Updated on 07.04.10

Reader Mailbag: Vacation Monday

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. Help an unlucky friend?
2. Are rent-to-own homes worthwhile?
3. Maximizing value of college
4. Post-graduation options for teachers
5. Secured loan or credit card?
6. Used swimsuits
7. Student loan debt priority
8. Best use of windfall?
9. Keeping old utility statements
10. Goals for 2010

For many Americans, today is a holiday, the third day of a long weekend, where people can relax after staying up late into the night watching fireworks.

For us, the fireworks were actually watched on the third and the fourth was relaxing. Today? I’m working about a 3/4 day with some time off in the afternoon to have friends over.

Of course, working today (when no one is around) makes it easier to take several days off later this month to go to Chicago, see a Cubs game, take my children to the Field Museum, and so on.

I was wondering if you have any advice for the friends of a person who went bankrupt to save the house (medical bills, foreclosure, ongoing health concerns, and $9/hr job) who want to help but are not sure HOW to help?
– Victoria

Don’t loan money unless you expect it not to be repaid (in which case, it’s a gift). That’s something that constantly damages relationships and friendships and just simply isn’t worth it.

The best thing you can do is help this person with day to day life. Invite this person over for meals at your home. Go to his/her home and prepare some meals that they can keep in the freezer. Help them with any tasks they seem to have a hard time keeping up with.

Just as important, let that person vent at you some. It can be very cathartic to vent. Listen to his/her problems and offer any suggestions you can provide – but focus on the listening part of it.

In other words, be the best friend you can possibly be.

My wife and are moving back home and looking for a new house. We are probably going to rent first until we can get a decent down payment saved to purchase a home. My question is about rent to own or land contract type homes – are these a good option? They sound alright on paper, but I have this nagging feeling these types of things don’t work out as planned. What are the major downsides to these deals?
– Matthew

Things don’t work out as planned usually when the owner of the home passes away. The house is given to someone else as part of the estate resolution and they often have no reason at all to fulfill the terms of the arrangement, meaning you’re out the money you paid (you essentially just paid rent for the last few years, in other words).

Your best bet to protect yourself is to have every possible contingency taken care of in the contract. You should specify a date and a price when you can buy the home, how much of your monthly payment goes towards the down payment, and ideally the home itself should be in some sort of trust that will survive the life of the owner of the home without destroying your arrangement.

If the owner balks at these types of things, I would be extremely wary of signing on the dotted line.

I don’t know where you were at in your life in college or what you would do in hindsight, but that’s exactly what I would like to know: what tips, suggestions, or ideas would you have for college students in handling their finances (or lack there of), loans, ways to make money on the side, or any other things you wish you would have known back when? If I missed an article where you have already discussed this, my apologies, I haven’t gone through everything on your site, it can be quite daunting sometimes.
– Kevin

The best thing a college student can do to put themselves in a good place after college is to live as cheaply as they possibly can. Live cheap without shame. The biggest mistake many college students make – myself included – is to live high on the hog on the back of student loans that offer an excessively large living stipend. You should focus to minimize that stipend.

Live in an overcrowded apartment so the rent is dirt cheap – after all, you’ll mostly just be sleeping there. Hit every free meal you possibly can on campus. Hit every piece of free entertainment the campus provides for you (and at a large school, there’s a lot of it if you look around for it).

The next most important thing you can do is to focus your energy as best you can on setting up your post-college life. That doesn’t strictly mean grades. It means building relationships with people in your career path. It means finding experiences that will glow on a resume. It means figuring out who you are and what your true talents and passions are. In other words, don’t waste a dime of that money you’re spending.

Kevin also had a follow-up question worth addressing…

On a more personal note, I am going to be a high school teacher. I realize that it is a profession that generally doesn’t make a lot of money, but that is my passion and I believe I can follow basic finance principles such as the ones you have outlined in various articles on your site to achieve my own goals. Even so, with the limited salary I will have starting out, how would I go about managing saving money, being thrifty, and investing early at the same time? I know I am looking quite a bit into the future, but I have a girlfriend(becoming a math teacher) who I will soon be engaged to that has the same desire to start a family not long after we graduate. Understanding that I will be swamped with school loans, buying or renting a house, kids, and other firsts as a new couple, what would our financial priorities be at that point, and how would they gradually change?
– Kevin

The first thing I’d do is see whether or not there are opportunities for getting your loans repaid by working in disadvantaged schools. Many states offer loan repayments to teachers willing to teach in disadvantaged districts. See if you can get into such a program and use it hard for the first five years or so.

