Updated on 04.26.13

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Ticket Edition

Trent Hamm

This past week, I received my first automobile ticket in years.

No, it wasn’t for a traffic violation. It was for a complete mental lapse on my own part. I had failed to renew the tag for my truck, so it was sporting an outdated sticker. Boom – immediate fine that was substantially higher than the cost of just renewing it.

Lesson learned. I added the renewal to my calendar so that, even if I don’t happen to receive a renewal notice in the mail for some reason, I know to contact them and make sure it’s renewed. After all, another $85 ticket isn’t really something I need when it can easily be avoided.

Magazines (and Websites) About Homesteading and Self-Sufficiency Growing up, Mother Earth News was a mainstay around our house. I remember leafing through it quite a bit when I was a kid and being often astounded at the kinds of projects that were described in there. (@ get rich slowly)

Turning Spenders Into Savers: Understanding Sales Pitches I usually find sales pitches thoroughly amusing from a purely entertainment perspective, mostly because I don’t understand why people would buy into it. For example, there was a way over the top “Sham-Wow” salesman at the Iowa State Fair last year – it came off like a scam, yet people were buying them by the armload. (@ queercents)

Recession-Proof Your Debt Snowball Some interesting thoughts about how a debt snowball might work a bit different during an economic downturn. (@ frugal dad)

10 Essential Money Skills for a Bad Economy I tend to think that these are essential skills in a good economy as well. (@ zen habits)

Lifestyle Diseases and Personal Finance Obesity, alcoholism, smoking, drug abuse, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes – all of these are preventable, all of these are expensive, and all of these are often interrelated. Get healthy! (@ personal finance advice)

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  1. Rob Rogers says:

    I got one of those tickets about 6 months ago… I don’t know where you are, but in California if you get the registration taken care of and bring in proof when you pay the ticket the fine gets reduced to $10.

  2. Frugal Dad says:

    Thanks for mentioning my article, Trent. I really enjoyed the other links this week as well. J.D’s post led me to the Backwoods Home magazine website, where I plan to spend some time perusing the articles.

    Sorry to hear about that ticket – ouch!

  3. MegB says:

    Bummer. I once got a ticket for not renewing my inspection sticker. $200.00. Ouch!

    Can you renew online in Iowa? We can in Texas, and it’s a lifesaver.

  4. Anna says:

    I got my one and only speeding ticket several years ago. I was picked up by an unmarked car a mere few weeks before that state outlawed the use of unmarked cars by state troopers. I was given the ticket along with an address and a time, envisioned a courtroom with a judge where I would plead my case and get the fine reduced, and set out to meet my fate. This was in a very rural area, and I searched in vain for any building that looked remotely official. Finally I stopped at a farmhouse to ask directions and found that I had met the “judge” himself, in a cluttered back room of the farmhouse. The fee was set by the number of miles by which I had exceeded the speed limit (I had been going 75 in a 55 mph zone), and there were no mitigating circumstances. I left there $85 poorer, and I now speed on that road very carefully, and only when nobody else is around.

  5. Erick says:

    Man, just think how many coupons you clipped, bread you baked and ziplock bags you reused and poof!, all your hard work down the drain. This was all in jest. Love your blog.

  6. Joe says:

    Where I live, renewals occur in your birth month, so it’s pretty hard to forget.

    In any case, I have a spreadsheet of annual tasks broken down by month with this task in it. I review the tasks at the beginning of the month and print that section for my planner, checking them off as I go about my business throughout the month. It’s a great way to ensure infrequent chores are taken care of. Every time you think of an infrequent task, add it to the spreadsheet for next year (or six months from now, or every two months, or whatever)

  7. Jade says:

    Ouch! Tickets are never fun… At least you don’t have to get a smog check to renew your registration (or do you?), my below-average polluting car failed smog last year because some part that had nothing to do with the emission control system was broken. Plunked out 15 bucks to get it fixed and then it passed with flying colors. Bureaucrats…

    Also, your last link to the post about lifestyle diseases, I’ve already commented there but I thought I’d briefly mention here that I’m really ticked to see depression and anxiety lumped in as “lifestyle diseases” the implication being that getting it is your own fault and you should be able to just deal with it and quit spending so much money on it. These can be serious mental illnesses that can require expensive medication and other treatments, regardless of your lifestyle, and you can’t just “snap out of it” and save yourself $150/month in medication costs and/or $400/month in therapy bills. As far as personal finance goes in managing depression, I’d actually favor plunking out the $400/month for therapy, cheaper than not being able to get out of bed or being suicidal all the time. Good lifestyle choices may help in managing it, but it is not a silver bullet.

    Yes, believe it or not that was brief… Still love your blog!

