Updated on 07.28.10

Reader Mailbag: Travel Thoughts

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. A pile of problems
2. Financially helping a boyfriend
3. Vinegar and water for cleaning
4. What debt comes first?
5. Subsistence farming
6. How much term insurance?
7. Thoughts on iPad
8. Entrepreneurship gone bad
9. Cell phones gone wild
10. Powdered homemade laundry detergent

Taking a five day trip, followed by a two day break, followed by a six day trip, all with three children under the age of five, is not a good idea. I officially need a vacation from vacation.

I’m having severe financial troubles and have no clue as to how to proceed. I’m 48 and unable to work due to disability (but I have been denied several times for disability benefits). My husband, who is 43, has been unemployed for a year and a half. He was working at California Closets in the shop previous to that. We have been living on his unemployment check ($1600 per month) and now that has ended. We’ve moved in with my parents and have applied for food stamps. It simply can’t get much worse than this. Oh but yes it can. We have about $10,000 in credit card debt and $2500 in medical bills. (I know, I know…. stupid!!!) We had been keeping up with these payments when he was receiving unemployment but now cannot pay them and are accruing late fees. We can’t even file for bankruptcy because we did that 4 years ago when our business of 10 years (retail bookstore/gift shop) failed. I’m mad at myself for letting things get this bad and I feel helpless and stupid that I’ve made so many poor financial decisions in the past. If you were in my situation, what steps would you take. What should I do?
– Kim

The absolute first thing you need to do is to figure out what work you’re capable of doing. If you’re being denied disability benefits, clearly there is an opinion out there that you are capable of some level of work. Seek out employment services that can help you with this, because it can sometimes be difficult to make a good self-assessment in a situation like yours.

You also need to remember that the debts you have now have no collateral, so not paying them for a while won’t result in repossession of anything. It will result in further damaged credit and a good deal of harassment, however.

You’ve got a rough road ahead, at least in the short term. Patience will be your best friend here.

I bought a house last year with my boyfriend of 3 years. 1 month after closing he was laid off from work. Unemployment insurance gave him enough to pay bills/mortgage. He did not want to share any financial information with me, and I knew he had debts. I offered to help out with budgeting and his general financial well being and he was against it.

We also had a very tough year personally, family-wise. He never budgeted or practiced being frugal before we met, and continued this after we started living together. It is 1 year later and he just got a job that pays very little. I calculated he can pay the mortgage with little left over for bills (his half). Then there is no money for food, paying off debt ect.

He is continuing to look for a better job. He finally let me in on his finances. He has 7K in CC debt, with ridiculous interest rates. I am having him do a balance transfer on a 0% CC (if he gets approved), or a lower interest CC. Also there is about $600 in other debt (doctors, things that aren’t financed). He had said he never thought about all the fees, and money he was giving away with his spending, and bad CC’s rates. He has 1K in savings and a 401K from a previous job. He has cut his spending, created a budget, understands this is a problem, and we are on the same page now, but much damage has been done. He has no money coming in to pay his debts.

I work in a creative field and am lucky to have a comfortable income. Last year I got a significant raise and have been saving a lot, I did not make much money previously. Also I am frugal, coupon cutter, and am upset that my boyfriend did not care about his finances. What should I do? We are not married, and the mortgage/bills need to be paid. How long am I suppose to cover him? He thought we would be married by now, but being laid off sort of paused our lives. Not being able to get married is upsetting to him, making him feel like a failure. I feel I am in a tough situation. Our families act like we are married, but we do not combine finances. I also do not want to be the sole provider. I can afford the total mortgage on my own, does that mean we should keep the house? I did not plan for this at all. I have 2 thoughts: #1-I work hard for my income and do not want to carry him. #2- I get upset that all these fees, interest charges, could be money for saving to have a child, so if I don’t help him out, it would effect me in the long run.
– CM

How long are you supposed to cover him? The answer to that question is the same as another: how long do you think this relationship is going to last?

Your last paragraph seems to hint at some very serious trust issues in your relationship, as well as some incompatible values. If you can’t get those things on the same page, your relationship is not going to be one for the long term, and you’re better off moving on now.

If you are thinking this is going to be a very long-term relationship, then his debts are effectively your debts, because they steer what you’re going to be doing in the future.

If you’re sticking around out of some kind of obligation to take care of him, you shouldn’t. He’s an adult and can make his own choices in life.

You need to answer for yourself whether this is a relationship that is going to last. If it is not, move on.

What proportions are best for floor cleaning w/ vinegar & water? thanks for your advice….using this will be so much better than the expensive Swiffer products & other harsh, harmful & costly products.
– Donna

I usually use equal amounts of water and vinegar, and use full-strength vinegar on tough stains. I do this on both hardwood and linoleum surfaces and I haven’t seen a problem yet.

Considering the huge jugs of vinegar you can get for just a little bit of pocket change, this is a pretty cost-effective way to get the floor clean. You don’t need too much of the liquid as long as you have a good mop to work with.

Actually, that brings up another good point – the better your mop is, the easier the cleaning is, regardless of what cleaner you’re using. I trust the recommendations in this article over at Real Simple.

I am 25, recently married (2 months ago), my wife is 26. I currently work in web development making $44,000 per year (about $2600 per month after tax). My wife is a high school english teacher and unfortunately was part of budget cuts this past school year and is now unemployed. She is collecting unemployment now until we can find her a new job (it may not even be this fall given the job market) So she will be collecting unemployment at about $1860 per month.

We currently have the following debt:
Mortgage: $276,000 (bought house last year at 5%)
Car Loan: $7,000 (at 5.9%)
Car Loan: $3,200 (at 5.2%)
Student Loans: $11,000 (about $184 per month)
No other debts. We have about $14,000 in retirement savings, and another $27,000 in high yield savings accounts (at 1.3%). I try to sock away $1,000+ per month into those savings from our monthly income.

My question is what should I do with the money? I’ve contemplated knocking off the car loans to get them done with, but don’t want to reduce our savings too much to do it. What’s your take on the situation?
– Erik

The first thing I would do is make sure you can make ends meet with your current income level, and also with the income level that you’d have if your wife’s unemployment runs out. If you’re not going to be able to make ends meet easily in those situations, I wouldn’t use up the emergency fund too much.

If you do decide that paying off debts is a good move – and it certainly might be, because it will improve your monthly cash flow and your long term net worth if you don’t have to dip into debt in the future – I would pay off the lowest balance one first, because that will provide the most direct benefit to your monthly cash flow.

I’d also encourage your wife to take on any work that would bolster her resume, even if it’s unpaid. Things like working at educational-based summer camps, getting involved with America Reads/America Counts, or anything along those lines can be a real boon. The more experience she gets teaching children and the more things she gets on her resume, the more likely it will be she can find a teaching job down the road.

I am a 20 year old girl living in an apartment in Raleigh NC with my boyfriend. I work part-time as a nanny to pay the bills and he works part-time at a moving company so we have a very modest income and no savings. We have a shared dream of some day, hopefully sooner than later, moving into a moderately sized house on a large area of land where we can grow our own vegetables in a greenhouse and raise a family and perhaps even adopt a few more dogs and some chickens. The problem is is that I have no idea where to start. I’ve been a city girl all of my life and because I am not going to college and I am underemployed, home ownership is still a distant dream. Do you have any tips for me as far as how to become a subsistence farmer with little experience and no money?
– Melissa

Trying out subsistence farming with little experience and no money is pretty much begging for absolute failure.