Your first focus should be on building a cash emergency fund so that the inevitable disasters don’t completely drown you. Get in a pattern right off the bat of having some of your income siphoned out of your checking account and into other things – your emergency fund at the start and your house savings a bit later. That way, you’re learning how to make ends meet on less than you’re bringing in, which is the best financially healthy habit a person can build.

As for investing, just focus on retirement investing for now. You’re going to have so many needs over the next five years that any additional “investing” would be pretty short sighted. Just focus on contributing plenty to retirement, spending less than you bring home, and socking away some for the bevy of expenses you’ll have a few years after graduating.

Which would be better for helping build my husband and I’s credit? My parents gave us some money ($3000) to help my husband and I get a credit history, though we also need to money for some house repairs. Which would be the better option in this case, to use it to get a secured loan or a secured credit card? Thanks!
– Sarah

A secured loan means you’re putting down some sort of collateral on the loan. I’m going to assume from this that you’re referring to your house and you’re wondering whether a home equity loan would work better for improving your credit than a secured credit card. Another option would be to buy bonds (or stock) with this money, then use that as collateral for the loan.

Both options (secured loan or secured credit card) would raise your credit. It really, really depends on your specific situation as to which will improve your credit the most. You should sit down with someone who can look at your credit report and help you figure out which avenue will help.

The first place I would start is with my local credit union. Pay them a visit and see what sort of secured loan options they have available. If they have good options (meaning you can get such a loan at a reasonable rate, like under 8%), I’d go that route.

What are your thoughts on buying used swimsuits? Swimsuits are usually pricey, and the other day in a thrift store I saw that they had a whole rack of nice looking swimsuits for about $5 to $7 each. I love the thought of saving all that money, but it just feels gross. Do you know if it’s safe to wear a used swimsuit in terms of disease/medical issues? I did a quick Google search, but only saw hits of people ranting about how gross it is. What are your thoughts?
– Hayley

I wouldn’t do it, mostly because undergarments and swimming suits are the items that wear the quickest from reuse and if you’re buying it used, it’s likely experienced some wear already and just won’t last all that long.

I understand why many people would consider such use unhygenic, but I don’t think that’s really that much of a concern if you clean the item properly. I would likely wash such an item a few times with bleach or other strong cleaners to ensure that it’s completely clean before use.

That being said, it just wouldn’t be worth it to me. I have two pairs of swim trunks I bought new at early fall sales for about $2 each. I have no reason to own anything else.

I just graduated this Spring with a Bachelors degree in Business Administration. I got a job making $42,000/year and currently have $11,500 built up in an ING savings account. I’m currently living at home, single, and have no real need for much of an emergency fund and have just about no monthly expenses. I currently have $4,500 in an unsubsidized federal loan at a fixed rate of 6.8% and $802 in interest and $6,700 in a Wells Fargo student loan at a variable 3.25% and $700 in interest . My question is what should I do now? Use almost all of the money I have now to payoff as much as I can? Build an emergency fund first? Just pay off the loan at 6.8% and invest and pay the minimum on the other? Thoughts?
– Corey

I think your ING savings is plenty adequate for an emergency fund given your situation.

There are advantages and disadvantages to the options available to you. I think it’s pretty much the best option to pay off the 6.8% loan as soon as you can. I would probably strip the ING account of all but two months’ of living expenses and get rid of that higher interest loan.

The advantage of paying off the lower interest loan is cash flow. It would leave you with fewer required bills each month, which makes other lifestyle choices – a job switch, a move across the country, etc. – that much easier. On the other hand, if you’re not planning on doing anything different for a long while, you can probably do better than 3.25% with that money over a longer time scale.

The real answer depends on what you’ve got going on in your life. Are things about to change? If so, get rid of that second loan.

Last year I was in a serious car accident which left me with a permanent injury. I am about to settle with the other driver’s insurance company for a sum in the neighborhood of $100k. I currently owe $70k on a home valued at $100k. And I have a child who will be going to college in 2 years. I plan to use a portion of the money to supplement her college savings rather than taking out student loans. But I am also wondering if it would be wise to put a good portion of it towards paying off my mortgage. Owning my house free and clear at the age of 38 sure would be nice. But I’m not sure it’s the best move, given the current housing market. What if I pay off my mortgage and then my home continues to decline in value? Would I be better off investing the money in a diversified stock/mutual fund portfolio? I could really use some advice.
– Jen

Are you planning to move anytime soon? If not, don’t waste a second thought on the housing market.

Another question: are you planning on helping pay for your child’s college education? If you are, don’t put the money you’d use for that into stocks, as they’re very unstable over the short term (less than 10-15 years).

