Questions About Starter Tools, Rewarding Goals, Tuesday Morning, Hair and More!

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. List of information for survivors
2. Starter toolbox for new homeowner
3. Today’s thoughts on Paperbackswap
4. Being a good sister?
5. Struggling with high professional expectations
6. Rewarding financial goal success
7. Big cheap farmers market bundles
8. Tuesday Morning
9. Coin operated laundry tips
10. Restaurant savings tip
11. Spouse making unrealistic plans
12. Long hair versus short hair

Several people have asked me recently what my biggest financial worry is these days. Honestly, my biggest financial worry is also my biggest personal worry. I worry that Sarah or one of the children or myself will face some kind of debilitating illness or injury that will require a constant expense for the rest of that person’s life.

It’s particularly a worry that it will happen to Sarah or myself.

Now, this is under control to some extent through long term care and long term disability insurance. Even with money coming in the mail, though, it doesn’t fully fix the problem. For one, the possibility of increasing one’s income is probably out the door at that point. For another, there’s going to be a reduced quality of life for someone in the family and there’s going to be a negative impact in terms of caring for that person that will impact everyone else.

I know, it’s a relatively small worry, but it really is the largest worry I have about the future.

Q1: List of information for survivors

I’m making a list of all my accounts and debtors, in case something happens my wife can find everything. What kind of information do you think would be useful? Would my wife be able to access everything with just the account numbers? Or would she need usernames and passwords?
– Jim

This is a very useful and kind thing to do for your wife. I recommend anyone and everyone should do this for the loved ones they leave behind.

As for how much information to include, include whatever your wife will need to access and close out your accounts. It’s likely that the username and password won’t be needed, as your wife should be able to contact the company with the account information to clear it out, but it can’t hurt. It really depends on your concerns about account security – can you keep your account secure for now while sharing your password with your wife for later? There are a number of ways of doing this, such as a password vault, but it comes down to personal security choices.

I wrote an article about documents like these, “Making and Maintaining a Master Information Document,” that’s probably well worth reading if you’re thinking about this.

Q2: Starter toolbox for new homeowner

As a “housewarming” gift, my aunt gave us a large metal toolbox with two $100 gift cards to Home Depot taped to the inside. We were told to fill it with tools that would help us with home maintenance tasks.

What kinds of tools are really essential for home maintenance? Should we just buy a few really well made things or a bunch of less well made stuff?
– Erik

Off the top of my head, the things I use most often would include a can of WD-40, a roll of duct tape, vise grips (something like these), a claw hammer, a few sizes of regular and Phillips screwdrivers, a tape measure, a small level, and a good flashlight. That’s what I would want in a basic toolbox, and if you buy those things, you’ll be spending most of that money.

I am assuming that you have a good knife of some kind for things like opening boxes. If you don’t, that would go right on that list, but you should already have one around your house.

If you’re going to Home Depot, you can take care of most of this list (besides the WD-40, the duct tape, the flashlight, and the knife) with this combo package for $70. I’d probably buy that, a can of WD-40, and a couple rolls of duct tape (and maybe a roll of electrical tape), then save the other card for things you might need for specific projects in the future.

Q3: Today’s thoughts on Paperbackswap

Trent, do you still recommend paperbackswap? I just signed up and wanted to give it a shot, but I have read some nasty reviews.
– Bryan

To be honest, I am dissatisfied with their addition of “swap fees” and memberships in the last several months. I understand it’s their effort to monetize the site, but it has really changed the value proposition of the site.

You can either pay an extra $0.49 per swap or you can buy a membership from them, with costs ranging from $12 to $20 a year. It’s not that big of a deal if you use the service a lot and are a very active reader.

I’ve mostly moved to directly swapping books with friends at this point.

Q4: Being a good sister?

My sister have decided to have a wedding – however, instead of having a traditional wedding which would be very expensive for the couple and a little expensive for the guests (considering all the gifts, outfits, etc.), they decided for a hip wedding in a dreamy beach abroad (with the whole exchange of vows during sunset and such), which will make the whole event less expensive for them but much more expensive for the guests, since they expect us to pay for our own expenses.

The couple has already lived together for some years and never seemed to bother about getting officially married. Both families do not mind it as well – everyone understands that weddings are a luxury nowadays and couples can be legally married cheaply at a register office if they so wish, which is very usual for middle-income people. The couple and respective families are not particularly religious either, so this is not a motivation for them.

Until some weeks ago I had not heard even once them mentioning any plans for marriage. It seems they simply got some money finally saved and decided that, instead of having a regular vacation trip for two, they want to share it with their closest ones as an special occasion to celebrate their love.

