Reader Mailbag: Waking Up Children

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. Sticking with an insurance agent
2. Fighting a spousal compulsion
3. Visiting mother concerns
4. Buying appliances on Craigslist
5. Political signs and property values
6. Redbox and rentals
7. Children and dental checkups
8. Proper response to line cutting
9. Cost per hour for cable
10. Rebalancing a 401(k)

On school mornings, part of the routine is making sure that my children are out of bed with more than enough time to get ready for school.

Most of the time, the process is fine. I turn on the lights and tell them to wake up and they rise within a few minutes. At other times, they just want to stay in bed, so I have to escalate my tactics, including removing blankets, playing loud music, and putting their youngest brother in bed with them.

I’ve started trying out an alarm clock system with them, but so far they just unplug it.

During my own teen years, my parents basically left it up to me to get up in time for school. I’m wondering what the process will be like when they’re older.

Q1: Sticking with an insurance agent
Isn’t there something to be said for staying with the same company and agent if you’re treated well and they are reliable when needed? I’ve insured with my current agent for almost 30 years because of the immediate and spectacular service he gave to a co-worker of mine, whose house was hit by a hurricane. This man has found extra discounts and better deals for me over the years because he knows me, my property and my situation, and he knows I’m not constantly shopping and waiting to drop him based on price alone. There may be better rates out there but I think the integrity of the company is worth a lot more….you do get what you pay for, eventually.

– Mary

Part of shopping around for insurance and buying directly from the company means that you do have to be more proactive with your insurance services than you would if you had an agent.

Agents serve to make the process of getting insurance and turning in insurance claims easier. That’s what they exist for. If you’ve been with a good agent for a while, that kind of assistance can be a pretty big help in times of need.

If I were with a good agent that had met my needs for a long time and I didn’t find the prices to be outrageous, I would stick with that agent. If I were a new buyer of insurance or had an agent that was largely absent, I would find new insurance.

Q2: Fighting a spousal compulsion
My wife is a compulsive cookbook collector. She literally has hundreds of cookbooks and has an entire wall in our kitchen filled with bookshelves full of cookbooks – jammed with them, in fact. We couldn’t possibly prepare a tenth of the meals in those books. How can I convince her that we have enough cookbooks? She just keeps getting more of them.

– Andre

Sarah and I both have hobbies and collections that tend to grow over time. Our solution has been to put a “cap” on our hobby-related spending. Each month, we have a certain small amount that we can spend freely on our hobbies.

For some of them, we’ve agreed to a space limit. For example, I have two bookshelves in my office that must contain all of the board games we own. If I want to add a new one, I must have space for it.

If I were you, I’d simply suggest a space restriction on the cookbooks. The approach would be that you don’t mind that she collects cookbooks, but that you don’t want them taking over your whole home. The buying of them will have to slow once that limit is met.

Q3: Visiting mother concerns
My daughter is about to have her first baby. I know how stressful that time can be and I want to come and visit them just to help take the stress off by doing things like making meals and so on. I’ve seen you mention how nervous you were at that time and you didn’t want your mother or mother-in-law to come. How can I make this work?

– Monica

From my perspective, we were nervous about mothers and mothers-in-law coming to visit because there was usually an expectation during their other visits that they be entertained and fed and so on. That was simply something that we did not want to take on when we first brought home a baby from the hospital – we did not want to also have to be in “entertaining host” mode, too, at such a crucial time in our marriage and our child’s life.

More than anything else, it depends on the personalities of the people involved. Your best approach is to be as minimally intrusive as possible. I would suggest staying at a hotel, limiting the time you spend at their living quarters unless you’re actually directly taking care of something, and being proactive with your help by bringing meals, preparing food, and other such things. I’ll tell you right now that this will be the approach we take with any grandchildren unless we’re specifically requested to do something else.

This isn’t an issue of children not loving their parents. It’s an issue of exhausted new parents not being ready for the additional challenge of having a houseguest that might have additional expectations and demands. New parents usually have more than enough on their plate trying to figure out how to take care of this new baby.

Q4: Buying appliances on Craigslist
I’m about to close on my first house. I will have to purchase a range and a washer and dryer. Initially, I figured I could just go on to Craigslist and find something for cheap, but that poses a few problems. First of all, there’s no 30 day money back guarantee on CL, so I could very well take home something that doesn’t work (or is on the verge of death). I don’t know how to fix things, so were something to break immediately, not only would I be out the money I paid for it, but I would have to get rid of it (not sure it would be worth fixing). Secondly, most of what’s on CL are older appliances, so they’re not going to be the money-saving energy efficient models of today. Since I’m just now moving in, I will be there a number of years and would get to reap the cost-saving benefits of efficient appliances.

So, do I take a chance on CL? And if not, do I suck it up and go with a big box retailer like Best Buy which offers some sort of protection plan (at a cost I’m sure). There are also a number of places in town that take trade-ins, fix them up and resell them, but the reviews on those places are generally lackluster (“scam” seems to be an often used word). Since I have to buy 3 appliances, I’m hoping I can negotiate some sort of deal if I decide to buy new. Any advice?
– Claire

I would not buy an appliance that you’re going to rely on off of Craigslist unless you’re a repairperson for that type of appliance or have someone who can professionally inspect it at a low enough cost to make it worthwhile.

We bought an automobile off of Craigslist, but we had it carefully inspected first and got a big thumbs-up on the vehicle.

If I were you, I would just buy low-end new versions of these appliances and assume that when they fail, you’ll replace them with the best “bang for the buck” versions of them.

