Updated on 01.25.11

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Condolences Edition

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, one of my favorite podcasters (Tom Vasel, from The Dice Tower) lost his infant son to an E. coli infection. Having an infant son myself, I can’t imagine the pain of that type of experience. My condolences go out to him and his family. There’s already a wonderful video tribute out there.

What I Learned During the Year of Penury Penury is a five dollar word for intense poverty. Essentially, this person is telling how they survived a year without employment. It’s a good tale with some good ideas in it. (@ funny about money)

When To Walk Away From A Bad Mortgage To me, a big part of the decision to walk away comes from personal ethics. I think there are several ethical cases involved here. Do you have an obligation to live up to your agreements? Do you have that same obligation if the agreement was made in bad faith? (@ get rich slowly)

Why Young Entrepreneurs Should Hold Down a Job After College I think it’s a good idea for everyone to hold down some sort of manual labor job for a period in their life. Mine came in the late 1990s, where I remember long nights shoveling dirt (yes, I shoveled dirt in the middle of the night, under lights). (@ frugal dad)

Jewelry Displays (recycled Ikea mirrors) I love the IkeaHackers website, where they take items from Ikea and find alternative uses for it. I’d probably link to it a lot more if there was an Ikea within three hours of me. Still, this is one of my favorite hacks in a long time. (@ ikea hackers)

I’m Not Setting Goals for 2011. Here’s Why: I actually think this is more of an “anti-goal,” so to speak. (@ )

How to Get What You Really Want Figure out what you want. Ignore the naysayers. Start immediately taking steps towards what you want. Review your steps very regularly. That’s pretty much it. (@ chris guillebeau)

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  1. valleycat1 says:

    Ikeahackers’ ideas can be used to personalize or repurpose any mass-produced home decor items.

  2. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    Hey Trent, the goals for 2011 post from Erica has a broken link at the end. Well, I guess it’s not broken, it’s just missing :)

  3. Kathy M says:

    So sorry for your friend’s loss.

  4. valleycat1 says:

    I follow Funny About Money semi-regularly. She did have part-time work income last year but it was unpredictable & slow in coming; she wasn’t actually completely out of work after being laid off her full time job. She also is collecting social security & pulling from her other retirement accounts. So she had a lot lower income than she’d planned on at the beginning of the year, but did have income.

  5. Johanna says:

    “I think it’s a good idea for everyone to hold down some sort of manual labor job for a period in their life.”

    Everyone? What about people who aren’t capable of doing manual labor?

  6. Marle says:

    I agree with Johanna, not all of us can shovel all night long. Also, I think aspiring entrepreneurs should work in the field they would like to start a business in, not just a job or a manual labor job.

    I’m not sure why the top article is called “What I Learned During the Year of Penury.” It doesn’t sound like poverty, let alone penury. Well, at least it has some good advice even if the title is hyperbole.

  7. kristine says:

    I agree. Hardly penury, hardly poverty. Inconvenienced and stressed out, OK. Running out of money- just hard at that age, pretty normal for college kids. Owns a paid off home, has a retirement fund, and some income beyond that. I guess if you considered all things relative, I guess having an above average income for the entire country (while working part time) can be considered poor for some. I have lived among both ends of the spectrum- in BKLYN- blankets covering broken windows in the middle of winter and the elderly buying cat food and crackers for food, and on LI, the ridiculously wealthy complaining that since the crash- how will they ever get by on just 300K a year? Middle class people who complain of “struggle” which is really just discomfort and stress, should go spend more time in a soup kitchen. In a city. Penury my tushie. OK, this article really ticked me off, as my best friend is TRULY struggling, not inconvenienced. But not a peep of whining, or hyperbole, from he. I have no problem with the tips this article offered, but the “poor pitiful me- look what obstacles I had to overcome” left a really negative taste in my mouth. Good tips, myopic rendering. Insulting to the actual working impoverished.

  8. Jeff White says:

    I’m sure you’re aware but there are plenty of charity auctions and donation sites for the Vasel family.