I have two big concerns:

First, the couple’s spending and financial situation never seemed to be the wisest.

A few years ago, they bought a house which was more expensive than it should be, only because the building design was hip (it was constructed in loft style). However, for an expensive place, it only has space for the two of them (even though they had plans for a baby in a few years). The whole family (including professionals in the architecture field) told them it was a bad deal, but they bought the house anyway since it was their dream home. Now, they already regret it (for all mentioned reasons which they were warned about) and have plans to move to a bigger (although less chic) place as soon as they can afford it.

Later, one day they went to buy some small furniture for their new place. On the road they saw an advertising for their dream car which had a discounted price. They already had one compact (but sufficient for the couple) and reliable car – the new car would replace this compact one, and of course was much bigger, nicer and expensive – they would need to finance it – but they bought it on a whim anyway and seem to be very happy about it even now – OK. In the meantime, my brother-in-law decided to leave his stable job and start his own business – while he tried one thing after the other, my sister struggled supporting both of them and paying for the big car.

When his work situation finally seemed to stabilize a bit and they finished paying for the big car, they decided to buy an extra car (smaller) so they would not depend on the other since their work hours are very random. Note this happened a few months ago, so they’re probably still paying for it.

Hence, I believe they don’t have a very big money cushion. Their dream wedding will probably eat up what little they have saved up until now.

I know it’s their dream wedding, but they don’t seem to realize how this can prevent them from achieving other goals – like having children which I know they want (my sister is reaching her mid-thirties already), moving to a new place and even my sister leaving her current job which I know she’d do if she could afford it. The couple agrees on all that spending, so there’s no one to prevent them from making bad decisions, and they’re very defensive when the family tries to give them some piece of advise (I should note that I know American culture is very averted from family meddling so the reader will complain, but where we live, the family knit is much tighter even in adulthood). That’s my first concern.

My second concern is about myself.

I do have some savings, but I recently moved out of my parents’ home so my expenses have increased. I have already spent the maximum I will allow myself and do not want to tap into my balance savings. I do have a fat emergency cushion (which was fatter, but I had already planned to spend a part of it with my moving out and I have effectively spent that allotted part) and a private retirement plan (which is not as crucial as in USA because in my country there is a compulsory national retirement plan – however, a private plan is still recommended). I really do not want to tap into these savings. Actually, I was just about to start saving more aggressively in order to invest more – in my country, currently the interest rates are very high, which is awful to the ones with debts but very good to the ones investing. In fact, some low-risk investments are currently wielding 100% returns in less than a decade for the ones who can afford to not withdraw them before the due date.

In order to attend my sister’s wedding (and considering I do not tap into my current savings), even if I keep my spending at the bare minimum, I would have to save for more than half a year exclusively for that purpose. I will lose the timing for a lot of good investing opportunities. I will have to spend on travel to a place very low on my list of priorities. I will have to give up on other traveling opportunities I was invited to previously, which my friends are saving for and which are much more interesting experiences.

No one in the family is excited about this sudden expense (and all the vacation time which will be spent – have I mentioned they plan to do it in less than six months from now, worst case a year from now?) but no one wants to dishearten them. Everyone seems willing to sacrifice. My sister and her somehow-already-husband-but-not-officially are really excited about the event even though a wedding was never important to them before. I suppose they are planning it simply because they can afford it at the moment and it’d be really cool (in their perspective).

For example, they mention how his parents never travel anywhere and will end their lives without having really lived, so that it’ll be a really nice opportunity for them – however, his parents will also have to pay for their own expenses. Since they’re well-off, I feel they simply have other spending priorities, like their very active family life hosting various events with all cousins, second-cousins and so on.

It seems my sister and her fiancee (I suppose) think they’re doing all of us good by forcing us to travel together with them.

I read in so many places about people complaining that they’re peer-pressured to have babies while all they want to do is travel the world. However, I feel that in here people pressure to travel the world AND have all the other things at the same time.

I know that, as her sister, it’d be heartless of me to not attend the wedding. But at the same time, I do not want to be dragged into their bad financial decisions.

I tried to talk my sister out of it, even resorted to telling her how selfish is to force all closest relatives to spend a lot of money to attend her wedding (of course, I’m well aware that me not wanting to spend a lot to attend my own sister’s wedding is my own selfishness as well), but she seems to not pay attention at all. They’ll simply go ahead with it. They even mentioned asking the travel agent for cheaper options, but it’s clear they are dead-set on that particular destination.

