and then opened the floodgates today.

  25. Mister E says:

    Yeah, I figure otherJim got himself onto the whitelist with decent comments.

  26. Johanna says:

    But if it’s a matter of realizing after the fact that you forgot to claim a deduction, you have three years from the date of filing to file an amended return.

    Plus, how much time to “find deductions and the like” do you really need?

  27. Riki says:

    But if you don’t finish your taxes . . . how do you know how much money to send the IRS?

    That doesn’t make any sense at all. Johanna is right, you can easily amend a tax return. I don’t see how filing for an extension makes any difference at all.

  28. Annie says:

    Q4: this is something you seriously need to discuss with your husband. My friend was in a similar situation and it caused the marriage to fall apart because his ex would get pregnant every time the baby gets old enough for her to start working again.

    But then, having a new baby is a lot more work for the mom even with the husband helping out. Truthfully I prefer to work sometimes because it is more relaxing at work than at home. I actually get to leisurely take 40 minutes or so to eat my lunch. At with the baby, I have to wolf everything in 10 minutes or less at home and then there were days when my lunch gets heated twice and I still end up eating it cold.

  29. Michael says:

    Former tax preparer here…

    When you file an extension it’s pretty easy to estimate taxes due if you know tax prep.* And, filing an extension is easier than filing a return and amending because the amendment is more work than the extension and the extension comes first while the amendment comes last.

    That said, I cannot imagine Trent would be using his time well if he combed through tax arcana to find some deductions — and if he already knows about them, then he doesn’t really gain anything by filing an extension. If Trent uses a tax professional, they are not going to turn up anything new by taxing an extra few months, and if they did he would owe a large amount of money for their services.

    *We found that when taxes were so complicated that estimation was too difficult, and there was not time to file a thorough return, the taxpayer usually had more things to worry about than whether he/she might owe some underpayment penalties. An extension was still a good idea.

  30. Amy says:

    Question 6: Couldn’t the parents just leave one of their own cell phones at home with the child when they are out? Take one, leave one. The child would only need to call the other number in an emergency. No cost for a landline or a new cell phone.

  31. Johanna says:

    Oh, and Trent? We’re not “asking for clarification.” We’re *telling* you that you got it wrong. In cases like this, simply(!) saying “whoops, I messed up!” is a whole lot more dignified than trying to backpedal and pretend that you really knew what you were talking about all along but everybody else was just too stupid to realize it.

    As a fellow stubborn person, I realize it’s not easy. But really, you’re not fooling anyone.

  32. AnnJo says:

    Riki, most self-employed people or people in small businesses need extensions because they have to include data from their business’s K-1 forms on their own returns, and the K-1s can’t be prepared until the business return is completed, and business returns even for quite small businesses require closing out the prior year’s books, including balance sheet adjustments, depreciation schedules and lots of other stuff, and it all takes a lot of time. Sometimes businesses are even coccooned like Russian dolls, with Taxpayer owning Company A, which owns part of Company B, which owns a share of Company C, so B can’t complete its return until it gets its K-1 from C, and so forth. Yet they can fairly reliably “guesstimate” what they’ll owe even months before they’re ready to finalize returns, based on preliminary financial reports.

  33. DC Squared says:

    Once upon a time, my wife and I often ordered just one full meal and split it. We also would often order three appetizers to split, and make a meal of them. The portions in many retaurants are too large for many people to stomach (quite literally).

  34. Robert says:

    Q9: You have to take into account not just the price of gas being used, but also the estimated number of miles being driven. I drive roughly 45 miles one way to work, 90 miles a day round trip. Some days I drive well over 100 miles because I have to go out to our properties to work on their computers (my employer owns 20 hotels around DC and several office buildings). When people talk about driving just 15,000 miles per year I start wondering how they’d react to the fact I drive that many miles in less than 6 months, and I know others that drive far more than I do. One person I worked with at a previous job drove almost 100 miles each way to/from work. The sad part is home prices in DC make it far cheaper to commute that far than to buy or even rent close to work ($1500/month rent for a 500 sq. foot efficiency is sadly a bargain in some places.)