If you want to learn the ins and outs of small scale farming – and you’re only working part-time – get a part time job for a small-scale farm. Tell them your story and that you’re willing to work hard in order to learn how it all works as something of an apprentice.

I can tell you from experience that if you want to grow lots of fruits and vegetables or raise animals, nothing trumps experience. The more experience you have, the easier it will be to start things on your own without a long series of outright failures.

I work at a relatively stable job and my employer offers a life insurance policy of 6X times my annual salary for just $8.23 per 2 weeks. I plan to purchase this policy as the premium is so low for such huge coverage. However, I fear that this policy would lapse if I get laid off. And so, I wish to purchase term insurance from a 3rd party such as Metlife or such Insurance companies.

So, I am wondering if I should reduce the coverage of my employer-sponsored life insurance policy to 3X times my annual salary and get the other 3X times my annual salary from a 3rd party insurer.

Can you offer any thoughts or opinion on this matter? It would really help me.
– Indrajeet

That plan makes quite a bit of sense. In essence, you’re spreading out the risk.

Obviously, the plan offered by your workplace is less expensive than virtually any other life insurance you’ll probably find. It comes with a risk, though – if you lose your job, you lose the insurance. Splitting the policies in this way spreads out the risk.

My only suggestion would be to keep a careful eye on your employment status and get an additional policy if you lose your job.

I’m starting a four-year PhD course in September. I’ve just finished my undergraduate course (graduating with a First) and in total I’ve read over 550 papers (and that’s just the ones I kept track of in my EndNote library!). At the moment I print out most papers that I read, carry them around, read them, highlight bits and make brief notes on them, and then put them in a big pile. I’ve been wanting for a while to make this (a) easier, (b) more environmentally friendly (although I do recycle all of the paper afterwards) and (c) reduce my hugely high printing costs.

After asking around on various internet forums it seeems that a tablet computer would be a good bet, and most people seem to suggest the iPad. Leaving aside the issue of whether the iPad is the best device to purchase, the question is: should I buy one?

I’ve tried to crunch the numbers. Assuming I read around 200 papers a year, and using a rough length of 20 pages per paper it will cost me around £100 a year for paper and printing costs.

The price of the iPad in the UK (including academic discount) is £429. Working on the price saving above for one year leaves £329, or if I carry it through for all four years of my PhD then that only leaves £29! That’s ignoring the other uses of the iPad – both those related to academia (such as proof-reading coursework) and non-academic.

If I only count one year’s savings then the price that’s left (£329) is just under one hour’s work a week for a year (based upon my PhD stipend and the hours I’m meant to do) – which seems very reasonable.

However, this is a substantial financial outlay at the moment, especially as I’m getting married next year (projected to cost around £3000) and then setting up home with my new wife.

What do you think? It’s not necessarily your place to advise I know, but I was trying to apply some of the principles I’ve learnt from your blog, but still don’t know what to do!
– Robin

Before you worry at all about what to buy, make sure that you really understand your need first.

From what I understand here, you’re struggling with the ongoing cost of printing out research papers for your studies. Based on my own experience, you’re probably annotating them in some fashion. You also need the papers to be very portable.

A tablet computer does solve most of those concerns. However, don’t just limit yourself to the iPad. There are a lot of other tablet computers out there (like these). A netbook may also be a great solution for what you’re trying to do.

The real danger I see here – and it’s one that I’m guilty of myself – is seeing a particular gadget or other item and imagining in your head all of the problems that it could solve in your life. The problem with that kind of thinking is that often, you’re not solving real problems, just imagined ones.

Your best bet is to always go through your life and just look for things that pop up again and again that could be done in a better way. If you think to yourself every night that your bed is uncomfortable, a mattress might be a good buy. On the other hand, watching a mattress ad and thinking to yourself, “That looks comfortable… I’d better buy one,” is not a good personal finance solution.

For me, at least, I’ve had an ongoing list of features I’d like to see in a tablet computer, a list I’ve kept for years. These are all things I do all the time that would be massively simplified with a tablet. As the apps from the iTunes Store get more and more robust, I’m beginning to believe that the iPad actually is that device.

In December 2007 I bought a franchise. It was in an area that was a passion for my wife and I while fulling a dream of entrepreneurship. Unfortunately the economy decided to poop on my dreams. Essentially we opened our doors for business in November 1st 2008, and closed them Oct 28th 2009. We filed bankruptcy and our house was lost in foreclosure. That was all settled in February, all except for one small detail. WE have an $80,000 SBA loan held against an investment property that my in-laws own. I could have let that mortgage go and saved our own home in the process but chose to keep the debt and do what I feel morally obligated to do. My in-laws would have had to either pay that debt or lose the rental.

Fortunately I still have my day job (they allowed me to go part time while starting the business) and it has kept us afloat. We lived with my in-laws for about 6 months until my family’s sanity was just about gone… Now we are currently renting very close to my office at a pretty good price for the area, $925, any lower and the places get much less safe and with a 4 and 2 yr old, that’s not something I will risk for $150-200. My wife has just gotten a job at my work and so the kids are hitting daycare.

Hear’s the breakdown. Between us we will be making about 75-80K a year (without any bonuses). $1108 a month for SBA, $925 for rent, $330 for my wife’s car and $1200 (OMG) for daycare. I think we went to every daycare possible within 15 miles…

I sold my car, and got a cheap motorcycle to have something to drive. We don’t have cable or home phones and the only extra we have is internet (got a great promo deal after pestering Comcast for a couple of weeks…). I am building my e-fund, albeit slowly, but this extra $80K SBA loan is killing us. There are no other debts and I just want to be done with it so I can move on, pick up the little, tiny, demolished pieces of my dreams put them in a box of mementos and stick it in the attic. Oh wait I rent and apartment now… Stick it in the storage unit then.

How can I deal with such a LARGE debt?
– Aaron

To put it simply, you deal with it slowly but surely.

Paying off this debt is all about cash flow, period. The less you spend in a given month, the more you have to contribute to that debt.

Right now, you have a handful of major expenses eating up your cash flow. $925 a month for rent? You’re significantly delaying the payoff date of your loan by moving out of your in-law’s house. $1,200 a month for child care? Given the other opportunities your wife would have to save money as a stay-at-home mom (for example, babysitting during the day, preparing home-cooked meals, etc.), is that really saving you money?

What about that $330 a month car payment? Do you need a car that requires $330 a month? Wouldn’t a low-end used car get the job done and let you channel $250-300 more per month into that loan?

If you’re reacting to these comments with defensiveness, you’re thinking about this the wrong way. Paying off a giant debt means making hard choices, ones that sometimes make us uncomfortable. Yet, the debt is also making you pretty uncomfortable, too. You have to answer some hard questions about what’s best for your entire family.

Potential entrepreneurs: Aaron is the face of exactly why it’s so important to have all of your ducks in a row before you jump into business ownership. The more debt you take out at the start, the bigger the risk is, and Aaron’s story shows loud and clear how painful the downside can be.