If I were you, I would pay off the mortgage. As I mentioned above, it’ll definitely help with your monthly cash flow, as you will no longer have that mortgage bill each month. That might be very important depending on how you want to help your child with college.

You recently wrote about eliminating clutter…I hate clutter and have a follow up question.
How long do you need to keep paid utility receipts? I have boxes of receipts. For that matter what paid bill receipts should one keep on file if any in this age of digital records? Thanks for your thoughts…I would like to reduce paper clutter in my home!

– Mary

I usually keep paper utility statements for a year.

However, I’ve been moving to electronic statements for a lot of this stuff, and that stuff can essentially be stored forever. If your financial institution allows you to download statements from them, get into a routine of doing that and saving them. Then, if you still have paper statements, don’t worry about keeping them around.

I look forward to the near future when this is all done electronically, actually.

Now that we’re halfway through the year, I was wondering if you could give us a progress report on your goals for 2010.
– Maria

Resolution #1 was lose 40 pounds. I’m currently down about 14 pounds from the start of the year. I was down about 30 at one point, but I gained some back due to a stressful period at the end of my wife’s pregnancy and during the final edits of my book, taking me close to where I started. My focus is mostly on improving my diet.

Resolution #2 was to pay cash for a replacement for my truck, which I did in March by buying a 2004 Honda Pilot in cash off of Craigslist. We’re extremely happy with it.

Resolution #3 was to learn to play the piano. I started taking weekly lessons from a local teacher in January and the lessons have gone really well. I feel like I’m moving along at a steady pace and, more importantly, I think my ability to read the music and hear it in my head has come along greatly. I’m not as adept at the actual playing as I might want to be, but that will come with practice. I can play some simple two and three-chord songs – nothing too spectacular yet. My biggest challenge is finding the time to practice. We don’t own a piano, so I have to leave the house to practice (I sometimes practice on a keyboard, but I don’t like it very well), which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. I’m thinking of buying an electronic piano at some point in the future, because this really feels like something I want to do for the rest of my life.

Resolution #4 was reducing my entertainment and hobby spending by 50%, which has been really, really successful. I’ve succeeded at this thanks mostly to lots of trading of books, games, and other things. I’m at about 40% of my pace from 2009.

So, the only resolution that needs a little extra focus is the weight one, which I think is headed in a good direction. I’d also like to find an electronic piano to really make my piano resolution go into high gear.

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. tas says:

    Congrats on the piano playing! We have a Cassio keyboard with weighted keys (cost something like $600-750). It doesn’t have the depth of sound as a real piano, but in an apartment we need the ability to turn it down. The keys make the experience feel similar to an actual piano and build finger strength for when you do play the real deal.

    Have you tried Craigslist for an actual piano (if you want one)? The free section where I live routinely has some listed — usually good stuff, but people are just moving and don’t want to move with a piano. (Which is a hassle!)

  2. Jules says:

    Why not buy a piano (by which I mean a real piano, y’know, with strings and hammers and the like)? A) You’ve stuck with this for six months already and will likely keep on playing, B) You’ll expose your kids to music which can only be good for them, C) You and your kids can work on duets together (at least, at first, before Joe kicks your butt :-)), giving you a great bonding opportunity, and D) a used piano can be had off craigslist for a reasonable price. It might cost a few hundred to get it tuned well, but if it really gives you that much joy, what could be better than sharing it? Besides, Joe’s at the perfect age to start playing. Even if he decides after a little while that it’s not for him, at the very least he’ll know that it’s not for him because he’s tried it, and not because he never got to try it. And who knows? He might discover one of the loves of his life.

  3. Megan says:

    I would look into a real Piano. I know it is significantly more money, but how would playing an electric piano any different from a keyboard?
    Playing an actual Piano feels different when you press the key and the hammer hits the strings.
    If you decide to look into getting something more substantial, please look at a real piano. Upright pianos don’t take up that much space and you can’t beat the real piano sound.

  4. Robin Crickman says:

    I can’t comment on rent to own but I have had personal experience with land contract (also called contract for deed in some places). It can be variable depending on what state one lives in but basically a land contract is a mortgage where the seller is the lender. The buyer has nearly as many rights as a person who purchases a home with a bank mortgage. The one thing I would suggest to anyone who purchases property on land contract is to be sure to register the contract with the county registrar of deeds. This puts the legal world on notice that the buyer has claims on the property and that the seller (or his successors) has specified obligations to fulfill the contract. I used to work as a researcher for a title insurance company and, if we found a registered land contract in the county records, we would have required that the seller show how that was extinguished before we would issue insurance on a subsequent sale of the property to any other party.