    What I would recommend is tracking your actual gas spending for several months in a spreadsheet. Make sure to record every purchase noting the amount spent, the number of gallons purchased, and your odometer reading at the time. Use that to calculate your average miles per gallon and cost per mile. This is especially useful if you sometimes take advantage of deals like getting credits for free or reduced price price gas from your grocery store, etc.

    Once you know how what your average mileage is, and what gas is costing you per mile, you can then easily compare to the estimated MPG for a hybrid and determine how much you’ll save per mile, and how many miles you’d have to drive to offset whatever extra you pay for the hybrid. Using data from several months (I’d really recommend keeping track for at least 6 months, if not more) also averages out some of the price fluctuations for gas, since gas prices tend to rise and fall in seasonal cycles.

  35. E says:

    $50 meal with your girlfriend -” it’s a solid investment in a solid relationship” Very romantic.

  36. heytriceratops says:

    Somebody really asked about planning a picnic? Who doesn’t know how to do that?

  37. Kevin says:


    “Please make a point to tip your server generously if you have a smaller than usual order.”

    Hang on here, am I tipping by percentage, or by how much I ordered? I thought the rule was 15-20%? You’re saying the less I order, the MORE I should tip?

    Sorry Viv, your service-industry family members can’t have it both ways. It’s not my responsibility to just donate money to them because they can’t be bothered to get a real job.

  38. Tom says:

    Thanks for updating and commenting Trent, it shows you still care about the quality of the blog. I hope you continue to do so!

    As a follow-up, I also like your past advice about taking business earnings and putting half into a dedicated account for taxes. Had the questioner done so, he wouldn’t be in position to have a tax bill he can’t pay.

  39. Laura says:

    Q1: Or, as soon as the meal comes, ask for a takeout box and put half the food in it. This way you don’t feel compelled to eat everything on your plate, and you have lunch for tomorrow.

  40. Meredith says:

    For Question 6, why not have a Magic Jack phone? It’s a VOIP phone sure; but it’s constantly on and it’s $20 a year. It does glitch at times, but it only takes 10 seconds to reset if it glitches and it’s certainly something a child can do.

    We totally replaced our land line with it years ago, and we don’t have cell phones. easy.

  41. jim says:

    Kevin : “they can’t be bothered to get a real job”

    Thats quite condescending.

  42. Lilly says:

    I’m quite surprised at the couple comments on Q4. Is no one a fan of the stay-at-home mom anymore? What’s so horrible and lazy about that? It’s not for everyone, sure, but neither is daycare. But definitely, get on the same page. This can be a huge wedge in a marriage.

  43. Baley says:

    Kevin can be a real A. And yes, I think that the tip should be closer to the top end of the range for a smaller-than-usual order because the server works just as hard to serve you your half order of food, but the overall cost of the meal will be lower (hence the tip will be smaller). I always tip a minimum of $2 for my single lunch (of course, only with good service), even if the bill is only $8. Obviously this is way over 20%, but the server’s service is worth something to me. If my tab is $10, I still tip $2. After that I usually go with 18-20%.

  44. Baley says:

    @Lilly: Yes! Exactly. We don’t need people hating on stay at home moms. I’m not one, but I wish I could be! And no, it’s not lazy. My job at work is a ton easier than my job at home would be.

  45. Baley says:

    And Trent, even though my two previous innocuous comments are in moderation, I appreciate the stricter policy as the offensive comments I’ve been seeing recently were not welcome. I do hope that this isn’t moderation purgatory anymore, though, and that the comments are actually being read and approved!

  46. Johanna says:

    I wonder how Kevin would feel if all those lazy waitstaff went out and got real jobs, and then there wasn’t anybody to take his order when he went out to eat.

  47. jim says:

    I certainly agree that wanting to be a stay at home mom (or dad) does not mean you’re lazy. Staying home with kids can be a lot more work than many jobs. I’m not sure why Sharon said she didn’t want to be seen as lazy. It sounded like her husband mainly didn’t want to give up the income.