  8. dgreen says:

    Trent, you got off cheap. I’m in Michigan and my wife got the same ticket in December. $175! Yeah, that’s not a typo. $175 for an expired tag that was still in the month that it expired. In Michigan it technically expires on your bday which was the 16th but my tag says DEC and it’s the correct color until Jan 1st. But here’s a frugal tip for people. A friend suggested to me that I write the courthouse and request a reduction in the fine based on the fact that it was only expired by a few days. I wrote the letter and gave a sad story about xmas costs and reduced working hours because of economy (small white lie) and how we thought we had til end of month to renew(another small white lie). The court wrote back and reduced my fine to $125. Still ridiculous but better than $175.

  9. Courtney says:

    In WVa, if you take the ticket and your proof of registration to a state police office within 72 hours they’ll waive the ticket. That’s a bummer. :(

  10. The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    Tickets are big business for municipalities. My wife and I live in Kansas City, MO and she recently got a ticket for expired plates, too. Those are really frustrating, because you’re handing over your money without really adding any value to your life.

  11. Stacey says:

    oh, man – thanks for the heads up! my stickers are sitting on my counter right now (my dh brought them to me monday) as my tabs expired saturday… hope i can make it home from lunch to get those stickers put into place b4 i get a fine!

  12. Mary W says:

    The modified debt snowball seems like a good idea even in good times. He’s right, a $1000 won’t cover very many “emergencies”. The relatively small additional interest would be worth if you needed the money in the meantime.

    Mnay of the people I know in credit card debt complain that once in debt they have no choice but to use a credit cards for life’s little bumps. This would get them use to going to savings rather than a credit card.

  13. Andrea says:

    Thanks for including me in the round-up Trent! I agree that some sales pitches are so over-the-top that they’re laughable- but for me it’s the pitches that don’t seem like pitches that are the most insidious. Sometimes I think that media literacy should be taught right alongside good financial habits, as they go hand in hand- especially with teenagers!

  14. Gordon says:

    texas also allows you to pay the $10 court fee to have ticket waived if you can bring registration in within 10 days. This is the judges discretion but I’ve never seen one deny it.

  15. Carrick says:

    Yeah, sales pitches are ridiculous. They have like zero effect on me. I was so proud of myself when I was getting a new cell phone and had decided just to get the cheapest one, and the salesman was pushing me pretty hard to consider the ones with a camera and mp3 player and all sorts of ridiculous things I didn’t want, and when I didn’t budge, he actually remarked that I was impossible to sell anything to. :)

  16. Steve says:

    I can understand wanting a larger e-fund in today’s economy of job instability and credit card companies cutting limits (making it harder to rely on a credit card as your e-fund). But this modified snowball still doesn’t make much sense to me. You’re paying more interest over time, and not getting any extra safety, certainly not during those times when you’ve just paid off a card and are down at a $1000 e-fund. These numbers are never going to work out as long as your credit card interest rate is higher than your savings account interest rate. If you think you need a bigger emergency fund, do it by making a bigger emergency fund, not by storing other money in the same account and pretending it’s your emergency fund for a while.

  17. Abigail says:

    I’m glad that you give some spotlights to other writers. Very kind of you.


    I am slightly shocked (especially because I hear you have been having health problems of late) that you would include the article from PF Advice that groups depression and asthma in with smoking and obesity. And that’s not even getting started on the fact that he is calling depression a “lifestyle disease.”

    There is enough bias and stigma surrounding depression, surely. We don’t need people to lump it in with things that are acquired habits like smoking? Yes, alcoholism and obesity can be genetic, like depression. But the similarities end there.

    This guy puts all these things together and then proceeds to tell a story about an obese woman who couldn’t stick to any diet until she got good and riled up about how much her weight was costing her. She was determined and she changed her ways and got to a healthy size.

    … Exactly what moral am I supposed to take away from this, given that he’s drawing a parallel between depression and obesity? That I can just eat healthily and work out and my depression will lift? I admit that these things help ameliorate depression. But it is not a condition that can be burned off.

    Or should my asthmatic husband “cure” himself by eating more healthily? Yes, you can lessen the effects of asthma (sometimes) by being active and physically fit. But it’s a lifelong condition.

    I guess the thing that annoys me so much about situations like this is that no one ever *means* to be malicious. Well, rarely, anyway. They simply don’t understand. They’re healthy — or have different illnesses that don’t allow for empathy — and so they make these generalizations that, whatever the intent, hurt people and propagate false beliefs. And it continues to imply that diseases like depression and asthma are somehow our fault. Or that we could get over them. Ya know, if we really wanted to.