Q5: Political signs and property values
I have my home on the market. It’s been on the market for two months. Since I put it up for sale, both of my neighbors have put up large political signs advocating for the same candidate. I don’t really have a strong political opinion, but I’m wondering if those signs are hurting the sale of my house. Should I ask them to take the signs down?

– Roger

The signs might drive away a customer or two during the political season, but once election day has passed, those signs will go away pretty quickly. I don’t think the signs will drive away too many people, though.

If I were you, I would wait until the day after election day, then knock on the doors and explain the situation. You can even offer to take down the signs yourself and put them on their front porch.

If you ask before election day, I would expect that your request would be ignored.

Q6: Redbox and rentals
My wife received some codes for free one-night DVD rentals at a Redbox kiosk. We have one that’s somewhat on my way to work. The drawback is that we tend to watch movies together on Friday or Saturday nights and I wouldn’t be able to return the movie until Monday, so we’d have a three night rental with two nights of charge on it, probably $2. It’s convenient, but is there a better way to rent movies?

– Donnie

My experience with Redbox and other kiosk rentals is that I tend to forget to return them. We’ve used those “one night” codes with Redbox and wound up forgetting all about returning the disc the next day.

At this point, our preferred approach for “movie night” is to either just watch something that’s already available for free (meaning we’ve recorded it or it’s a DVD we already own) or we just rent something off of Amazon Instant Video, which is usually a $2.99 rental that you can watch as many times as you want in a 24 hour period.

Those two options have filled every movie rental desire we’ve had for quite a while.

Q7: Children and dental checkups
I recently took my 3 1/2 year old to the dentist for his first check-up. We currently do not have him under our dental insurance since he’s so young, and we don’t see him needing any outlandish expensive dental work aside form a cleaning 2x/year anytime soon. Adding him to our insurance comes out to about the same as the cost of 2 visits/year, so we didn’t see the point.

The first visit was traumatic to say the least. My son did not want to get in the chair, did not want anyone’s fingers in his mouth and overall just did not want the dentist to look at his teeth. We managed finally to have him sit on my lap and lean back for the dentist so she could count his teeth. She was able to count about ten before he started to panic and squirm and scream in terror! I was forced to hold his little hands down so she could just barely swipe some flouride over the top of his teeth. It was not a very good experience and to top it off, I went to pay at the front desk and was slammed with a $180 bill (out of pocket). I walked out of there in a daze not quite sure what I had just paid for.

I have heard mixed information about when to take your kids in for the first dental visit. Some say go at the first sight of a tooth, yet others say 3 years old is fine since all their teeth should be in by then and there is not point to go before. I want to avoid my 1 1/2 year old from going through the same traumatic experience but also don’t want to have to plunk down another $180 for an initial exam when hey barely are able to do anything for them accept tell you brush their teeth every day and try to floss. (I already knew that)

What did you do for your three kids? Are there other more affordable options for those of us who don’t have our kids included on our dental insurance? When is the right time to take them?
– Erin

With our kids, we took them along on a few dental visits of our own before their first visit. That way, they could become familiar with the process before doing it themselves. This seemed to work very well.

As for insurance, we do have them insured, mostly because our older children have their adult teeth beginning to come in. We’ve had them insured all the way through, though, because we were worried about dental emergencies like abscesses.

These two tactics have taken care of our worries about our children’s dental services.

Q8: Proper response to line cutting
I was at the post office a few days ago waiting to mail three packages. A lady came in and cut right in front of me. She said that she would just take a few seconds because she just wanted to buy stamps, which was true, but why should people get away with such rudeness?

– Sally

I agree with you that just cutting in line is pretty rude. In that situation, it should have been up to the postal clerk to serve you first, not the person who cut in line.

That being said, I regularly ship multiple packages at the post office, and often there will be people who come in with minor transactions while I’m in line. If they just quietly get in line, I usually offer to let them go in front of me, because waiting on some guy with nine packages isn’t very fun. If they ask, I’ll let them get in front of me, too.

If someone just cuts in line in front of me, I usually call them on it. Most of the time, they admit it and move. On the few occasions when they have not, I’ve either cut in front of them when we make it to the front or I get other people in line to confront them in a group situation.

Q9: Cost per hour for cable
I pay $55 per month for my cable programming. How much am I spending per hour on it?

– John

You left out a few important pieces of your question here, so I’m going to fill them in with a few assumptions.

According to A. C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches television an average of 4 hours per day. Let’s assume an average month has 30 days in it. So, during an average month, the average American watches television for 120 hours.

I don’t know what kind of cable box you use, but the New York Times reports that an average hi-def cable box/DVR uses 446 kWh per year, or 37.1 kWh per month. Televisions vary widely in energy use, but an average television uses 200 watts, or 24 kWh per month. If you assume a cost of $0.12 per kWh, that’s $7.32 per month for energy use.

Add that to your $55 per month and you have $62.32 per month. If you’re watching it 120 hours per month, that’s a bit over $0.50 per hour watching it.

Q10: Rebalancing a 401(k)
I recently started doing research on how important it is to have a balanced 401k but re-balancing confuses me with my case. I currently have 5% of my income going to my 401k with 4% going to a target retirement fund with Vanguard and 1% going to a high risk index fund. My issue is that my portfolio is out of whack with about 50% of my balance residing in the index fund and 50% in the target retirement fund. How would you recommend me re-balancing this mess. Should i get rid of the index fund all together and pause it indefinitely?

– Tom

Since it’s in a 401(k), if you want to rebalance, just sell some of the index fund stock and move that money into the target retirement fund. There are no real tax implications for you.

As for future contributions, I’d keep matching the desired balance with my contributions.

There will be times when that index fund drops like a rock and when that happens, you’re going to be glad you stuck close to your balancing strategy.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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