  5. Andy says:

    @ Kevin:

    If you have federal loans, working in a low-income school or teaching science or math can get your federal loans forgiven. I’m a math and science teacher (and I work in a low-income school, but these things don’t add up) and I will have 100% of my Perkins loans forgiven and $17,500 of my Stafford loans (this is because I’m math/science) forgiven after 5 years of teaching. You can find information here:


    Also, you should be able to defer payments during these five years of teaching, or, in my case for the Stafford, only pay interest.

  6. JonFrance says:

    @Corey “I’m currently living at home”.

    Most people do. :-p

  7. HonestB says:

    Just a note on the piano – A decent digital piano (with keys that are weighted properly) won’t set you back that much more than an older Upright Piano. They each have advantages and disadvantages, but I’d definitely look into the idea if I were you. A good Piano will outlive you by many years with a little regular maintenance (some of which you can learn to do yourself, some of which you’ll definitely want a professional for). A good electric one might, too, but you might find yourself tempted to trade up to a nicer one every few years because the technology involved is constantly improving, and a keyboard that’s more responsive to subtleties makes a big difference in what you get out of playing.

    Of course, a keyboard can be moved around easily for performances, and can be practiced with headphones on to avoid disturbing others. An upright Piano, not so much.

    Musical instruments are an expensive thing to buy, but they also last a long time if they’re cared for and hold onto their value fairly well (at least if you buy used), so it’s worth considering all of your options if you’re thinking about getting an instrument.

  8. KJ says:

    Something about ladies’ swimsuits brings out a dragon in me. Were that it was possible to buy inexpensive ones and have the fabric keep itself together and not do the droop-sag, even if you treat the fabric with care and respect.

    I, generally the most frugal thing in town, own a two-piece from nike that i bought for 70 bucks. Eek! Yes, I know…but I’ve had it for four years now, and it looks brand-new and doesn’t sag or drag when I swim laps. Sometimes shelling out funds is worth it.

    Regarding the piano: it is a nice thing to be able to practice when the kids are in bed, and an upright wouldn’t allow that in my neck of the woods. :)

  9. alilz says:

    On Trent’s advice about college I agree with everything except automatically living in an overcrowded apartment.

    Mainly make sure that you can handle that, some people may be okay living with multiple people in a small space but not everyone is. Also you may be spending more time there than just sleeping. I haven’t been in a traditional college setting but I know personally there is no way I could live in a setting like that. I’m very much the introvert and I need alone time away from people, the more time I spend around people the more time I need to recharge.

    I have known people who lived 4 in a 1 bed room apartment but there is no way I could do that.

  10. Deb says:

    Swimsuits: Watch for end-of-season sales. Last year I got a wonderful $90 swimsuit from Lands’ End in late July for $30. Much easier on the pocketbook!

  11. Wendy says:

    @Jen, and anyone in litigation after an injury, please be aware that your health insurance company can go after any money you receive to pay your medical costs. If your health insurance pays $3k for your broken arm, and you receive a $5k settlement, the insurance company can then charge you to recoup the $3k they paid.

    Before you reach a settlement, contact your health insurance company about their policies.

  12. Wendy says:

    Here is an article about something similar happening to a Walmart employee:

    And when I contacted my (employer based) health insurance company, the representative said that most insurance companies do consider this standard practice, even though Walmart eventually returned the money in this particular case, mostly because of the negative press.

  13. Diane says:

    Re: Hayley (#6) – I can’t believe Trent even took the time to treat this question seriously.

    Do you really believe that swim suits can’t be cleaned effectively?

    Let’s just pretend that you had asked Trent about using, say, cloth diapers that had been handed down from a friend. Rarely indeed does an adult do in a swimsuit what a baby does in a diaper many times a day. Honestly!

    Yes, I do realize that diapers can be bleached and swimsuits shouldn’t be, but bleach isn’t the only way to sanitize used clothing.

  14. Gena says:

    Do NOT wash a swimsuit in bleach! Along with tossing it in the dryer, it’s one of the fastest ways to ruin it. Hand wash in cold water and a little liquid soap in the sink.