I recently visited the Verizon store with my husband (a minor stuff hoarder and chronic upgrader) We were replacing the 2nd phone he ruined due to water. (fishing and then walking in the rain). Before we were married, I was fine with dial up internet, one home phone and no TV. Now we have Verizon FIOS bundle with HD, sports and outdoor TV, internet, land line phone and 2 cell phones. Anyway, back at the Verizon store, he wanted a droid because it takes pictures you can send to your email and it is new cool technology. (I suggested he just take our camera with him and he rolled his eyes) With quite a bit of effort, I was able to pull out all the costs from the salesman. It is an extra $10/month just to have the droid, another $30/month to have internet service and it costs to send the photos or text. I went from spending $30/month on all this a few years ago to $250/month with growing costs on all this technology that just makes my life more complicated. I love my husband and want him to be happy and am fine with having these things now. We can afford it but deep down, I have difficulty with my feeling that we are being blindsided and ripped off.
– Laura

You’re not being blindsided or ripped off. It sounds like you have two top-of-the-line phones with unlimited data plans and unlimited texting. Those are all going to cost you – and those are all unnecessary services.

It sounds like your husband has a gadget addiction and, even more worrisome, he doesn’t take care of the gadgets he already has. You’re being blindsided and ripped off, but it’s not by Verizon. It’s by an addiction to gadgets.

You have a choice to make. You can either just sign off on all of this stuff or you can have a sit-down with your husband and make some hard choices together. It’s up to you.

Trust me, though: gadget escalation gets more and more and more expensive. There really is no limit to it except for what you impose on yourself.

Curious if you have ever tried the powdered versions of the homemade laundry soap. I love the homemade soap concept (especially having a 5 month at home, so we need perfume and dye free soaps) but the idea of storing 5 gallons seems like a headache. Seems like I could store a pretty big supply of powdered detergent in a small Tupperware. Any experience on this?
– Jeff

You can certainly make powdered soap, but it takes a bit longer to make.

Just use my homemade laundry detergent recipe. Just use the three solid ingredients:

1 cup washing soda (I use Arm & Hammer)
1/2 cup borax (I use 20 Mule Team)
1 bar soap (I use whatever’s cheap, in this case Pure & Natural)

Grate that bar of soap with your finest grater until it’s basically powder, then put it in a large quart jar along with the other ingredients. Shake the jar thoroughly – for two or three minutes – until everything’s evenly distributed. Keep a lid on the jar and put it in your laundry room.

When you’re about to do a load, use two tablespoons of the powdered detergent. Start filling the machine with water, add the detergent, wait a moment, then start adding the clothes. You’ll be good to go!

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Katie says:

    The absolute first thing you need to do is to figure out what work you’re capable of doing. If you’re being denied disability benefits, clearly there is an opinion out there that you are capable of some level of work. Seek out employment services that can help you with this, because it can sometimes be difficult to make a good self-assessment in a situation like yours.

    Trent, speaking as someone who used to work for a federal district court judge, part of whose job was to review disability decisions made by administrative law judges, you’re putting an utterly unwarranted faith in the system. The fact of the matter is, many of those ALJs deny people for ridiculous, frivolous reasons, and because they’re the fact finders, subsequent levels of review often can’t do much to correct the problem (although it’s not hopeless). Assuming someone is capable of work because they’ve been denied for disability is simply a poor bet and a bad piece of advice.

  2. Wesley says:

    @Melissa – I completely agree with what Trent said about learning the ins and outs before jumping in to a subsistence farming lifestyle. My parents are farmers so I grew up on a farm, in the country, for the first 18 years of my life. I can not tell you the countless “city people” who came out into the country to farm and had no idea what they were doing, only to go tremendously in debt due to mistakes only to sell what they bought a few years later and give up.

  3. Cindy says:

    Melissa – for farming info, check out homesteadingtoday.com Lots of good folks there to answer your questions and give advice!

  4. Erin says:

    Ooh that powdered laundry detergent can be made in less than 5 minutes if you have a food processor. We roughly chop the soap into large chunks and throw it into our Cuisinart with the Borax and washing soda. It’s soooo much faster than even the liquid version, if of course you have the right tool. Thanks Trent for turning me into a laundry detergent evangelist too! ;-)

  5. Michelle says:

    I’ve found that straight vinegar and water leaves a residue on my laminate floors. Adding a tbsp of dye free/perfume free detergent (like All Free and Clear)takes care of that.

    A side note, a paste of baking soda and detergent is the best shower cleaner I’ve ever used…

  6. tarynkay says:

    Kim should consider going to Vocational Rehabilitation and seeing if they can help her find some work that she can do with her impairments. They offer a lot of services to help people with disabilities find work.

  7. Sandy says:

    Robin — the research group that you join as part of your Ph.D. program may have computers and printers that you can use for free. In addition, some universities allow free printing at computer labs, or allow a certain number of pages to be printed for free.

  8. Peggy says:

    Even cheaper than baking soda and vinegar for cleaning is a good microfiber towel. Dampen it and wring it out well and it will clean glass and mirrors without streaking, get soap scum and mold off a shower, dust, scrub floors including heel marks, even get dried sourdough starter off a cupboard door.

  9. Finance Nerd says:

    @Indrajeet, I think your plan is wise, but I might go even further. I take the free life insurance my employer provides, but I don’t buy any through them.

    Why? As you point out, if you leave, your insurance is gone. But what you really need to consider is that you may not be insurable at that point, or at least not at a good rate.

    If you leave AND you are in poor health, you may not be able to find replacement coverage. So, my wife and I bought term several years ago, and any extra free insurance from my employer is gravy.

  10. Adam P says:

    “I bought a house last year with my boyfriend of 3 years. 1 month after closing he was laid off from work. Unemployment insurance gave him enough to pay bills/mortgage. He did not want to share any financial information with me, and I knew he had debts.”

    WHY on EARTH would anyone BUY A HOUSE jointly with someone who wouldn’t show their financial information with them? What the h3ll is wrong with people? I’m sorry, but this is stupidity of the highest order. That said, Trent’s advice was fine. I just can’t believe someone who claims to be frugal and money-wise etc would jointly purchase something over a hundred thousand dollars with someone who knowingly hid financial information from them. Darwin Awards moment.

  11. valleycat1 says:

    Kim – Trent says it’s ok to let your debts ride since there’s no collateral. However, if you have any $ to put toward debts, I’d advise working on the medical debts first, as they could impact your ability to obtain medical care should something happen to you.

    Melissa – You say you’re a city girl. You definitely need to spend some extended time on a farm & be sure you’re up to the hard work, routine, completely different lifestyle, & dailiness of it all. You and your boyfriend need to hone handyman type skills, and research how much of your food you can realistically grow wherever it is you plan to live (growing seasons, climate, etc.) Also work on getting a good emergency fund set up, as there’s always something needing repair or replacing.

    Aaron – you say you have no home phone. If you aren’t using your computer for VOIP phone service, that means you must have one or more cells. Land lines are a LOT cheaper than almost any cell service, especially if you can limit your outgoing long distance calls [& yes, a happy life is possible without a cell phone]. And, have you discussed this with your in-laws? They might be receptive to assuming the debt or letting that property go to repay it, if it means that you & their daughter get solvent more quickly.

  12. Bryn says:

    I’m also surprised CM would buy a house with someone who wouldn’t share financial information. It doesn’t matter if your families act like you’re married. Do YOU want to marry him? If so, then I would seriously consider helping him with his debt. Obviously, he would have to be on track with you 100% (in that he too wants to be married) so that you’re not just bailing him out to make the same mistake again. Good Luck!