Is there anything I could do? Should I simply shut up, be a good sister and pay for it?
– Tina

Your sister is free to do whatever she wants with her wedding. I do agree that it’s a little… thoughtless to host a destination wedding when family members are going to struggle to afford the travel, but that’s her choice.

It may be that they’re using this destination wedding as a method to “filter” the attendees, so that people who don’t really want to come don’t have to.

The real question is whether you’re going to attend the wedding or not. I can’t tell you what the relative value of attending her wedding is for you and the positive impact (or maybe negative impact… I don’t know all of the family dynamics) of attending. Would you enjoy the trip otherwise? What would be the family impact if you didn’t go (not just with your sister, but with other family members)? What other members are going? Have you actually priced out the trip in detail? Can you work with your other attending family members to reduce the cost?

It may turn out that the real value comes from other family members, not your sister, and that by working together you can make it cheaper for everyone.

Q5: Struggling with high professional expectations

I’m new at my job and my boss expects me to take ownership of a beta program they launched several months ago before I joined the company. I’m given very little guidance on what to do but it seems to be more of a project manager role which I don’t have much experience in. Anyways I think this may be out of your scope but I’m concerned that I don’t know what to do.

I’m a very hard worker and a perfectionist but I have a huge learning curve. I like to know all the details at first and have a mentor guide me and show me the way before I take ownership and excel at it.

It’s only been 6 weeks at my new job but I feel like my boss is never satisfied and I never meet his expectation. I hate this feeling of not meeting expectations.
– Ronald

This is the type of test that makes or breaks a professional. If you succeed at this, you’re going to be on a higher career level from here on out. This is a huge opportunity for you.

The first thing I’d suggest is backing off the “perfectionist” thing. You can’t be perfect when running a project. The best project manager focuses on being “good” at most things and “perfect” (or close to it) only on the key things that really, really matter. Focus your perfection on the core things, not the extensions. Remember, a good product sells itself.

If you like having a mentor, I would go find a mentor, whether within or outside of your company. Don’t just wait for one to be handed to you – be proactive and find one. In fact, if I were you, I would start looking around your company right now for elder project managers that might serve as a good mentor for you. Approach that person and be very open with your respect for them and genuinely ask for their help because you value them.

Good luck. Remember, this is an opportunity, not a burden.

Q6: Rewarding financial goal success

How do you reward yourself for achieving financial goals? It seems counterintuitive to spend money on some big “treat” but on the other hand success seems worth celebrating.
– Anthony

I always reward myself with time above all else.

When I achieve a goal, for example, I’ll intentionally block off a weekend to do something fun. I’ll spend Saturday exploring a state park and doing some geocaching, then maybe I’ll spend Sunday hosting a game day or just curling up with a book. Most weekends are full of work, so this kind of “treat” is really special.

Honestly, I’ve reached a point where free time for my hobbies is my most treasured commodity, so that tends to be my “reward” for succeeding at goals.

Q7: Big cheap farmers market bundles

I have seen a lot of pictures on Facebook and other message boards where people are showing off the huge bundles of food that they’re getting from farmers markets and other places for like $10. It’s like 20 pounds of food!

Whenever I go to a farmers market it’s like $3-4 for just a few items. The kind of huge food bundles that I see would cost $30-40 or more.

Is there some kind of “trick” that I don’t see?
– Jeff

There are a number of good tricks.

First, not all farmers markets are the same. Some of them are very expensive and focus on organic produce and cater to a more affluent audience. Others don’t worry so much about organics and cater to a more working class audience. The latter farmers markets are far less expensive.

Second, you can often get a great deal by haggling. If you’re going to buy several items at once from one person, just make an offer for all of it. They’ll often say yes.

Third, the haggling effectiveness kicks into overdrive near the end of the market, especially when people are about to pack up. They often need to get rid of that produce, so a big bundle offer (like “I’ll take this and this and this and this from you for $8”) will often get a nod from the seller. Of course, this won’t get you the best stuff.

Q8: Tuesday Morning

My sister-in-law raves constantly about Tuesday Morning so I have gone there several times in the last year. Each time I am just not impressed with the prices, at least compared to what I can determine is the quality of the good. It seems like stuff that was way overpriced to begin with is now on “discount” bringing it vaguely close to how it should have been priced to begin with but still not really a bargain. Thoughts?
– Marcia

Tuesday Morning is often a mixed bag in my experience. You’re right – some of the stuff there seems like stuff that was originally overpriced that’s now discounted down to a reasonable level, which means that it’s still not really a bargain. The selection is always a mixed bag.

