Questions About Bad Credit, Obligations, iPhone X, Restaurant Reviews, and More!

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Bad credit and property sales
2. Escaping paycheck to paycheck
3. Wealthy obligation to community
4. Warm everyday socks for winter
5. iPhone X question
6. Dissatisfied with discount grocers
7. Box of old bills
8. Amazon Camperforce thoughts?
9. Cheap popcorn popper
10. Taekwondo question
11. Handling a bad restaurant experience
12. Fall and winter reading recommendations

Winter has come suddenly and quickly to my area. In the last week, seemingly overnight, temperatures went from being in the 60s to being in the 30s. I quickly started to transition to my winter wardrobe, much faster than expected.

This means, of course, packing up a lot of my summer clothes for several months. When I do that, I usually evaluate them and get rid of some of the ones in terrible shape, as I often wear clothes for longer than I should. The ragbag will get a refill very soon.

On to your questions…

Q1: Bad credit and property sales

I have a horrible credit score and dismal credit because when I bought my current house two years ago I incurred about $40K in debt (credit cards) and *believed at the time* that I would “simply” sell my VA home and pay off this debt. Two years later, that was a bad decision. I have a CA house with LOTS of equity that I want to sell but I need a backer who can pay the mortgage while it’s being sold in case the tenants move out, leaving it empty. With such a bad credit score (which will INSTANTLY go up once this property sells and everything gets paid off), to whom can I turn? NO traditional lenders will touch me…my score is lower than my shoe size. Only hope is selling the CA house. Please help.
– Tim

The truth is that without good credit very few financial institutions will talk to you about an arrangement like this. You’re asking someone to take on the risk of your property in exchange for what, exactly? What benefit would your “backer” get out of this arrangement?

You might find a bank that would loan you money based on the equity of the property, but it would require you to have very good credit, which you don’t have.

To put it simply, in order to get your credit back, you have to take on this risk yourself, and the best way to do that is to build up a cash emergency fund so that you could handle a few months of rent if tenants move out on your own. Your other option is to just sell the property as quickly as possible without that type of protection, but you probably won’t make as much on the property.

Q2: Escaping paycheck to paycheck

I bring home $3300 a month. $1000 of that is gone right away to pay off my debts: a car loan, student loan, and credit card. Then after paying rent, the electric bill, the phone bill, car insurance, and a small contribution to my Roth IRA, plus groceries and other necessities, I’m always scraping the bottom of the barrel by the end of the pay period. I’ve tracked my spending and I’ve cut back where I could, but I was already living pretty frugally. I’m tired of living paycheck to paycheck. I already work 40 hours a week and don’t have the energy for a second job. For my field, I actually get paid a higher-than-normal salary, so switching jobs would result in a pay cut, and I love my field so I’m not interested in switching careers. I’m 40 years old and with $30k in debt I feel like I’m going to have to live this way for a long time. It’s pretty discouraging. Any advice?
– Nadine

Without seeing a bigger picture of your finances, it’s hard to give advice. For example, when I see “car loan,” I always ask myself how new that car is. When that loan is gone, are you going to keep driving that car or just get a new car with a new loan? Hint: if you want to get ahead, you keep driving that car for as many years as possible after that loan (and, even better, keep socking away part of that monthly car loan payment so that you can pay cash or mostly cash for your next car).

When I see “other necessities,” I ask myself how much of a “necessity” those things are. I have no idea of knowing that without seeing what those “other necessities” are.

Here’s the truth: to get ahead, you have to spend less than you earn. There is no magic secret other than that. The choices a person has to make in order to spend less than they earn are sometimes hard ones. I have friends who have done things like couchsurf for a year or live in a tent or drive a 20+ year old car with a piece of pine board as a temporary “bumper.”

I can’t tell you how to get there without a much fuller picture of your finances. All I can tell you is that you have to really consider what is actually a necessity.