  15. Rose says:

    As a note on the piano thing do check into how much it would cost to get a real piano tuned on a regular basis. We used to have a real piano (my parents owned it and I played it) but it cost a fortune to keep it tuned. We eventually settled for an electric piano which has somewhat clunky keys – when I finally get my own house one of my many goals is to save up and buy myself a nice electric piano with properly weighted keys. And as someone else said the advantage of an electric is you can use it while other people are trying to sleep, headphones are helpful!
    I do hope you continue to enjoy the piano lessons, I’m taking mine again after being away for a year at Uni and my teacher convinced me to take another exam to widen my options when I graduate :)

  16. momof4 says:

    RE hayley
    Ignore Trent on this one, he’s not a woman. I’ve never found a cheap well fitting bathing suit new. Either try the used, which will be perfectly clean after you wash it or invest in a new suit. 9 years ago I purchased a $70 suit from land’s end that fits well still today. I’m getting ready to invest in a second new one.

  17. Jim says:

    RE: Teaching
    I’m not sure whythe myth of teaching being a low-paying profession continues. Thirty years ago, yes. Especially with a MAsters Degree, teaching is very lucrative. Also, factor in GREAT benefits, TONS of time off, the ability to RETIRE quite early and also a PENSION most can only dream about.

  18. Adam P says:

    A $2 new swimsuit I’d be afraid would fall apart in the surf!!

  19. Anna says:

    I’ve found the best way to get a “cheap” bathing suit is to either literally buy a $4 suit after summer is over for the next season expecing it to fall apart OR go ahead and spring for the expensive suit $120 at 60% off at the end of the season. Shopping after the season is over the THE BEST WAY to buy anything if you can plan ahead for the next season. I buy all my clothing and holiday decor after the season is over if possible to save on items that are brand new.

  20. LoriBeth says:

    In regards to the swimsuits…I have to disagree. I’ve bought all my daughter’s swimsuits at the thrift store, and they’ve been name brand ones that still look great. Maybe I’m just lucky. I managed to buy 3 sets of toddler’s swimming trunks for my son, at a $1 apiece. I bought a Land’s End bathing suit for myself that might have been $6 three years ago (with tags still on!), and I’m still wearing it.

    But, I also agree with #12 – I just haven’t been lucky in finding those after season swimsuits in my size!

  21. KC says:

    Women’s bathing suit – buy a good one – it’s money well spent. Check Land’s End – they have a variety of sizes and prices. I have a very long torso and must have a “long” suit – they also have ones for people with mastectomy, etc – just an excellent selection and fits. The prices aren’t bad either and they’ll last for years. Check at the end of the season for some good discounts.

    Regarding the piano – I bought a nice 88 keys electronic piano a few years ago with a sustaining pedal and it wasn’t too far from a real piano. It was good enough for practice and I did not want a real piano at the time. When it came time to sell it I had no problem getting about 50% of the original purchase price for it. It was a quality item and not a cheap keyboard. So you could either buy a really nice elec. piano with sustaining pedal or, better yet, find a nice one used.

  22. Brandon says:

    My father owns a piano business, and I’ve moved my fair share with him. You will want to check out a console first, then a spinet. Consoles are a tad larger than a spinet, but are usually better pianos. Brand names vary – don’t buy new, but you need to find a reputable piano servicer to help you and service a piano. I’d start in the phone book and narrow down the list by checking with mid-upscale churches in your town, suburban schools, and the local philharmonic/symphony to find out who they use. That should narrow your list significantly to a group of decent people. Avoid any not mentioned a couple of times by the above clients, and avoid the cheapest people. There’s lots of ways to fleece customers with bad piano work. The best isn’t necessarily the most expensive either. My father charges $70-75 for a tuning and $150-200 for a move, but we’re in Indiana, things are a bit cheaper around here, but it’s a good ballpark to start with. Don’t get hung up on certifications or such, the piano guild thing may look good, but they still require an ear-only tuning. Factory certifications or work don’t mean much either. Most of the good people in the profession are 1-person garage shops rather than stores or people who work for larger companies.

    Take the servicer and have them check out a few pianos you find, or ask them to keep an eye out for one for you. I’d almost always recommend paying to have it moved professionally, but at the least, rent equipment (end dollies and a 4-wheeled dolly) and use plenty of blankets, and never, I mean never, use a pickup truck with a rope to hold the piano in! Also, those front legs break off easily – I can’t tell you how many my father has to repair of people who moved the piano on their own. A good servicer will want to tune it about 2x a year depending on use (and humidity/heat/etc in the house), and will be able to recondition a used piano for a reasonable sum.

    A real piano is a joy…nothing else compares. A console or spinet are fairly easy to move, don’t quite have the huge sound of a grand or upright, and can be a good accessory piece for any room.

  23. John says:

    Some general observations about swim suits:

    Do not ever wash in a washing machine! I was told by a competitive swimmer once that that will wear the suit out prematurely. Hand wash only. After swimming in chlorinated water (the average pool), one should at least rinse the suit thoroughly. Wringing hard will also wear the suit out. My preference is to just wrap the dripping in my towel, which absorb the water.

