Reader Mailbag: Children and Careers

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. Starting a school
2. Note-taking software
3. Tips for cheap golf
4. Why worry about credit score?
5. Career crossroads
6. Weak will
7. Inheritance and property taxes
8. Need money fast
9. Unemployment and investing
10. Politics

My oldest child claims to want to be a scientist when he grows up. I asked him what a scientist does and he told me that they mix stuff together to see what happens when they mix it.

My middle child claims to want to be an engineer when she grows up. I asked her what an engineer does and she told me that they draw pictures of bridges.

My youngest child claims to want to be a firefighter when he grows up. I asked him what a firefighter does and he told me that they drive big trucks and look for fires.

I have no idea what my children will end up doing, but I made videos of these claims that I intend to show them when they’re older.

Q1: Starting a school
My husband is an ESL (english as a second language) teacher for adults. He has 2 masters degrees and truly is an amazing, inspired teacher. He really wants to start his own business, which would be a school for adults who need to work on their English skills. There are also opportunities for text prep for the TOEFL test that non citizens have to take before entering college and/or grad school as well as other tests they may need help on. His vision is to be in a store front with classes 4-5 evenings a week to capture professionals as well as students.

What do we need to do before we just rent a space and get started? How do we find out the best place to locate the school? We are in Atlanta and there are a lot of people from other countries that we think could be potential customers. What kind of business documents, legal documents do we need to do? Bank loans for start up costs? We just aren’t really sure how to really get this started.
– Amy

Your first step here is to write a business plan.

A business plan is a document where you work through the full thought process of the business before you ever launch it. There are a lot of books out there that can guide you through this process.

The first step in writing a business plan is to visit the library and check out books not only on how to write a business plan, but on the basics of the type of business you want to open.

The process of writing this business plan will not only address the questions you have above, but many, many other ones. Most of the time, a bank won’t lend you money without a well-written business plan in hand.

Q2: Note-taking software
Do you have suggestions for inexpensive note-taking software? I take my laptop to class with me and I would like to find a good program for note-taking that doesn’t kill my budget.

– Erica

Evernote is probably the best free note-taking program out there. It lets you take notes and organize them really effectively into notebooks. This is what I would use if I were taking classes, because it syncs really well between phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers.

If I did everything on my Windows laptop and I already had Microsoft Office, I’d probably use OneNote instead. It is a part of Microsoft Office and I think it’s slightly better than Evernote overall, but it doesn’t have the same multiplatform support and syncing between computers isn’t as smooth. If you don’t have Office already, don’t bother buying it for OneNote.

I’ve used Evernote for years and it works great for me. Best of all, it’s free.

Q3: Tips for cheap golf
You have mentioned more than a few times over the years about how expensive golf is, and that it is a poor activity to choose due to the cost. Golf is my favorite game to play, and I want to let you and your readers know that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to participate. Here are several ways I enjoy golf, and also save money.

1) Play during off peak times. Playing later in the day you can get the twilight rate and pay about 30% less than the regular price, while you still have time to play a full 18 holes. Weekday rates are significantly cheaper than the weekend green fee rates. also has some great deals too.

2. Walk. I always walk unless the course design doesn’t practically allow one to walk. You walk about five miles in a typical 18 hole round and it is great exercise. You save the cart fee and I actually tend to play better when I walk since I play in better rhythm.

3) The driving range. I don’t more than 2 tokens of balls at one session. I practice my regular shot routine on the range to improve my game, but as a side effect it slows me down and I get the most out of the range time. Also, if you go to hit balls on the weekend in the morning often players will leave extra balls you can hit since they are about to play and choose not to hit all of the balls.

4. Practice short game. The typical golfer will attempt about 50% of his/her shots around the green. You should spend about 50% of your practice time working on short game. Putting, chipping, short wedge shots, and sand bunker shots can all be practiced for free at a municipal course’s practice area and will improve your game.

5. Lessons. Taking group lessons is a great way to improve and save money. You can generally save 50% or more by taking group lessons vs. individual lessons.