Q3: Wealthy obligation to community

What do you think of the idea that people who build their own healthy finances are obligated to take care of the community that supported them along the way? Like, if you become a millionaire, you should give back to the schools that educated you, the parks you used for fitness and for thinking, etc.? Is that a real obligation?
– Andrew

This is an idea called “noblesse oblige,” which is French for “nobility obligates.” It’s the idea that “nobility” extends beyond entitlements and extends to social responsibilities.

We don’t really have nobility here – the closest thing we have to it is wealth, as we’re a (representative) democratic capitalist society. The people who have enough wealth to not work for a living are the ones who have adequate resources to give back to the places and people who helped get them there.

I think the idea is a wonderful one, and ideally, I hope it is one that people who achieve financial independence and significant wealth can ascribe to. The question is whether it is a requirement. My feeling is this: if someone takes the rewards life has given them and uses them in a way to become financially independent and then does not replenish those resources (and, ideally, make them even better than before), that person is a person that I have little respect for, but I don’t think they’ve made a choice that should be illegal.

I’ll be the first to admit that one of my biggest biases is against ostentatious displays of wealth, like an obscenely expensive car. When I see things like this, while I appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the car, I see someone that, in my eyes, has violated the general principle of noblesse oblige, and I tend to think less of that person. On the other hand, the wealthiest person I know in day to day life spends most of his time doing community charitable work – he’s the person I probably have the most respect and admiration for out of everyone I actually know, and someone that I’ve actually wanted to interview for this site. That person is living the principle.

So, for me, that idea is one that earns respect, but I don’t think it should be strictly required.

Q4: Warm everyday socks for winter

Been reading your site for many years. Just moved to northern Iowa from Louisiana and it is really cold here! What do you do for keeping warm, esp. socks and shoes?
– Daniel

Most of the time in winter, unless I’m going to be trudging through snow or spending a long time outside, I wear normal shoes or hiking shoes with really good socks.

When the weather isn’t too cold, I usually wear merino wool socks. My preferred ones – and the ones I’m slowly migrating my entire sock collection to – are hiking socks from Darn Tough Socks. These are a perennial entry on my Christmas wish list for the last few years, as I slowly replace all of my socks with them. They’re kinda expensive, but a single pair is usually a very simple gift that people can give me that isn’t too costly and it’s one that I’m usually thrilled with. (Note that I rarely wear socks in the summer at all.)

What do I do on really, really cold days? I double-layer those socks, with an older, slightly looser pair on the outside and a newer, slightly tighter pair on the inside. I don’t particularly like super-thick socks. I try to avoid them, in fact. I’d rather wear a double layer of thinner wool socks if it’s super cold.

On a day when I’m going to be trudging through snow, I do have a pair of winter boots. These are the current versions of the ones I have, which are several years old. I wear a thick Carhartt Arctic winter coat that I’ve had for about fifteen years, similar to this one, that I bought during a going out of business sale. For most of my clothing, I just layer and layer on the coldest days, with a t-shirt and then a long-sleeved t-shirt, and then a sweatshirt, and then that coat. I’m often sweating in there, even when it’s well below freezing. I’ll wear sweatpants under my jeans as well, and sometimes even an additional layer under that.

Right now, in the early part of the cold season, things will be pricy. My suggestion for your first winter is to get through with cheap stuff and layers, and then stock up at the end of the season when things are on sale (March or so).

Q5: iPhone X question

Where is the cheapest place to get an iPhone X?
– Susan

The cheapest place to get an iPhone X is the year 2020 when the price has come down to a reasonable level.

Right now? Don’t buy an iPhone X. Period. It is pretty much a shining beacon of overspending to be an early adopter of something that’s only marginally better than what’s available.

Is it a nifty phone? Sure. Is it worth $1,000 when there are $200 phones available that do 95% of the same things? No.

Furthermore, there aren’t any secret iPhone X bargains unless a particular mobile company is subsidizing the cost to get a new customer, in which case you’re probably switching away from the best phone service in your area, which isn’t worth it.