  13. reulte says:

    Kim – If you do seek out employment services, avoid the ones which charge a fee. Perhaps your husband could take a low-paying/temporary job for the money while you spend time scanning for jobs for him and making appointments. And, of course, everything else does apply – avoid spending money if you can help it, if you must spend money do your best to spend as little as possible. And don’t whine, wail and smack yourself in the forehead for past actions. Perhaps you might want to call the credit card company as your bill comes due and explain the situation. It is unlikely they will do anything, but if they could, for example, lower your minimum payment for several months it might give you a little more room.

    CM – Your name is on the mortgage – you pay. Consider this an example of the later of “for better or worse”. If you talk together about money and your combined financial futures, you might come out of this troubled patch with a stronger relationship. Otherwise, discuss with a lawyer how to buy out his portion of the house.

    Erik – You have $27K in a savings account and yet you have car debts of just over $10K? I’d pay off the two cars and still have more than 3 months take home pay in savings as an emergency fund. Perhaps your wife might volunteer at a museum. Or perhaps she could work on getting a certificate for history or biology or something else to expand her teaching possibilities. Maybe she could explore new ways to budget and save money or tutor students or teach an adult course. You seem to be in a good place financially.

    Melissa — One place I’ve found that offers caretaking and farming experience is caretakers.org. A subscription is reasonable (perhaps you can buy a sample issue). Some ads are for highly experienced housekeepers and butlers, other are for short-term, watch my pets for a week while I take a vacation situations. But theyere are some that offer experience on organic farms.

    Robin – In your place, I’d definately get something electronic. I have no intention of going for a PhD for at least several years and yet I still refer to notes I took in some classes 10 years ago. Perhaps you might be better off buying a used labtop or notebook. If I understand correctly, your priority would be work processing. Also, talk to your bride-to-be, perhaps she’d like one to share or is trying to find the perfect gift for you.

    Aaron – $1200 for daycare? Ouch! Is there some way you can lessen that? Perhaps a nanny? Perhaps a retired relative like a grandmother? Other than that, Where else can you squeeze money (say, until next year)? Look at your budget carefully. Put a moratorium on gifts or at least a cap (2 and 4 year olds like cheap gifts and lots of paper wrapping). Trent has it correct – you deal with this slowly and steadily.

  14. reulte says:

    *sigh* types
    There are not theyere
    Word processing not work processing.

  15. Johanna says:

    @Erik: How long do you have to go on your car loans? What your best course of action is depends on that. Trent keeps talking about cash flow, but I think it’s better to focus on having as much liquid savings as possible during the period when you really need it: after your wife’s unemployment runs out and before she gets a new job.

    If one of the car loans is due to be paid off before the unemployment runs out, it’s fine to go ahead and pay it off now. Then sock away the money you would have been using for the car payment, and you’ll come out a bit ahead.

    But for longer-term debts, keep your savings. It’s better to have moderately negative cash flow and a lot of savings than slightly negative cash flow and no savings. In the first case, you can make the monthly payments out of savings and stay afloat for a while, but in the second case, you’re in trouble right away.

    And it looks to me like you *will* be in trouble if you have to get by on your income alone. By my calculation, your mortgage payment (not even including taxes and insurance) eats up well more than half of your take-home pay. Can you rent out a room to offset some of that cost?

  16. sarah11918 says:

    Robin – If these papers you’re reading are in pdf form, and if your annotations are handwritten notes, check out the Entourage eDGe instead of an iPad. There’s an active forum on their website where you can ask questions of the company and the community of owners.

    It’s a niche device and not for everyone, but people who own it tend to love it.

  17. First Step says:

    Melissa in Raleigh – To learn more about farming, check out Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. This is a local charity that started their farms and community gardens in order to get fresh vegetables and fruits to needy people. There are 3 community gardens in downtown Raleigh. They have a farm operation on Tryon Road, and they are starting up a learning farm in Chapel Hill. You can volunteer for a few hours a week to see what is involved in the growing operations. Here is the link for the farms & gardens blog: http://farmsandgardens.wordpress.com/

    The food shuttle headquarters are near the Raleigh Farmers’ Market. Talk with the farmers who sell there–they may be a source of employment where you could learn about an even larger farm operation.

    Good luck!

  18. Des says:

    CM – My suggestion, assuming you do want to be with this guy forever, is to head to the courthouse and get legally married. Plan a ceremony and reception for a time when you can afford it. I’m sure that is an unpopular suggestion because there is so much of a romance around weddings, but the fact is you’re playing married already, just without the attendant legal protections.

  19. Kevin says:


    I would not use your cash to pay off the car loans. As Dave Ramsey would say, you’re smack in the middle of an emergency, so you need to put your debt snowball on hold, make minimum payments on everything, and make that cash last as long as possible (in case it needs to!).

    One thing I would suggest you consider is selling one of the cars. If your wife is unemployed, you don’t need two cars. That would ease your monthly burden and allow your cash cushion to last even longer. If she has a job interview, or finds part-time work, she can use public transit, or drop you off/pick you up at work for that day.


    You have an income crisis. The dream you describe (“moderately sized house on a large area of land”) is VERY expensive, and you’re not going to get there on part-time nanny and mover money. Trent’s advice is great for learning the ins-and-outs of beginner agriculture, but you need to seriously focus on ramping up your earning potential, or it will always remain just a dream.

  20. lurker carl says:

    “Do you have any tips for me as far as how to become a subsistence farmer with little experience and no money?”

    Apprentice farming is a figment of Trent’s imagination. With no money or experience, you would be a migrant farm laborer or Eb Dawson. Unless you are born or marry into it, lots of money and experience are required.

  21. Sheila says:

    Regarding Kim, just because she has been denied benefits does not mean that she’s able to work. Assuming that someone can work just because they’ve been denied on the first attempt is highly judgmental and incorrect. Much of the time it’s the way the system works–always deny on the first application. A friend who was bedridden with AIDS was denied, and there’s absolutely no way he could have worked much less gotten out of bed. He died before he could apply again. If Kim feels that perhaps she can work at some job, then by all means go for it. But if she wants to pursue disability, then get an attorney (will charge a % of the back-dated disability) or find an assistance organization to help with the application. Disability starts at the date of disability, not when the claim is approved (which can take months to happen), so back payment is possible.

  22. Anne says:

    It took 3 years for my ex-husband’s DI claim with Social Security to be approved. He has chronic, idiopathic (no known cause) pancreatitis, significant short-term memory loss, and an horrific tremor that can’t be treated with meds. Some days he can barely feed himself and is not capable of any kind of work in increments of more than an hour. This means he can sort of keep up with the basics around his home but that’s it.

    I have complete power-of-attorney for him because he cannot handle day-to-day financial management or decisions. We still had to hire an Advocate (like an attorney but less $) and even then it took 2 appeals to get his DI approved.

    I should also mention he was Special Ops in Vietnam and worked in uranium mines during the 70’s. No benefits are available for either situation and it’s difficult to prove a cause/effect.

    Your advice on this issue is a bit off-base, Trent.

  23. AK says:

    “The problem is is that I have no idea where to start.”

    Start by both of you getting full-time jobs! What are you doing with the other part of time you’re not working? How else are you ever going to afford to buy a house and land? Fulfilling your dreams takes work.

  24. kristine says:


    Marriage not only has protections, but financial peril. Say they marry, and she primarily supports them for several years, then they divorce. She was the breadwinner- he technically the “homemaker”. He would be able to pursue what they call “maintenance” pay from her for 3 years, effectively conintuing her obligation to support him after for years the break. That’s in NY.