  9. Hi, Trent– Thanks for the link! Quite a few people came by FaM to comment on the “penury” post. :-)

    It’s worth noting, per Valleycat’s observation, that until the past two months I have not been able to draw down from savings because of the devastation wreaked on my IRA and my 403(b) by the crash of the economy. My financial advisor suggested I do everything possible to delay drawing down, in hopes of recovering some part of the 40% of my savings lost in the crash.

    To cover a mortgage obligation, I had to cash out a life insurance policy, which was supposed to be part of my retirement savings, and I also am required to withdraw $1.00 a month from my 403(b) to remain eligible for the unpaid sick leave my former employer disburses in three annual installments. So, in that sense, you could say that I drew down something from savings. Not, however, in a way that worked to my benefit.

    The loss of my job in December 2009 and the tight earnings limitation imposed by “early” Social Security meant that in 2010 I lived on 32% of my former salary. Part of that came from adjunct community-college teaching, for which I was paid $2,400 per 16-week course (that’s a gross of $150/week). Two semesters provide work for less than 2/3 of one year. Adjuncts are limited to three sections, and there’s no guarantee you can get even that many.

    Social Security on its own represents 17% of my former income, which by middle-class standards was hardly vast.

    During the four summer months of 2010, when no teaching work was available, too little money was coming in to cover the base expenses on my grandiose 1800-square-foot home — which, incidentally, is paid off (thank God!). By scrimping assiduously during the spring semester, I managed to put enough in savings to just squeak through the unpaid summer with enough to eat. I received a summer stipend for developing an online course, but because it appeared that the college would assign no more than two courses in the fall, I set that money aside to cover September – January expenses, relying on savings from the spring semester to make it through August.

    Nondiscretionary expenses at my house are less than queenly, BTW: for example, I’ve never subscribed to cell phones, cable, or satellite TV; I own one car & it’s paid for; I have no first or second mortgage on my dwelling, I never carry a balance on any credit card. What we’re talking about here is utilities, homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, Medicare supplemental insurance; Medicare Part D insurance, long-term-care insurance, and and a self-escrow for automobile registration and property taxes.

    At the last minute, the college did come through with a third fall section; on top of the stipend, this unexpected windfall caused my earned income to exceed the $14,160 Social Security limitation by all of $240. The punishment for that is to have an entire month’s Social Security benefit withheld. So, instead of going without enough to make ends meet for four months, I had to try to get by on less income than routine nonnegotiable expenses cost for five months.

    This proved to be impossible.

    As a person who, in 66 years of living, had never experienced any period in which less money was coming in than needed to cover fairly modest nondiscretionary expenses plus food, I found this time difficult.

    Mercifully, it looks like 2011 will be better. Now that I’m older than the hills, I’m finally to be allowed to earn whatever anyone will pay me. Though that isn’t much, it’s certainly better than 14 grand — it now looks like the college will assign seven and possibly eight courses this year, including two that will carry me through the summer. With the stock market recovered, savings are almost back to where they were before the crash (although the money I’d set aside to replace my 11-year-old car is gone). Assuming we don’t see another market crash in 2011, I should be able to draw down enough to make up the difference between Social Security and base living costs. Thus all of my teaching income can be devoted to making the mortgage payments on the small, 60-year-old upside-down cottage my son and I co-own.

    I’d kinda like to know where Kristine gets the idea that I made an “above average” income in 2010. IMHO, $28,000 is not “above average.” The median income in my state is around $45,000 to $50,000, depending on whose figures you’re looking at. It’s true I don’t live in a hovel with blankets tacked over the windows, nor do I eat cat food (beans are much cheaper). But that’s only so because I did have a comparatively decent income before the university closed my office and laid off all five of us. The events of 2010 showed that if I had to continue living on $28,000 a year, I would soon be forced to sell my paid-off home, at a loss of about $80,000 in today’s depressed market, and move someplace much cheaper to maintain.

    That state of affairs does not come under the heading of mere “inconvenience.” Maybe a person who presumes otherwise would benefit from a pair of glasses for her own “myopia.”

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