  48. Kai says:

    A person who wants to be a stay-at-home parent must be also willing to be a full-time working parent supporting the other parent at home with children. If you wouldn’t be willing, then re-think what you’re asking of your spouse.
    It’s not unreasonable to be concerned about the loss of income, and it’s a real problem if the plan was to work but the woman suddenly decides she doesn’t want to any more. Run the numbers, and see how it actually works out for your own situation.

  49. Kai says:

    If I’m going to be expected to tip a higher percentage when I wisely order less, then I can’t simultaneously be expected to tip the same percentage when I go to a more expensive restaurant.
    I’m not at all opposed to the concept that a tip constitutes part of the cost of the meal and part of the wage of the server, given that the quality of the server is a big part of the enjoyment of the evening. But the basis on percentage of the bill is ridiculous, considering waiters don’t work harder to bring out a lobster than to bring out a salad.
    And now that a typical restaurant has different people showing you to your table, taking your order, serving your food, refilling your water, and cleaning away your plates, I no longer think it makes sense. One cannot reasonably tip to account for the skill of the waiter when the waiter’s job is split by four or more people. That, coupled with other industries now expecting a tip for doing their job (I asked for a coffee, you filled my cup, and handed it to me. Put away the tip jar.) makes it all absurd and high time for some re-thinking.

  50. Kevin says:


    “I wonder how Kevin would feel if all those lazy waitstaff went out and got real jobs”

    You mean like they’re supposed to? And free up those jobs for the next wave of students looking to earn a little spending cash? Instead of hanging on to the McJob and complaining that minimum wage isn’t enough to buy a 2000 sq. ft. home and raise a family, as if it was ever supposed to? And demanding that the rest of us tip at least 20% (unless we deliberately ordered small/cheap to save money or because we just weren’t that hungry, in which case according to Viv, we should tip even MORE)?

    Of course waiters and waitresses are necessary. But it’s not supposed to be a career. It’s not supposed to be enough to live off of your whole life, buy a home, raise a family, and save for retirement.

    I simply refuse to be guilted into literally just donating money to these people because they’re taking the easy way out (status quo, remaining a 35-year old waiter) instead of becoming an adult and getting a real job.

  51. Jen W says:

    I am a senior citizen and gladly pay for my landline. A few years ago, the power grid went out in a big section of the U.S., including my entire state. I needed to make some calls to employers and family, but the cell phones did not work. My landline worked, but of course not with my phones that had electrical cords. I had old-fashioned rotary dial phones that worked perfectly. I keep landline as a valuable kind of insurance for power failures.

  52. dajolt says:

    Too tips regarding the phone.

    Assuming you have a permanent internet connection at home.

    1. sipgate.com offer a free US landline phone number you can use with SIP-ready phone equipment at no monthly charge. You only pay very low rates for outgoing calls. Incoming is free and so is calling 1-800 numbers.

    2. for those rare times you need to call 911 or when the internet is down, a t-mobile prepaid phone card sim is great. Calls cost 25c/minute.
    That’s expensive, but you will only use this if you have to.

    Best to buy one used: After 100$ of credits have been loaded onto a card you just need to put $10/year onto the card to keep it active.

  53. Johanna says:

    “You mean like they’re supposed to?”

    Lolwhut? “Supposed to” according to whom? I haven’t got the latest edition of The Rules Of Life According To Kevin, so I don’t know which jobs are “real jobs” suitable for adults, and which jobs are fake jobs suitable only for students (who are all fine with earning minimum wage or even less, because of course they just use all their money to buy beer and stuff, because they somehow don’t have to pay for food and rent and transportation, and they definitely don’t need any money to put toward their ginormous tuition bills) – can you please send me a copy?

    A tip is no more a “donation” than is the base price of your meal – it’s payment for the goods and services you’ve received. Servers are not asking for handouts – they’re doing work for you and getting paid for it. Why is this so hard to understand?

  54. jim says:

    Kevin so do 16 year old waiters get 20 percent tips from you or just your disdain?