    I would not marry someone who was not financially viable,unless they showed a tremendous turn-around and repsonsibility. Unless you do not mind the feast/famine lifestyle, of course. Some people do not mind it.

    But I agree with you that if the reception money is all that is stopping the marriage, that is silly. A party is just 5 hours of your life. Skip it! A marriage requires only a solemn lifetime vow, clean clothes, maybe some flowers, and a few bucks for the officiant.

  25. DivaJean says:

    CM- needs to get out asap. I don’t think this is shocking news to her; her trepidations seem warranted. I don’t get the really nasty, not at all contructive criticism some posters have added.

    She needs to get a lawyer and begin whatever process she needs to to figure out how to buy him out from the house. Then sell it and start over.

    Marriage is only going to add to her debt, since he’ll likely continue on his path of destruction. I see no benefit for her to marry as Des seems to think she should.

  26. Amanda says:

    Robin, are you sure your PhD program won’t provide for your printing needs? If you use endnote, you don’t need an IPAD, and if you like hard copies (as i do) than your department should pay for it. I’m a PhD student, and we have full printing and copying freedom, but they do track it just to make sure we aren’t doing anything strange.

  27. Mol says:

    What happened to TSD Podcast?

  28. Aaron says:

    I’m the Aaron in the post…

    The relationship with the in-laws deteriorated to the point where we barely speak. Let’s just say it got ugly, really ugly, and we left. My intent was to stay for a year but it was just not possible. I have contemplated just not paying the debt and laughing but I’m not that kind of guy.

    The car is really the only thing I could probably get rid of but I don’t owe that much more and it’s a great car.

    Rent is not an option. Any cheaper and I wouldn’t feel safe or we would have a 30 mile commute.

    We could kill the net but for $34 a month it’s worth the entertainment value.

    I would love for the wife to stay home but my income alone will not cover the bills no matter how little we spend elsewhere. It’s just not possible.

    The plan is massive budgeting, and all extra going to the car. Then take all payments to that and add to SBA. The basic snowball effect. We’ll see.

  29. Alisha says:

    I just wanted to put in a note about the powdered detergent. I do it this way (using basically the recipe Trent outlines), and by using my food processor, I get it done in 5 mins or less. Just cut the soap into chunks, about the size of a golf ball, and let the food processor demolish it for you. Add the other ingredients, whirl it a time or two, and you’re done.

    I pop the food processor in the dishwasher and…finished. I will say that if you don’t have a dishwasher, it’s wayyy easier to clean soap out of a box grater than a food processor…in which case, as Trent describes, it’s a little slow.

  30. tarynkay says:

    Sheila- It does seem that since Kim has been repeatedly denied (she does say she’s applied several times) that this is at least likely not a clear-cut case of disability. In any event, she doesn’t have to have an attorney to appeal a decision. SSA spells out how to do this very clearly and the goal is for people to be able to appeal without hiring an attorney. It seems like the smart move here would be to appeal the most recent denial (or reapply if she hasn’t applied recently enough to appeal- I think it has to be within 60 days of the denial notice) while pursuing work through Vocational Rehabilitation. VR is a free goverment service which exists to help people with impairments find work. They do all kinds of things to help, including paying for schooling in some instances, and surgeries in others. So it’s worth checking out to see if you qualify.

    Melissa- I live in the same part of NC as you and there are about a million small-time farmers around here. Go to the farmer’s market and chat some up. Offer to work for free. Or join a CSA- most of those ask for volunteers to come work on the farm to help out. Treat this as school. While you’re learning, find more work so that you and the boyfriend can make the money to pay for this. Think of your work as a short term hardship so that you can have your long term dream. Houses with land are really not all that expensive around here, so this is obtainable.

    CM- it is strange that you don’t want to carry your boyfriend financially, but were willing to buy a house with him and are contemplating having his children. Maybe he’d make a great stay at home day while you pursue that creative field job thing? I certainly wouldn’t expect him to suddenly become a model of fiscal responsibility. If that’s not your vision for the future, I agree about buying his share of the house with the help of an attorney and moving on from there.

    Jeff- the powdered form of the homemade laundry detergent left soap flecks on our clothes when we washed in cold water, no matter how finely we grated it. I started using Charlie’s soap instead-this is as cheap and works much better in cold water than the homemade kind.

  31. Crystal says:

    Kim, I sort of agree with Trent. You and your hubby need to take stock of what skills you have on hand to pursue as many different jobs as possible. I’m sorry you have hit such tough times. I hope you two get through this okay.

    CM, I’m not sure if you realize that your whole letter sounds like you don’t want to be with your boyfriend anymore. “I work hard for my income and do not want to carry him.” – that’s not how a couple usually gets through tough times. I’ve been pissed (REALLY pissed) at my husband before, but I’ve always continued to think of us as a unit. Your boyfriend has destroyed your trust and you have different monetary values. I’d think about your future together and either tackle it like a team or head your separate ways.

    Erik, I’m not sure if it works the same where you live, but the quickest path at being hired as a teacher in Houston, TX is to substitute teach. Principals meet substitutes and frequently hire them first if someone else leaves.

    As far as what to do with your money currently, I’d cover my necessary expenses, keep 6 months of expenses in an emergency fund, and pay off the debt with the rest. Good luck!

    Indrajeet, my life insurance is through my employer as well. I’d buy an outside policy within a week of being laid off, but in the meantime, I enjoy my savings.

    Aaron, I know it sucks (we lost a big part of our savings in a business and it almost took a lot more), but Trent’s right. You have to live as cheap as possible to pay off this debt fast. Cheap apartment or stay with family, cheap car, tight budget…it’s how my husband and I saved up to buy our home and it sucked in the short-term but gave us a great foundation for our future.

    Laura, I’d talk to hubby. Mr. BFS has come to some frugal choices because of me and I’ve splurged a few times because of him. You’ll feel better if you come to a decision together instead of feeling “forced”.

  32. jim says:

    Kim: As others have said being rejected for disability is common. Keep trying and enlist help. I’d also talk to charities to see if they can help with your disability claim or finding some work. Goodwill might be able to help someone in your situation.

    CM: Virtually every couple has 1 person who makes less $ than the other person. You happen to be the one making more. He’s less financial savy and frugal than you. Maybe you should take the lead on family finances if you get married and you can help with that. I’m not sure what the problem is really. Do you just expect him to change over night and become frugal cause you are frugal? Do you expect him to make more money so you feel better? What if you got laid off… should he not want to marry you cause of it?

    Erik: Hang on to the cash for now. Your wife is unemployed. Keep the cash liquid to make sure you get through her unemployment OK.

    Robin: ipads are luxury gadgets, not practical tools. £429 is a lot of money for a gadget and its too much if your finances are tight at all. If you think an ereader would help cut your printing costs then consider a Kindle or Sony e-reader and hunt for a used one on ebay.

    Laura: You are not being ripped off. Thats a fairly typical amount of money to spend on all that. Your husband likes that stuff. It sounds like you can afford it and its not a burden. Doesn’t really sound like a problem except you don’t like spending the $. You’ll have to compromise and learn to live with some spending on things your husband likes you don’t appreciate. This is part of marriage. BTW, all cell phones have cameras so his eye rolling wasn’t unwarranted.

  33. jim says:

    I should have said ‘virtually’ all cell phones have cameras to be more accurate.

  34. Dmahlin says:

    I was going to float the food processor idea for grating the soap but looks like somebody beat me to it!