    A few years ago, I started lap swimming with a standard suit. I did everything wrong, and that suit (which I had bought, hoping would last years, given my whopping investment of $12) lasted maybe a couple of months. I learned proper suit care, and I was able to get at least six months out of the next suit.

    A cheap $2 suit could be acceptable. When I still used regular swim suits, I usually bought cheap brands (like Target house brand), ideally on clearance. I never had a problem. These suits go pretty cheap at the end of the season. I’ve never seen $2–but I bought at least one that was well under $5 that served me well. My experience is that the price of more expensive suits (at least for men) don’t buy anything but a name.

  24. anne says:

    about bathing suits-

    even if you buy them new at a department store, you’ll probably want to launder them before you wear them. even though you tried them on w/ panties on, there is no gurantee that the other people who were shopping there did the same. ewwwwwwww….

    i just love oxiclean- way more gentle than bleach. i use it in most washes, and just throw the swimsuits in w/ everything else i’m washing, but in a mesh bag so i can remember to take it out and line dry before the other stuff goes in the dryer.

  25. For college, assuming you’re in the same age cohort as most other students, I’d recommend living on campus, even if that’s more expensive than off-campus residential options, at least for the first year or two. Part of the value of the college experience, as I see it, is living in the midst of lots of other students and learning from them. It’s not the same if you’re commuting from somewhere else from the get-go (even if that somewhere else has a few other students).

  26. Patty says:

    how is the piano playing a “resolution” and not part of resolution #4 “hobby”? I’m just wondering how purchasing an electronic piano would affect your cost reduction plan there.

  27. ML says:


    I agree with Trent’s advice. In addition, since her injury is permanent, she should also put aside some of the 100K for future medical treatment.

  28. deRuiter says:

    Kevin, Teacher’s make a decent salary when you factor in how few days they work per year compared to someone with a regular job. Get a job every summer and you will boost your income. You can also get a part time job for weekends. if you choose something like being a waiter, there will be extra work available when teacher’s have vacations, like Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas, Easter, those times when restaurants need extra help.
    Nice spinnet pianos are available for next to nothing at estate sales, because you must hire someone to move them. Can’t count the number of small, pianos in excellent condtion we’ve had to abandon or sell for $100. at the end of estate sales we’ve run.
    Bravo for the reader who wrote about washing cloth diapers which are hand me downs from other people when their children outgrew the need for them. Hit that swimsuit with Oxiclean and line dry. When you squeamish folks stay at motels, do you bring your own sheets? Never come in contact with the bedspread at those motels though, THOSE DON’T GET WASHED AFTER EVERY USE, and slip a baggy over the remote control if you’re afraid of germs. Bring your own paper cups and don’t use the glasses either.

  29. Brian says:


    I believe I’ve read here that you’re involved in a church in your community. With regard to finding a place to practice piano, could your church be an option when it’s not in use? My church had half a dozen pianos and was a small community church (of course you won’t practice on the organ). I don’t know how well they’re tuned or whether this is an option, but it’s something that struck me as I read this post. Good luck continuing towards your goals.

  30. Gretchen says:

    There’s 2 types of bathing suits for men: trunks and speedos. No wonder you paid $2 for yours.

    I actually own second hand bathing suits and never thought twice about it. After all, I can’t be assured the people who wore the pants I’m currently wearing wore underpants before they donated them, either.

  31. DivaJean says:

    Another department where men are able to cheap out over women and then preach like they know something- swimsuits! As Gretchen above has said- it’s easy for a man to get cheap decent swimsuits— not so much for women. Once a woman has a good suit that wears well, it will be kept until it either no longer fits (for many reasons) or is falling apart.

    I have found kids suits that are in decent enough shape 2nd hand, but not women’s- and certainly not in my size or anything I’d be seen in. I had to shell out big bucks (for me anyways) this year and get the swimsuit that gives me adequate coverage and is able to keep up with the activity of chasing 4 kids on beaches or at the pool– and I can do water aerobics in when I get the notion. I bought a really nice aquatard for over $95 (was over a hundred w/shipping) but will take pristine care of it. The one I had before this one lasted me over 8 years (I think it was 10, but could be 9)– which is relatively cheap when broken down by years.

  32. Craig says:

    Matthew—I advise against any kind of a rent-to-own situation. They’re very sophisticated and tricky arrangements, and people rarely come out ahead with them.