  55. Kevin says:


    I’m in Canada, where EVERYONE is entitled to at least minimum wage (as it should be). Minimum wage in my province is over $10/hour. I tip 10-15%

  56. Baley says:

    @Kevin: Then why are you commenting on the tipping practices in the USA? If wait staff were paid a minimum wage of $10, we wouldn’t “need” to tip as generously. That piece of info would have been helpful on your first comment. Those of us suggesting that perhaps one should tip more generously percentage-wise on a smaller bill do so under the understanding that in the USA wait staff get paid well below minimum wage (I believe it is under $3/hour) and therefore need tips to actually get by. Your destructive criticism of people’s choice of employment is not appreciated. You don’t know why that 35 year old waiter is at that job. Perhaps he is well-educated and could get a higher-paying job (how insulting to call one job a real job and others not), but chooses to work in the food service industry so he can have a flexible schedule and free time to pursue a dream (painting, perhaps). We all make value-based decisions and do not need you telling us which jobs are acceptable and which aren’t. (I’m not in the food service industry; I work at a desk and my job is considerably more boring though it is full time and has benefits).

  57. Izabelle says:

    @Kevin: “I’m in Canada, where EVERYONE is entitled to at least minimum wage (as it should be).”

    No. There are a lot of exceptions, and they vary by province. They include farm workers, students on an internship, domestic workers and live-in aids, camp counsellors, migrant workers emplyed in produce farming, people paid exclusively on commission, and a few more cases. In Quebec, employees in positions where tips are expected also have a separate (lower) minimum wage.

    That being said, depending on the establishment, waiting tables can be a very good job. And in some of these establishment, only a career waiter or waitress can deliver the quality of service expected.

  58. jim says:

    USA wait staff may also get full minimum wage. It varies based on state. Alaska, California, Nevada, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon and Washington all pay full state minimum wage to wait staff.
    Minimum wage for wait staff in Quebec $8.35 is lower than that in Washington $9.04 or Oregon $8.80.

  59. Kevin says:

    @Izabelle: I’m not talking about the exceptions. If you want to tip your “camp counsellor” more than 15%, go for it. The topic here is waiters and waitresses, and in my province, they all make at least $10/hour. So I don’t feel obligated to be “extra generous” and tip an absurd amount like 20% (or MORE if I’ve ordered a small amount of food, as Viv suggested).

    @Baley: “Then why are you commenting on the tipping practices in the USA?” I wasn’t. I was responding to Viv’s comment that we should all tip MORE than 20% if we order a small amount of food. She never specified she was in the US, so I didn’t feel the need to differentiate either.

  60. Kevin says:

    @Baley: “In the USA wait staff get paid well below minimum wage (I believe it is under $3/hour) […] You don’t know why that 35 year old waiter is at that job.”

    Baley, I’m sorry, but if you’re 35 years old and the best you can do is $3/hour, you’ve failed at life. I know it’s not a nice thing to say, but what else can you call it? You cannot own a home, you cannot raise a family, you certainly cannot save for your own retirement, you can barely even feed yourself. How is that anything other than abject failure?

  61. Johanna says:

    So: Waitstaff rely on tips, so they’re paid $3/hr, so they’re losers, so they don’t deserve tips. Circular reasoning much?

  62. Baley says:

    That’s the point of tips, Kevin: servers WOULD find it impossible to support a family on $3 an hour. So you’re really just proving my point. But whatever. Since you can’t understand that other people have different definitions of success, then I don’t know what else to tell you. However, good servers DO make better than $3 because they do their jobs well and get compensated for being good servers. People who fail at serving should get better paying jobs or they may starve. Also, I would agree that a 20% tip would be absurd in your province where the wait staff make at least $10. You seem to tip generously enough with your 10 – 15%. But in the USA it’s not absurd to tip 20%.

  63. jim says:

    I found 2 sources that say 15% is common tip in Canada. I found an article that cited that 78% of Canadians tip 15%. So it seems that 15% is the defacto standard in Canada. Whereas in the USA the standard has migrated up to 15-20%. Kevin says he tips 10-15%. He is not saying that waiters don’t deserve tips. So Kevin’s 10-15% tip rate seems more in line common Canada tip level.

    Still if you’re going to debate tipping practices with a primary US audience and you don’t live in the US then its really relevant to point out that you live in a different country.

    Tipping aside, Kevins condescending attitude towards wait staff is unwarranted and offensive.

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