    As for the farming questions… This is a (pipe?) dream of mine as well. For now, gardening on my 1/5 acre suburban lot is it but I really enjoy my subscriptions to Backwoods Home Magazine and Countryside. Google these to get a taste via their websites. ALSO: Check your library or Amazon for books by Joel Salatin, particularly “You Can Farm!” and my favorite, “Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal.” Joel may be familiar to some readers as he featured prominently in the film “Food Inc.”

  35. MC says:

    @ Laura RE: emailing photos: I’ve been with Verizon for ages and no matter which phone I have, I’m able to email photos to myself. I do not have a data plan. I simply take the picture, and send it as a picture (text) message to my email address, which is currently Gmail, though I’m pretty sure I’ve also sent them to Hotmail and Yahoo accounts.

  36. Snazzy67 says:

    As someone who was helped out last year by her SO(we own a condo and a house together)because my work slowed down substantially, I can only say the tone of your letter says to me you want out of this relationship. If my SO had expressed even 1/2 of the resentment you seem to feel, I would have suggested a separation.

    You could keep a running total of how much he “owes” you, which might spur his to job hunt. Also,even though SO didn’t want to, I made sure to track my share of the expenses that I wasn’t paying. SO does not feel I have to “pay” him back but that’s really beside the point.

    Now that work has picked up, the amount I “owe” encourges me to save even more of my money, as well as make sure my Emergency Fund is built back up…because you just never know CM.
    Based on what you’ve written,I’d say it’s over. Sell the house and be done with it.

  37. Tracy says:

    On the farming: I second the third checking in with the local sustainability/CSA movement and seeing what kind of work-on-the-farm programs they have. It’d give you a good feel if you actually even like the work in reality – it’s not always easy.

    Laura: On the cell phone: I agree with Jim, if you can afford it and that’s your husband’s guilty pleasure, than I think that spending is fine. I think Trent’s advice is absolutely awful it sounds like he’s encouraging you to view a particular trait something negative about your husband and building resentment on it.

    Also, it’s not true at all that a ‘gadget addiction’ is some sort of out-of-control cycle that NEEDS to be broken, that’s ridiculous. If he’s buying stuff that he doesn’t actually USE, just because it’s shiny and new, that’s a problem. If he’s buying something and then never looks at it after 3 weeks, that’s a problem. If he’s buying stuff that he actually USES – well, that’s called enjoying life. (And trust me, in today’s world a couple of cell phones, internet and cable is NOT a sign of a gadget addiction. You may not NEED all of them but if you enjoy them and get value out of them, why not?)

  38. Michelle says:

    CM – It sounds as if your relationship problem may be more communication than financial. Before the two of you entangle your lives further, figure out if you can have honest conversations with each other about the hard stuff. If you need professional guidance, get it. Best investment you’ll ever make. Even if you end up breaking up, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and how to make your next relationship work better. From experience I can tell you that ignoring the red flags (and you’ve got em!) and marrying him anyway is very expensive when you’re getting a divorce later.

  39. Michelle says:

    PS – on the flip side, one of the greatest gifts my ex-husband gave me was a model of how to live within your means. When I fessed up to being $13k in credit card debt (we were living together – renting – at that time) he was at first upset, but then supported me in my journey into financial responsibility. But I really wanted to change my habits and learn about finances. If I hadn’t I think he would have – and frankly should have – left the relationship.

  40. Tracy says:

    CM: I also think that having the serious conversation now is good and really deciding if you love him and if you want to marry him and then go forward from there. If you do, then his debt will ultimately be your debt, if you don’t, split ties now.

    Personally, if I were in your shoes when he didn’t want to talk about his finances or budgets, I’d have been very hurt. But I’m betting there was a really good chance that, at the time, he knew how frugal and together you were and he was embarrassed by his own financial situation and didn’t want to talk about it. And figured that (prior to the layoff/not being able to find a job at least) he’d be able to ‘handle’ it and get out of debt before he had to tell you how deep it was. It doesn’t *help* but it might give you a little bit of sympathy for why he did it and help you move past it and toward the solution that works for you.

    The one red flag for me is you said “he thought we would be married by now” – the question is, did you? Do you? This is your life.

  41. Sheila says:

    @24 Tarynkay, I didn’t catch the “several times” part. While I understand that one doesn’t need an attorney, often people with rare disorders such as I have do better with attorney representation. I applied once, then reapplied with the assistance of a national organization for people with my rare neuro disorder and was successful. Personally, I didn’t have good luck with voc rehab, but I imagine each office is different, and one should pursue all avenues. Having experienced 1) a disability and 2) being denied disability when I knew I could no longer work is demoralizing and frustrating so I have a lot of empathy for Kim.

  42. Angie says:

    Kim – keep applying, as Trent’s advise is a little off-base. Apparently he has little clue how the DI system works. It usually takes at least 3 tries regardless of disability. Of course, if there is something you can do, you should try it; it would probably depend on the nature of your disability.

    CM – you bought a house with someone whom you knew very little about their financial situation. Now you are waking up and realizing the potential mess you could be in. Figure out if he’s worth it or what to do with the house – you may need to sell and move on a much wiser person. Good luck.

    Erik – can you refinance the car loans into a new loan (perhaps combine them)? I know this may not be the best idea, but if it helps you with your current monthly budget, you could always pay them off early after your wife finds work. Heck, refinance and pay what you do now – can always cut back if you need to.

    Indrajeet – sometimes you can take ins. policies with you after you leave employment, just not at the premium you pay now. You will need to convert the policies within a month after leaving/laid off. Not all group policies are the same. Waiting to purchase until the time comes could be costly depending on your health. They convert to permanent life but shouldn’t be terribly expensive, and usually guaranteed regardless of insurability.

    Aaron – I was in a similar boat regarding, except at the time I was newlywed, new college grad, trying to find a post-college job back home, unemployed. My hubby was in a similar situation, and we moved in with my in-laws until we could get our feet off the ground. Our debt was credit cards, and soon to start repaying student loans. Moving in with the in-laws was the single worse decision I have ever made. Sure it was cheap but we ended up not on speaking terms for about 6 months. It was horrible. I finally found a job at a dept store almost full-time. My hubby worked for my father (farmer) for a bit. We only made it 2 months living like that before I finally cracked and we had to leave. We’ve been married almost a decade, and half of that time I didn’t feel comfortable around his family. So, even though it may push back repaying the SBA loan, I totally understand the necessity. If I had to choose between living with them or being homeless, I would not hesitate to be homeless, even now that I have 2 kids. And I didn’t learn my lesson that 1st time either, as soon after we let my then just-21 yr old sil move in with us. But – could your wife work different hours/shifts from you? Or overlap so you only need part-time care, not full-time? How soon is your oldest going to school, or preschool? It seemed there was still a need for daycare when my first went but it reduced dramatically. Just ideas.

    Laura – good luch trying to reign in a techie. Hubby’s the same. Technology changes so much, and it seems things are only ‘cool’ for a moment, then off to the next. Hubby has way too many gadgets. In the past few years, he’s slowly realizing he doesn’t need the newest thing. We don’t have room or funds for that. He still has his wants and needs mixed up, but sometimes I’m like that to him I guess – except my hobbies are not too expensive and are starting to produce a little income and his are pure entertainment. Is he concientious in some other area to make up for wanting the latest and greatest? Maybe you have a tradeoff somewhere to compromise…

  43. Sheila says:

    Aaron, would there be a possibility of either you or your wife getting a part-time job in the evening? Office cleaning? Taking care of kids whose parents work swing or graveyard? Concession stands on the weekend? Perhaps some kind of online business? If you’ve cut your expenses to the bone, then it seems to me that the only thing you can do is find additional sources of income.