6. Gear. Never buy the current year’s model. You can find great deals on used clubs that people have bought thinking they were going to get serious about golf, and then they end up quitting. You can buy used clubs for 40%-80% less than new, regular priced equipment. There are also several great websites to buy discounted gear from. My preferred site is Also if I’m playing and I am waiting on the group in front of me, I will go searching for a few golf balls if I’m in a good spot to look. I have found many like new Pro V1 or comparable balls without slowing down play this way.

Golf is a very difficult and challenging game, and it can be expensive, but by following the tips listed above you can enjoy golf without breaking the bank.
– Ken

These are some great suggestions for reducing the cost of playing golf.

Golfing is a hobby that I enjoyed quite a bit during my overspending days. It was definitely a hobby that can be an incredible money sink.

My financial turnaround paralleled a steep drop in my golf playing, but there were other factors to that, too, the big one being the birth of my children.

Q4: Why worry about credit score?
I am 68 and retired. I own my home and have enough money in retirement, pension, and Social Security to last the rest of my life. Why should I care in the least about my credit score at this point? I never plan on borrowing money again.

– Neil

The only reason I can think of is that insurance companies will sometimes do a credit check when determining the rates to offer you. The better your credit, the better your rate. Other utilities and services may check as well.

My guess is that you’re thinking about this because you’re going to close out your credit cards and have nothing on your credit report. That’s a decision that has both pros and cons, and I consider the lack of credit history that you would have to be a con.

Which is the right way to go? It really depends on your values and concerns and how you weigh those.

Q5: Career crossroads
I’m 33 years old and have been at the same job (in healthcare) for the last 3 years. My company has been on a “raise freeze” since right before my first annual review therefore I have never had a pay raise. My company has recently gone through a major restructuring period where many higher level management positions were eliminated, including the position of the person who provided support to me. I don’t feel that my job is in jeopardy. Since this restructuring occurred, my responsibilities have increased as well as the level of stress. I no longer have the support system I once had. I’m unhappy with my current situation even though I used to love my job. This fact has led me to try to find something new.

I have been on one interview for a part time job (also in healthcare but a slightly different area). The position would be immensely rewarding and potentially could be turned into full time. I think I would be really good at this job. I’m fairly certain I will be offered the position.

As far as the position being part time and I am definitely in need of a full time jobI feel that I have two options: 1) ask my current job if I can go to part time 2) find an additional part time job.

Option 1 might alleviate some of the stress and allow me to distance myself a bit.

Option 2 would allow me to delve into private practice in my field. I have a contact with an existing practice that is looking to expand would provide me with clients.

My husband’s work is contract work/self-employed in nature. He has fairly steady income but pays for his own health insurance and does have a 401k that he contributes to. We are newlyweds looking to start a family in the next year (neither of us have children currently).

When I talk to my family about the new job the first thing that comes up is that I would lose my benefits (health insurance, PTO, 401k matching). I do worry about taking maternity leave. At the same time I’m ready for a change!

Do you have any thoughts/advice for going from full time to 2 part time jobs that would leave one benefit-less? When I consider salary at the new part time job I think about accounting for paying for health insurance, retirement and giving myself a raise.

Is changing from full time to 2 part time jobs a poor decision at this point in my life? I want to have a career I find rewarding but also want to have a family and give them a good life.
– Mindy

The first step I’d take is to look at the cost of self-insurance. How much will it cost to have health insurance for your family without it being subsidized by your job? I’d check out the options available in your state’s health care exchange.

You didn’t mention whether you have any children, but you should expect that the cost of health insurance will be far more if you have children.

I would be very wary of going completely without health care coverage if at all possible. You may find that the two part-time gigs are more fulfilling for you, but the total cost might be prohibitive here.

Q6: Weak will
Whenever I go into a store, I decide before I go in there that I’m only buying one thing or only spending $X, but I have such a weak will! I talk myself into buying more stuff and before I know it I’m walking out with several items and a fat receipt. Any ideas?

– Ainsley

Leave your wallet in the car. Only take in the $X you intend to spend.

If you’re not traveling by car, leave your wallet at home and just take your ID and the amount you intend to spend on the trip.

Do not take credit cards or debit cards into the store, as they don’t force a spending cap on you!