    Sorry, guess I’m ranting, which I did plenty of on the actual post. But there are so few voices for the disabled. It’s the reason I started my blog. To show people that you can be low-income (we’re living on $3,100, and rent plus hubby’s insurance takes away $1200) and still pay down debt. That you don’t have to be able to do everything frugally, especially if there are physical or emotional conditions that limit your options. Disabled people have so many stigmas to overcome, yet just as we start to get our footing, something like this comes along and reinforces the notion that we’re somehow bad or lacking or simply not determined enough.

    It’s disappointing to see things like that endorsed on such a popular website.

  18. AnnJo says:

    If “lifestyle” diseases refers to diseases caused or exacerbated by one’s lifestyle, I have to say it seems just as reasonable to include asthma and depression as the others mentioned.

    There’s plenty of evidence that lifestyle (type of housing and decor, cleanliness, second-hand smoke, etc.) exacerbates asthma quite dramatically.

    And while it may be true that depression may cause people to engage in conduct like alcohol or drug abuse, it’s also true that alcohol and drug abuse lifestyles can lead to depression. Suicide is not just strongly correlated with depression but also with alcohol abuse. I doubt if it is possible to tease out the causative direction that clearly.

    @Abigail,your asthmatic husband may not be able to cure himself by eating better, but he can alleviate his symptoms considerably by not smoking, avoiding others’ smoke, living in a low-pollution area, getting rid of carpets and drapes, getting good air filtration, vacuuming and dusting frequently with the right equipment, etc. In other words, changing his lifestyle.

    Depression may not be curable by eating better, but its symptoms also can be alleviated by exercising, quiting drinking, deciding to let disagreeable things (like other people’s opinions) slide off your back, etc.

    And when someone does disagree with you, you can decide to let that “hurt” you and use that hurt to try to manipulate them into shutting up, or you can state your case and tolerate the diversity of opinion that may result. Even if someone else’s opinion really IS that you “are somehow bad or lacking” (which I didn’t read anywhere in these posts) you don’t have to surrender your emotional state to them and why would you?

    We have a lot to learn still about almost all human illnesses, especially psychiatric ones, and we won’t ever learn much if we must all censor our thoughts and words to make sure absolutely no one is ever “hurt” by them.

  19. Abigail says:


    You are right, depression can be somewhat alleviated by certain lifestyle changes. But depression is rarely “caused” or even “exacerbated” by lifestyle. Quite the reverse, often people who are chronically drinking or using drugs are found to be either severe depressives or even have bipolar disorder. And I have yet to meet a cheerful person without any major depression who turned to drugs and became addicted (outside of introduction via a hospital setting, such as painkillers). People generally turn to chronic use of drugs and alcohol because they are seeking an escape from unhappiness.

    As for ameliorating conditions with lifestyle changes. First, I already conceded that some conditions can be lessened with changing aspects of one’s lifestyle. However, the example in the post is talking about “curing” obesity through hard work and determination. And obviously smoke-related diseases would need to be cured by quitting smoking. So, to me, the post seemed to be telling us, not to change our lives to ameliorate conditions, but rather that we should look for ways to rid ourselves of these conditions, by ridding ourselves of the habits that caused them.

    Clearly you read it differently.

    As for your oversimplified view of letting things not hurt my (or other depressives’) feelings… First of all, you seem to be forgetting that part of being a depressive tends to be having a far deeper reaction to things — positive and negative — than average. So our skins are necessarily thinner. So things don’t just slide off our backs as easily. That said, I’m not sure it’s up to everyone else to tiptoe around that particular trait.

    Still, I do wonder how you’d react if someone said that paraplegics can make their “lifestyle disease” better by getting exercise and eating well. Because depression has, as I noted on the actual post, been recognized as a disabling condition in certain people, such as the folks who passed the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    But you probably think I am being hyperbolic comparing the two. Because one is an obvious physical condition and the other is hard to quantify. Some people would scoff at its actual existence, though those are the hardliners and are increasingly few in number. Thanks goodness.

    I will admit that you’re right about letting things “hurt” my feelings versus have things slide off my back. It’s something I’m working on. But, again, I do wonder how you would be reacting if someone were quite so dismissive of an obvious physical disability, such as deafness, blindness or paralysis. If someone made sweeping, generalizations that were, in at least a couple of instances, factually incorrect, would you still think that the blind/deaf/paralyzed person shouldn’t get upset that people decided to write blindly about a very complex topic that is already so widely misunderstood? Perhaps you would feel that way. Perhaps you wouldn’t. But it’s worth asking yourself about.

    As for your implied accusation that I am somehow trying to shut people up or censor them… I was saying I was upset that someone wrote a post about very serious conditions without apparently having investigated/researched the conditions/treatments. I think it’s arrogant and dangerous to spread misinformation, especially in such an authoritative manner.