Yet, in the times I’ve been there, there have been a few hidden gems – good items that were already pretty worthwhile at near MSRP that were on deep discount. The problem is, to find these gems, you have to have a good sense of what’s worthwhile and what’s actually a good deal and what isn’t.

In other words, don’t go into a Tuesday Morning without specific intent for what you’re looking for. Know the models you might find there and what a reasonable price for those models are. If you don’t have that intent and that knowledge, it’s not a worthwhile place to be.

Q9: Coin-operated laundry tips

In my apartment building the laundry machines are all coin operated. It takes $1.25 to do a load of laundry and about $1 to dry a load depending on size. That adds up real quick I’m here to tell you! What can I do to take the bite out of this?
– Anthony

If I were you, I’d use every opportunity to take advantage of friends. I’d find any and all friends and family in the area that had a washing machine and a dryer and simply ask them if you could occasionally use their washer and dryer to do a load of laundry.

This is what I did when I lived in a coin-op laundry apartment building. I would just take a basket or two of laundry to a friend’s house or a family member’s house when visiting and just do the laundry while there. All of them were completely fine with it and sympathized with the expense.

If you do this, it’s good to be an extra-good guest while there. Engage in the things they want to do and offer a helping hand with things that happen while you’re there. Not only is that a payback for the use of their machine (and the money it saves you), it also fosters that relationship that opened the door to you in the first place.

Q10: Restaurant savings tip

This is a tip my sister has used for years. If you are planning on going out to eat sometime close to your birthday decide on the restaurant in advance and then sign up for their mailing list. Almost all of them ask for your birthday and then send you a coupon on your birthday or the day before it offering some sort of discount or free treat. She gets free appetizers and desserts each year and some places send coupons too.
– Jennifer

That’s a really good idea. Many chain restaurants and local restaurants have some sort of birthday treat, so planning ahead a little bit can make a big difference.

We do this in our own family, though not as formally. Our children almost always want to go to Hickory Park in Ames for their birthday, where a person celebrating a birthday gets a free ice cream sundae with their meal. Since the restaurant is reasonably priced anyway, it makes for a good package for us.

When I was younger, I used to sometimes get a free Grand Slam Breakfast at the local Denny’s on my birthday, which they would give me for just showing my ID. Apparently, this is something that is offered at a lot of Denny’s.

Q11: Spouse making unrealistic plans

My husband and I made a decision a few years ago to start saving and buy a duplex, where we would live in one half of the duplex and rent the other half. I’m okay with this plan and taking out a mortgage to make it happen.

Since then, my husband has been constantly inflating this plan. He’s moved from the duplex idea to buying a multi-unit townhouse and now is even mentioning buying a small apartment building.

If this were just brainstorming I would be fine, but he’s started talking to banks about the idea and has been filing paperwork to set up a business structure.

The amount of debt he is discussing makes me very uncomfortable as does the amount of time we would need to invest to run such a large property. I don’t think we would make much money on this if we hired a property manager.

I have tried to talk to him and he just says I am being selfish and not thinking about our future.

What can I do?
– Monica

Gather statistics and make your case. After all, I’m assuming that your business plan is based on facts, right? So data should help.

Look for average rent values in your area for the type of property you’re looking to buy, as well as the vacancy rate in your area. So, let’s say you’d buy a property with four units, and you’d live in one of them, and your area has a 25% vacancy rate and the average rent for that kind of property is $1,000 a month. Multiply $1,000 by three (for the three properties), then subtract from that the rent lost by vacancy ($1,000 times 3 times 0.25) to get $2,250. I’d also figure in about 2% of the property value in annual maintenance, plus the business costs.

If you start running numbers like that, you’re going to quickly get a picture of whether or not this kind of purchase makes sense for you and how much you could spend to still break even. I wouldn’t even touch a project like this unless a positive return was pretty clear.

In other words, for both you and your husband, you owe it to yourselves to run the numbers and trust the results, not your gut feelings.

Q12: Long hair versus short hair

Is it less expensive to have long hair or short hair? Seems to me that short hair requires more frequent cuts but less day to day care.
– Dave

It really depends on the hairstyle. I use a very, very low maintenance hairstyle that is very short. I can literally cut it myself in the bathroom mirror and it requires almost no upkeep at all other than washing it.

Some short hairstyles require a lot of upkeep, while some long hairstyles require very little beyond frequent brushing.

Remember, different cuts, regardless of length, may require spray or styling gel and may require more or less time. It all depends on the specifics.

As for me? I’m pretty happy with my really short low-maintenance hair. It doesn’t cost much in terms of time or money.

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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