  44. Wendy says:

    Melissa – Check out wwoofing – http://www.wwoof.org. You get your board/food in exchange for your labour. Great way to get experience, plus travel.
    I’m not sure how things stand in America (I’m in Britain) but here we have allotments – patches of land you can rent out and use to grow fruit and veg. Could you maybe grow some herbs or tomatoes on your windowsill in your apartment? Read all you can about ‘subsistence farming’ and get the practice in now e.g. learning how to can and preserve.
    Hope it works out for you – don’t give up on your dream just because people tell you how expensive/hard work it is. It is always worth it if that is what you are passionate about.

  45. Nicole says:

    Aaron– I also totally disagree with Trent. And, $975 seems cheap for rent to me. It is about half of what a 1br apartment costs where I am. Not everyplace is as cheap as middle-of-nowhere Iowa. $600/kid is also cheap for childcare… you might be able to get cheaper with homecare rather than a daycare but rules on licensing vary by state though.

    You don’t mention the interest rate… is that something you could refinance given dropping interest rates? Though the bankruptcy may have made that more difficult.

    I think the 80K is probably just going to be a long slow slog, and it sounds like you’re doing what you can. You’re bringing in additional income, you’ve sold what you can, you’re living as frugally as is safe. 80K is a house down-payment a lot of places… it takes a long time for people to get there. But 80K is also about your income– you will be able to pay it off eventually if you keep being frugal. Faster, if you can pick up extra work.

    I do hope that you make up with the in-laws. Hopefully distance has helped soften the bad feelings and apologies can be exchanged. It sounds like before you tried to live together they were very supportive to you and you did the right thing by their support. That kind of relationship is worth mending.

    Good luck! And remember that stuff isn’t what’s important. You guys will get through this as a family because that is what’s important.

  46. Nicole says:

    Aaron– Just reread your comment. Get rid of the car. You can’t afford it. Not because you can’t pay more debt on it but because you have 80K and it is worth some amount of money that could go towards that 80K. Don’t think of it as the debt payment but as an asset you can sell.

    In addition you’re paying probably 1K/year give or take in additional car costs, possibly not even including gas. Those can go.

    If it were a cheap car not worth anything, then keeping it might make more sense. In this case, if you’re close to work and you don’t need the car, then get rid of it. It is going to be a long time before you can afford a car, but less time if you don’t have that car.

    It is probably also time to renegotiate any and all other fixed contracts if you haven’t canceled them yet. See if you can get lower rates for the things you keep.

    You can always call into the Dave Ramsey show and ask what he thinks.

  47. Fidget says:

    I would add for the PhD student, if this is your first year in the program, see how professors react to computers in the classroom. It seemed ridiculous to me coming from a laptop-positive undergrad school, but more than half of the professors in my program expect all articles to be printed; many won’t allow laptops or other electronic readers in the classroom at all.
    (If this comment is ever approved; I have no idea why I bother)

  48. Tracy says:

    I’m confused by the people that keep telling Aaron to sell his car – he said he’d already sold one for himself and there’s only the one for his wife. And with kids, there’s little likelihood (in most of the US anyway) that they can get away with NO car.

    And 330 a month, depending on the term, is NOT a particularly expensive or valuable car. And since he said he doesn’t owe that much more on it, it’s probably got several years on it and would sell for what, 8-12k? Of which half or more would be needed to buy a replacement car … I wouldn’t risk a clunker with kids.

    If the car’s almost paid off, then the 330 can start going toward the debt soon but in the meantime, just keep pushing through.

  49. reulte says:

    Aaron — another suggestion although it would require presenting it to your wife and in-laws and their total acceptance of it. Perhaps you can get a cheap efficiency appartment near your work while your wife and children can life with the in-laws (lowering rent) and your in-laws (if they are retired or work part-time) can watch your children for free or at least lowert than your day-care (lowering daycare expenses). Originally, you planned to live with them for a year, so perhaps you could present this as a limited time trial — 3 months or 6 months — to see if it works for all of you. It’s hard to split up family, but sometimes its the best thing to do for a limited time and it seems as though your in-laws don’t live too far from where you are now. I understand the insanity that comes with living with in-laws, but I would think that owing $80,000 brings its own kind of insanity. Good luck.

  50. Johanna says:

    @reulte: Right, because all retired people have nothing better to do than sit on the sofa watching soap operas, and would just jump at the chance to take care of other people’s kids all day, every day, for free.

    Maybe Aaron’s in-laws really are the type who can’t get enough of their grandchildren and would love to do this. Or maybe, after spending however many years working and raising their own children, they feel that they’ve earned some time to themselves.

    Back when we had the “askers versus guessers” conversation, I came down firmly on the side of the askers: It’s OK to ask for things, because the other person can always say “no.” But some requests really can be unreasonable, and should be handled with extreme care. This may be one of those.

    @Aaron: If you’ve cut out all the obvious fat from your budget, you can pay all your bills, and you’re making progress on the loan, I don’t quite see why you need to make any more big changes. You didn’t say what the interest rate or term of the loan is, so we don’t know what kind of time horizon you’re dealing with – maybe the light at the end of the tunnel seems too far away. But soon, your wife’s car will be paid off, and your older child will start school, so you’ll be able to speed your progress up a bit.

    In the meantime, just hang in there. If you really do want to put more money toward the debt now, I agree with the previous poster who suggested that you focus on increasing your income (just not with any more risky business ventures, ok?) rather than cutting your expenses.

  51. Joseph says:

    Your comments about disability benefits in your response to Kim are a assumptive and not based on fact. The assumption in this case is that everyone who is truly unable to work is eligible for benefits, when in fact this is not the case. As a nurse, I have spent considerable time working with people that many different kinds of disabilities, and can assure you that benefits are not distributed to all that need them.

    Think of it like a forest of a thousand trees that all need water. However, there are only 350 pails of water available. Now decide which trees get the water. There are certain conditions for which people are automatically eligible for disability benefits. Then there are conditions that must be argued. Then there are conditions that are truly disabling, but are notoriously difficult to get approval for.

    Of course, there are also people who are trying to get disability who could work, instead. However, we do not have enough information to make this assessment, in this case.

    Kim, if you have not exhausted all steps in the disability process (application, appeal, and hearing) and you do have a disabling condition, there are some steps you should take in order to improve your chances of being approved.

    First, check in the county or city you live to see if there is a disability benefits specialist. These people are usually funded by local government, and offer their services for free, although sometimes to a defined group of people (such as elders). However, in many places, they are available for anyone. These folks are experts in every aspect of disability law, are often attorneys or healthcare providers, and can inform you of your best options. Working with someone like this is your best opportunity for securing benefits.

    Second, if there is a hospital or clinic where you receive care, there is likely to be a patient assistance or benefits person there who may be able to help you work out your medical bill issues and help you to find a benefits specialist locally.

    Next, look for a patient advocacy program in your area. These may be associated with healthcare institutions or universities, and help people with all sorts of issues like yours at no charge. This organization: http://www.patientpartnerships.org/ is one such program, and they may be able to help your find help.