Q6: Dissatisfied with discount grocers

So I followed your suggestion and tried shopping at Aldi and also at Save-A-Lot. I haven’t gone to those places in the past because of bad reputation and now I know why they have it. At Aldi it was hard to find anything because the products seemed to be put out at random. There were bread items put in three different places in the store. When I got to the checkout the checkout lady just threw stuff that I had bought and tossed a bunch of apples on top of my bread and then said I couldn’t return it and that I should have grabbed the bread if I wanted it to be treated specially. At Save-A-Lot it was really dirty and there was only one checker while the line was 20+ people deep nd I ended up just walking away from my cart. The little bit you save isn’t worth it.
– Angela

Every local store is different. The Aldi nearest my house is really nice and clean and the aisles seem pretty well organized, though they’re laid out in a way I consider a bit strange at first glance. That being said, I’ve had a horrible experience at Aldi in the past.

The key here isn’t that you decided to shop at Aldi or Save-A-Lot, but that you checked them out and tried to judge them reasonably. It seems like you have legitimate issues with the discount stores near you, which would make the choice to shop elsewhere a reasonable choice.

I don’t do all of my grocery shopping at Aldi (or Faraway, the other nearby discount grocer). I do go to other places sometimes, mostly due to selection at Aldi and Fareway, which is sometimes limited. No store is perfect. However, those stores form the backbone of our family’s grocery shopping.

Q7: Box of old bills

I recently came across a box of old bills from 2007-2009 back when I wasn’t very organized. Is there any reason to go through these or can I dispose of them?
– Connie

The general rule for saving old bills is to wait seven years and then dispose of them, so you should be okay getting rid of them.

If I were you, I’d either burn them or find some way to bulk shred them. A box of old bills like that would say “big bonfire” to me – I would take them out in the backyard, fill up our covered fire pit with them, and burn them all on a day with little or no wind.

Why do that? It’s a little bit of identity security, that’s all. It’s all about keeping your private info safe.

Q8: Amazon Camperforce thoughts?

Do you have any thoughts or insight about Amazon Camperforce? My wife and I are retired and live in our camper. We have enough money but are often bored and want to feel productive and wouldn’t complain at having a little more money. We are still very able bodied.
– Jeffrey

For those unaware, the Amazon Camperforce program is a temporary worker program run by Amazon that targets people just like Jeffrey and his wife – “retired” people who are still able bodied and are able to easily migrate, which usually means people living in RVs or campers. The program essentially fills up campgrounds in warm-weather areas with such workers, who provide seasonal help at Amazon warehouses during the holiday season.

There are some advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that it’s work that pays reasonably well (and covers the cost of your campsite and utilities) and it’s usually done in an environment with a lot of people in a similar situation. The disadvantage? It doesn’t pay a ton and it’s fairly hard work.

From comments from other readers in the past, it often seems to attract people in their sixties who chose a RV/camper lifestyle and found it difficult to make ends meet after making the switch. Their program is often used as a backdrop for stories about people who may never be able to fully retire.

I can’t say whether it’s a good program for you or not, but it’s definitely worth looking into.

Q9: Cheap popcorn popper

We eat popcorn 2-3 times a week when watching TV. We microwave bags of it. I was at the store and looked at the cost of a big container of kernels and its way cheaper. We started using brown paper bags and it works okay but you end up throwing away the bag afterwards so there’s still extra cost. What’s the cheapest way to pop popcorn well?
– Carrie

All you actually need is a microwave-safe bowl and a plate. Just put about a quarter cup of kernels into the bowl, cover it with a plate, and microwave on high for about 5 minutes, until you can count to five between pops. If you want butter, you can microwave it quickly afterwards and drizzle it on top – same with salt.

The only drawback is that you need to be careful when removing this from the microwave as some steam builds up under the plate, and when you remove it for the first time it can be hot. Be careful!

I don’t really know any reason to do it any other way if you have a microwave available.