    Rent-to-own is a rental payment with a call option on top, and options are generally a bad bet for people who don’t know _a lot_ about what they’re doing. Why pay extra to lock yourself in on that one house? Find the cheapest rental you can that meets your needs, pile up a down payment, and learn as much as you can about where you want to live, what houses are selling for, and so forth.

    I think that’s much better advice for the overwhelming majority of people considering rent-to-own.

  33. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    I think the most important thing about college is the experience. Yes, act responsibly, but also don’t forget to try out new things and live a little. I worked about 50 hours a week while going to college and I regret that. I graduated with very little debt but I actually think I would have been ok with slightly more debt and a lot more life experience. I know, odd thing to preach on a frugality website, just my opinion though.

  34. Sharon says:

    Teacher’s salaries are decent..but not great when compared with the time/days they put in. Extra college classes, CE, grading, lesson plans etc.
    The biggest problem financially when teaching is budgeting for those unpaid summer months (if you don’t get work, you should have a plan)and classroom supplies. Goodies for a teacher’s classroom, esp a new teacher, can run hundreds of dollars.

  35. HW says:

    Trent, before you buy an electric piano, check with your piano teacher for features you want to look for so that you make a wise investment. I am a piano teacher and would recommend you look for a piano with a foot pedal, weighted keys (which allow you to play different dynamic levels and feel more like a real piano), and that sounds/feels as close to a real piano as possible. Check out the Yamaha Clavinova line of digital pianos. Even the basic models in that line are very good; as they get more expensive, you just add more sounds and digital features that are great for composing/arranging music or for special effects but not necessary for just playing the piano

  36. Patty says:

    the context of swimsuit use is needed. Is this just for one afternoon at the pool with friends a year or for daily lap swimming? And I believe Trent should have asked his wife to weigh in her perspective on the question as well since womens suits have more variables than mens.

  37. HW says:

    Another thing to consider with a piano–if you buy a real piano, it will need to be tuned yearly, which in my area is about $50 per tuning. You want to buy one that is reasonably in tune so that you will sound good when you practice. Also, a piano that is very out-of-tune may not be able to be tuned and might be expensive to tune due to strings needing to be replaced. I think digital pianos are great for amateurs because they are not as expensive, don’t require tuning, and meet the needs of most piano students who don’t go on to do music professionally. A good upright piano runs $3000 to $5000, but a good digital piano is $1000 to $2000.

  38. CS says:

    Try Ebay for great deals on new women’s swimsuits, I bought 2 this year for about $10 each and I’m happy with them. If you find a gently used one at the thrift store, just wash it well in warm soapy water and I wouldn’t think twice about it, once it’s washed well, it’s clean! :-)

  39. Evita says:

    A good-quality digital piano such as Clavinova (with weighted keys that simulate a real piano) cam be used with headphones to practice when the kiddies are asleep…… :) and never needs tuning! Invest in a real piano in a few years when you are more knowledgeable…

  40. Ruth says:

    I’m not sure how this turned into a discussion of electric versus traditional piano, but since my s.o. and I just made this decision, I’ll chime in.

    I was pro-traditional piano at first, but then I investigated the cost of tuning (and probably restringing – I wouldn’t expect such a low-price piano to be well cared for) a cheap piano from Craigslist compared to an electric piano.
    We conducted an informal test where he found recordings of the various electric pianos and traditional pianos on youTube and I guessed based on the sound which type it was. We bought the cheapest electric piano that I thought was traditional. Our requirements also included a sustain pedal and 88 weighted keys.

  41. AW says:

    I personally chose to live on campus for my 4.5 years in college. Those living off campus always seemed to run up extra unexpected expenses. The vast majority of my expenses were all tied to my school. Our cafeteria was excellent (I miss it) and open from 7 am to midnight with a wide variety of selections as well as grocery items you could bring back to your room. My dorm rooms were cozy and I was even lucky enough one year to have a single room in a suite which was like an apartment without the kitchen. To me living on campus was about a number of things including safety, cleanliness and convenience. Many of the off campus apartments that friends of mine lived in were disgusting and run down. While I agree that you don’t need the fanciest place this will be your home for anywhere from 9 months to 4 or 5 years. For me the dorms provided comfort and security (locked doors, RA’s and campus security) but they were certainly not fancy.

    Also look at what’s included in your tuition when deciding on a school. For me all campus events (including an world-renound conference) were included at no extra cost. Sporting events, social events, concerts by campus groups and concerts by outsiders were all FREE. There were movies held every weekend of movies that were out of the theater but not on DVD yet. I hardly spent any money on entertainment in college – granted there wasn’t much to do in that small town. Anyways for me choosing a private school that was “all inclusive” of sorts was a good decision. I came out with some debt but many good memories and a new found sense of self and purpose in life.