    Finally, the process of acquiring disability benefits is such that having legal representation is the best way to win the day. If you have gone through the initial application process, and have not appealed or have not had a hearing, then it is essential that you have assistance with the process.


    One more point I am surprised that you did not make, while suggesting that Kim might choose not to pay her credit card bills for awhile, was that she contact the Consumer Credit Counseling Service. This is a free, government-sponsored service that negotiates lower payments with creditors based on what people can afford, and immediately stops all of the phone calls and letters from creditors. It is not as good as paying your full amounts on time, as it means that your credit reports will show a slow pay. However, this is much better than showing a no-pay. Here is a place to start: http://www.cccsstl.org/

  52. Nicole says:

    @38 Because he says this in the comments: “The car is really the only thing I could probably get rid of but I don’t owe that much more and it’s a great car.”

    He says he can get rid of it. That means he doesn’t NEED it. It being a great car means it has value. Not owing much on it is irrelevant information.

  53. Tracy says:

    @41 Not owing much on it is totally relevant information – it’s how much longer he’ll have to make the payments before he can free up that 330 to go toward the debt.

  54. Jean says:

    Indrajeet: Check to see if your company’s insurance policy is portable. I have a life insurance policy from a former employer that I converted into an individual policy. It was worth 3x my salary back then (now only about 1.5x), and costs me about $10/month.

    Laura: I’m hoping that you got the insurance on the new Droid, since it sounds like your husband is a little careless with his gadgets…

  55. reulte says:

    Johanna — I did say “present this” and “their total acceptance” as well as a set time limit of 3-6 months. Retired folks do have better things to do than wtach TV and kids. Nor did I say free, but lower than the day care center. I was offering this suggestion as a temporary fix not a permanent option. Simply a possibility to consider.

  56. tas says:

    @Robin. My problem exactly. If you stick with the paper route, three years from now you’ll be starting to specialize, and you’ll toss out half those papers and wish you had a good organizational system for the ones you keep! (File cabinets, lots of file folders = the best.) Or, you’ll move them around from apartment to apartment. I have 3-4 file folder boxes at the moment (post-cull)…

    Personally I’ve found I prefer to have an electronic copy of all articles I read (even if I print them out to use in class — but I get free printing through my department) for easy reference/search ability later. These are not too easy to digitally annotate, however, because it’s nothing like a pen & paper. I use a Mac laptop (Macbook Pro bc I want the larger screen when I’m looking at an article and typing notes about it at the same time). Apple has a (free, comes with the OS) PDF program that lets you underline, circle, and make notes, but the latter are hard to print. I think you can buy some version of Adobe that will let you do the same thing. I also use Scrivener a lot (it’s only for macs, but there are similar programs) because it lets me organize those notes much more easily — and integrate them into my final papers.

    I don’t think anyone has a great system (and most profs have multiple file cabinets in their offices…), but you’ll eventually cobble something together. I wouldn’t buy anything other than a laptop beforehand and if you do decide on the iPad, wait if you can for the second version. Apple has a habit of really upgrading their 2nd models and maybe they will have more usability functionality. (oh, the iPad probably won’t do much of what you’re looking for — it’s what I was looking for & couldn’t find…)

  57. Johanna says:

    @reulte: Actually, you did say free, and then you said “or at least lower than your day-care.” But even if he’d be paying them the same as he’s paying the day care, that’s $1200 a month for what’s essentially a full-time job. That’s less than minimum wage.

    And of course it requires the in-laws’ total acceptance. It’s against the law these days to force someone to work for you for free if they don’t want to. I’m saying that trying to secure their acceptance is something that should be approached very delicately, because this is *such* a big favor to ask.

    Also, if they’re only going to be trying this arrangement for 3-6 months, it seems to me that the moving expenses (and turning utilities on and off and all of that good stuff) might eat up a good-sized chunk of whatever money they’d save.

  58. Evita says:

    Trent, each and every time you travel with your wife and three little ones, you complain that you are exhausted (no suprise there).
    Why not stay home?
    Your family must be tired too, poor them….

  59. Nicole says:

    @42 $330 a month is NOTHING when you owe 80K. The 5-30K you can get from selling the car (depending on how “great” it is) actually is something that will make a dent. In fact, the larger the monthly payment, presumably the greater the sale value of the car, assuming he didn’t get scammed when he bought it.

    All the car payment is is the amount of money you won’t get from selling the car, plus some interest that’s basically going to waste. If he owes nothing on the car, he gets more from selling it. If he owes the entire amount then he gets nothing from selling it but at least he’s not in debt for the car too.

    Completely irrelevant information.

  60. Brittany says:

    Melissa– do a few months with WWOOF or HelpX (add .org to the first and .com to the latter) to get an immersion experience in farming.

    Aaron–do you/your 4-year-old qualify for public head start/early childhood education programs? That could reduce your day care bill significantly.

    Live fairly close to the office? Sell that motorcycle and get a bicycle!

  61. Brandi says:

    Laura – I have a similar issue at my house: more cable channels than I could ever want, a Netflix subscription I do not use, and a ridiculous cell phone plan. If it were up to me, these subscriptions would be cancelled, but my husband assures me that they are all worth the monthly expense so I go along with it. I think this is why it’s important to pay yourself first – set a monthly savings goal and then let your husband make choices on how he wants to spend extra money. Every few months I’ll ask my husband to review the cable package, and reconsider cancelling Netflix or eliminating some cell phone features, reminding him that it would free up money that could be spent on other things he might enjoy more. Knowing he understands the costs and tradeoffs involved with these gadgets and services helps me feel less ripped off and we always reach our monthly savings goals by paying ourselves first.

  62. Brittany says:

    Make that .net for HelpX.

  63. reulte says:

    Johanna – True; delicate negotiations are required particularly since they last departed from the in-laws on a somewhat sour note. However, the in-laws have a vested interested in Aaron & family paying off this loan since it is held against the in-laws property. Aaron can make progress on his own or everyone can swallow their pride/hurtful words to make better progress together.

    How much they can save by him moving to an efficiency and her & children moving with her parents varies. Still, there seems to be about $500 monthly different between efficiencies and 2-bedroom apartments in my area.

  64. Nate Poodel says:

    @Melissa-Look into the WWOOF program. There’s a small fee of $50 I believe. It lets people work on organic farms around the world in exchange for room and board and sometimes pocket money. You won’t get rich but you’ll get lots of experience and learn the ins and outs of farming.
    I’m sure there are other programs and websites out there, as other posters have mentioned, where a person interested in farming can learn the trade.

  65. Courtney says:

    Another option for Melissa is to get involved with Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Farm and Community Gardens (http://www.foodshuttle.org/farmgardens.html). It’s an educational farm run almost entirely by volunteers, and it makes a huge difference in the nutrition of hungry people in the Triangle. Every time I volunteer there, I come away amazed at the amount of knowledge the leaders there have.

    Working for free with a CSA is a great option, too, but if you can learn AND give back to your community, it’s a win-win situation in my book.

  66. Maggie says:

    I have to say I don’t necessarily agree with the response regarding Aaron – the assumption in Trent’s response is that Aaron’s wife could stay home with the kids. Even if she just started at his work, it’s only an assumption that Aaron earns more than her – and without more information, such as how much each partner makes or what their respective positions are – there’s no reason to make that assumption. I would think a more proper response would be to note that whichever partner makes less could be the stay at home parent…

  67. JuliB says:

    A reliable car is a very important thing. I would keep it. Getting something cheaper could open the door to more financial problems.

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