Remember, the goal here is to slowly teach yourself how to cap your spending in a store and to make it feel natural. You won’t always have to do this, but it’s a great approach for building a new habit.

Q7: Inheritance and property taxes
My father recently passed, and left the house to myself and 2 siblings in equal share. One stipulation was my step-mom could live in the house for as long as she wants. She has moved out, and my father’s lawyer wants us to sign a property transfer affidavit.

My question is regarding taxes. As I understand, if we inherit a $150,000 house and sell it for $150,000, there is no tax implications because no profit was had. On the transfer affidavit, the “value” of the house is $1.

If we then sell it for the same $150,000, will there be tax implications?
– John

Regardless of what I say below, you should have a lawyer look everything over.

My understanding is that you’re inheriting the house with a value of $150,000 and all estate tax has already been paid. I’m also assuming that value is the assessed value of the home. In that case, if you sell it for $150,000, I don’t believe you will owe any taxes.

The $1 value on the transfer affidavit indicates a potential problem to me, but, again, I’m not a tax lawyer so I can’t assess what that means.

This is a hairy enough situation, though, that I really would have a lawyer in your area examine all of this and make sure that you’re abiding by all local, state, and federal tax laws. Things don’t work exactly the same in every area.

Q8: Need money fast
In about a month, I’m going to need about $20,000 and I have no idea where this is going to come from. I don’t have many things to sell and my job certainly doesn’t pay that much. I don’t know what to do.

– Jennifer

It really depends how much you “need” the money. What do you mean by “need”? Will you simply miss out on an opportunity? Or are you facing a legal situation?

Since I know nothing about your credit situation or anything else, my best advice to you would be to start at a credit union. Talk to a loan officer there and see what they suggest.

Depending on the situation, you might also be able to approach the person that you owe this money to and look for an alternate solution together.

Q9: Unemployment and investing
I’m 25 and I’ve always been frugal. I’ve taken after my grandparents and would rather fix something (as a boy I learned to sew the holes in my jeans, I learned about computers by fixing them etc).

In previous years I’ve contributed to my previous employers’ 401k/Simple IRA plans to max out their matches (generous amount of match up to 6%) as well as max out my own Roth IRA. I have a part time job that offers a 401k with no match (but monthly reported wage is minimal (under $300/month).

I number of months ago I got let go from my full time job and I’ve been collecting unemployment. I’ve been lucky enough to have $3K set aside for emergency funds (roughly 3 months of expenses) as well as match out my Roth IRA for 2013, and I always will continue to do that as a priority.

My question is if a 401k is not an option, such as my case, what is the next step? Should I consider a brokerage account? I’ve maxed out my IRA options, and I wish to invest more, and grow my wealth. What are your thoughts? Unemployment options haven’t been an open discussion on the blog and would like to see it addressed. I’m luck enough to have planned for such a downfall but many of my friends are not in the situation and I really would love to see a larger discussion about financial education.
– Norm

If you have a maxed-out Roth IRA and don’t have access to a 401(k), my suggestion would be to open an ordinary brokerage account. My strong recommendation would be to do it directly through Vanguard and buy their index funds.

You will be facing taxes on the income you earn from this ordinary account, but they won’t be a major issue until you have a large chunk of investments.

Having some of your money in a taxable account also increases your flexibility, though you don’t get the tax advantages of something like a Roth or a 401(k).

Q10: Politics
I commend you for trying to keep The Simple Dollar non-political, but how can you avoid posting about the disastrous shutdown and the new health care exchanges?

– Robbie

As you said, I go to great lengths to try to keep The Simple Dollar non-political. I’m not interested in political debate. I want to help everyone improve their personal financial situation and political debate can easily steer that right off the rails.

Rather than “promoting” the health care exchanges, I’m mostly bringing them up where they’re relevant. One of the earlier questions in this mailbag had a response that touched on these exchanges. I think that most people who are interested in the exchanges are already aware of them from other channels.

As for commenting on specific political issues, I really don’t find that useful in any way. The only political issue I’ve recently thought about discussing is how federal employees can and should handle the shutdown, but the shutdown ended before the post was to go live so I nixed it.

Politics do not have a place here.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to email me – trent at thesimpledollar dot com. Iíll 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.

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