Q10: Taekwondo question

You’ve mentioned a couple of times that you’ve started taekwondo classes. What’s the scoop?
– Mandy

My children and my wife have been in taekwondo for a while as a family activity. I didn’t join because our youngest son wasn’t old enough, and then when he was old enough, I had a conflict that kept me from the classes. Now that it’s over, I decided to join up and do it with my family, since we already have a family package for classes. (I’m far behind them in belt rank.)

I’m mostly doing it to help with balance and general physical condition. I take the approach that if I’m not breathing heavy and sweating profusely at the end of a session, I’m wasting my time, so I push myself really hard at the start and am usually exhausted near the end.

The interesting part is that it’s actually pretty mentally strenuous, too. They do a ton of simple moves at the start intended to get everyone out of breath, mixing together repeated kicks with things like planks, and then when everyone’s tired, they jump to combination moves that you have to think through a little bit, which is even harder if you’re sweating a ton and panting.

The contact is extremely limited – most of what we’re doing is self-defense and escape oriented. The class isn’t focused on beating each other up. To put it in “Karate Kid” terms, the class is way closer to Mr. Miyagi than Cobra Kai Dojo – perhaps comically so.

The cost is pretty low and you can go to as many classes per month as you want, so the cost per class for our family is actually below the $1/hour mark (I calculated this). I’m pretty happy with that considering that it’s something that’s getting us all in better shape and helping with family bonding through a shared activity.

Q11: Handling a bad restaurant experience

What is the best way to handle a poor restaurant experience? Going online and raging about it seems childish but the restaurant shouldn’t have any kind of good reputation.
– Stephen

You need to figure out what your goal is. What sort of outcome do you want for the restaurant and for yourself? Do you wish for that restaurant to have diminished business? Do you want recompensation for yourself? What is the goal here?

No matter what you choose to do, being calm and unemotional about it is usually the best approach. Online reviews that get overly emotional, at least for me, tend to not be trusted, as the emotional response often seems to exceed the stated problems, so you’re left wondering what things are being unsaid or hidden. Be calm, state the facts, and let the reader make up their own mind about it.

If you’re looking for compensation from the restaurant, talk to them directly about it. Some restaurants will, in fact, try to make things right if there was a truly bad experience.

If that doesn’t work, you can share online reviews of the restaurant, but write them calmly and seriously, outlining your full situation and making sure to note what they did right in addition to what they did wrong. The more rational and calm you are, the more trustful your review seems to many people (myself included).

Q12: Fall and winter reading recommendations

What personal finance / personal growth books are on your reading list this fall and winter? I’m going to be spending part of this winter housesitting in an area where travel is going to be restricted which is going to give me a lot of time to read so I am looking for a few books to take with me and really think about.
– Adam

I don’t really think about recommending the latest and greatest books, but what I can do is look through my library waiting list (books I’m waiting to reserve) and recent ones on my bedside table and point to a few I’m excited to read in the next few months.

The biggest one is probably Principles by Ray Dalio. It’s really a three part book. The first part is a memoir of Palio’s life, through his career as a hedge fund manager and through some interesting twists and turns after that. The second part is a lengthy section on life principles, and the third is a section on professional principles. It’s a long book, but I’ve read excerpts from it and I’m highly interested in reading it. I’d love to see similar books from other leaders.

Another one I’m interested in is Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink, which looks at the Navy SEAL training program and makes the case that the best way to build a free life is through personal and mental discipline, so that you can make strong choices in everyday life and build the life you want.

I’m also planning on reading The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, which is about the difficulty of balancing quantitative and qualitative analyses of money. Is it all about the dollars and cents? How much does one’s feelings play into it? Where’s the right balance?

A final one that’s been on my bedside table for a while but I’m hoping to read soon is Unshakeable,/em> by Tony Robbins, a book that wasn’t even on my radar until I heard an incredibly sensible interview with him about the book a few months ago, where he made an extremely effective case for index funds. I’m still not sold on the book, but I think it’s worth a read.

I’m also planning on reading a prerelease copy of Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living by Elizabeth Willard Thames, but that’s not really applicable to you since it’s not coming out before the winter kicks in.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. 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 many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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