  42. Rozann says:

    About used swimsuits, my 21 year old daughter has NEVER had a brand new one. The used ones last anywhere from one to five years depending on the brand and how old they were to begin with (and how much she grows). We wash them once with other clothes and she’s never had any problems with infections of any kind. Amy Dacycyzyn wrote about the yuck factor. Some people are averse to buying used clothing or bedding because YUCK, some other body touched it first. A simple wash with your own (yucky) clothes or bedding and it’s as clean as your own. I say go for the used swimsuits. There are great styles and at the cheap price you can afford a “new” one every year.

  43. George says:

    #17 – Jim has no idea what he is talking about re teaching. The fact that he talked about tons of time off, shows that. It isn’t paid time off, it is actually a lay off, since you are paid for the 182 days of teaching only (or whatever it is in that particular state).

    And while you might have more of a salary with a Masters degree, NO starting teacher has a master’s, so that is a ridiculous argument. Besides it costs a great deal of money and time, and most often the difference in salary is not worth it. Starting teachers salaries are horrible and in many districts, the children of 1st year teachers actually qualify for free lunches.

    While in the past the benefits for a lot of teachers were good, that has been changing in the last 5 years. Health benefits are eroding while the costs are going up. (just like for everyone) And while the pensions for teachers who have nearly 30 years in are fantastic, that is not at all true for teaches beginning their career today.

    I have never met an educator that was able to retire early due to wage or retirement. And never met one that is “wealthy”. Jim has quite the chip on his shoulder and doesn’t have his facts straight.

    (Not a teacher, but have several family members that are, as well as many many friends.)

  44. Kai says:

    There’s no reason a swimsuit can’t be washed just like everything else. The ick-factor has no grounding in fact. But if you really can’t get over it, then it’s probably worth it for YOU to pay for a new suit.

    Trent, please talk to your wife when it comes to women’s clothing. I am truly amazed that you can be so obtuse. While I have no trouble imagining $2 trunks, I highly doubt she’s ever seen such a sale on women’s suits.

    Another factor is that men usually buy swimsuits (or clothes) for use, and their used suits are probably useless. Women too often buy clothes they think they like, or aspirational sizes, or all kinds of things. I bet you can find swimsuits at the thrift store worn less than once.

    It definitely depends on use. If you want a bikini, shop around.
    If you want a suit for real swimming, go to swimco, or a similar store THAT EXISTS FOR SWIMWEAR, and buy a real swimsuit made of polyester. If you use it regularly, and handrinse after every use, it’ll last you years.
    I will try to link below this, but suspect it will be moderated out.

  45. AnnJo says:

    Kevin, I have another suggestion:

    Since you’re probably spending a ton of money on college, get your money’s worth. Make sure every class counts, either to directly advance your career goals or to give you the best part of a college education – access to great minds. Find out early on who the really great teachers are on your campus and even if their classes are not directly in your subject area, try to take those classes. In your career path, find out what professors are most widely respected and cultivate them as mentors and advisors.

    In other words, unless a class is taught by a really great teacher or is a prerequisite in your field, don’t take it just to fill a time slot. The only exception would be if you would pay the same amount for fewer credits anyway. In that case, take a class that will give you a passing acquaintance with something useful – a basic accounting class, a business writing class, statistics, logic, etc. These are skill-sets where even a single class will leave you with valuable and usable information for the rest of your life.

  46. reulte says:

    Kevin — never buy books. Check them out of the library or ask the professor if he has a duplicate. Usually, class grade is from discussion not from text.

  47. reulte says:

    I mean textbooks.

  48. elise says:

    I wanted to respond to the post about swimsuits.

    It annoys me to no end when I hear people say that wearing a “used” swimsuit is gross. If you wash a suit when you get it home, it’s clean. It’s that simple. And honestly, like another commenter mentioned, you have no way of knowing if the person who tried on that new swimsuit before you bought it kept their underwear on when trying it on.

    I’ve bought new and used swimsuits over the years, and I haven’t been able to tell a difference as far as wear and tear goes. Some of my favorite suits came from the Goodwill and are vintage. I always get complimented on these suits because they don’t look like anything anyone else is wearing.

    And, if you think you’re the only one wearing used swimsuits, take a look at Etsy or Ebay and notice how many are for sell.

    Oh, btw Trent, you will never find a new woman’s bathing suit on sell anywhere (even places like K-mart/Walmart/Target) for less than $20-$30. It just doesn’t happen. But you will find swimsuits in the $2 price range at the thrift store.

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