    However, I did not question his right to post such things. (Though I prefer if opinions are more obviously stated as opinions and not fact, I recognize that most blogs are assumed to be someone’s take on life/PF/whatever.) I did not say he should shut up – let alone attempt to “manipulate” him into doing so.

    I said that I thought he should reconsider some of what he wrote. Not take it off the internet. Just think about it. Because, frankly, the piece seemed to me like something he wrote in a slapdash manner. That’s his prerogative, but I think his overall point — about illnesses being expensive and sometimes interrelated/the right motivation being key to things we might think are impossible — was a great one. But it was lost in the generalizations, lack of more than one concrete example, etc.

    As for the “bad or lacking” part, well yes I suppose some of that was me inferring. But the thing is, when you lump things like depression together with smoking or drug use, and talk about how these illnesses are caused by an unhealthy lifestyle… It’s hard not to take that as a hint that these conditions, including asthma and depression, are caused by our “unhealthy lifestyles.” Mainly because he states this at the bottom of the first paragraph: “These are diseases and ailments that we get because our lifestyle and/or environment are unhealthy.”

    I don’t have depression because my lifestyle or environment is unhealthy. I’ve lived quite healthily before. I was lean, exercised about 5 times a week, got lots of walking in also, and wasn’t eating any gluten or dairy (on the advice of a nutritionist). Didn’t help my depression at all. (So I went back to my beloved bread and carbs, but kept up exercising.)

    Another time, I spent more than three months trying another diet advised by a nutritionist: no gluten, no sugar, no sugar substitutes. Didn’t work out as much — was battling severe fatigue and some days couldn’t leave the house — but tried to go at least three times a week. Didn’t help my depression.

    I’m not saying I am living healthily enough now. I need to work on it, because it certainly couldn’t hurt.

    But I can say that my depression, and the depression of a few others I know, doesn’t go away just because we get better attitudes and live a healthier lifestyle.

    And I really do think it’s a shame that Trent (who has such influence in the PF community) would not only publicize a post that contains factual errors, but also say that these conditions (a list in which he included depression) are “preventable.”

    Most any doctor would tell you that’s not true. But, beyond that, saying this sends a pretty terrible message (from my POV, clearly yours is different and may get something else).

    If a condition is avoidable, and you get that condition, how does that not imply that you somehow failed to take the proper precautions or live the right way? And so how is that not blaming the victim? I would love to know just how, exactly, depression is avoidable. Because my bet is that anytime someone loses a loved one, there is a period of depression that is unavoidable. And that hard life circumstances — loss of a job, a divorce, etc — would cause depression. And those are just situational depression examples. That’s not even touching genetic!

    Usually I have some pithy ending but frankly it’s late and there are probably some typos in this comment already. So I’ll just end with renewing my offer (also on the other post) to have you do a guest post sometime about your own thoughts/experiences about depression and positive thinking or whatever health condition you choose to talk about. Or personal finance topic. Preferably, interrelated, since that’s mostly the gist of my blog. I may not agree with some of your opinions, but (contrary to what you may believe) I do actually enjoy a variety of voices on my blog.

  20. reulte says:

    I agree with Abigail in that Trent’s phrasing presents a ‘blame the victim’ attitude that reinforces the mentality that cause thoughtless behavior and words. Even if these conditions were treatable/preventable with a 99% guaranteed cure — does that validate the very common rude words and scornful behavior to the other 1%? All of these conditions are NOT preventable, but most of them can be aleviated somewhat by proper diet and exercise.

    On the other hand, I really enjoyed the Homesteading/Self-sufficiency and Essential Skills posts.

  21. Iris says:

    This “blame the victim” attitude is actually a defense mechanism. That drunk down the street could easily snap out of his drinking problem (right?), my depressive colleague is just lazy and could easily pull himself up by the bootstraps, that homeless person could easily get a job… We like to believe these things because it makes us feel safe from the vagaries of life and biology. Because contemplating the thought that some things you can just not control is damn scary.

    By quoting the examples above I don’t mean to say that there are no bad choices involved in alcoholism or homelessness, for instance. There’s always an element of free will and, of course, there are always things you can improve through personal effort. But what people don’t sometimes realize is that not all things which are very easy for Joe are necessarily just as easy for Jack. If YOU had to fight your brain tooth and nail every day just to get out of bed or stay away from the bottle, I’m sure you’d also fail from time to time.

    Mentall illness is a horrible thing and I don’t wish it on anybody. But its ugliness is ten times compounded by the way people see it and react to it.

  22. AnnJo says:

    I don’t know how Trent feels about having his post hijacked the way we’ve been doing, but until he cuts us off, I guess I’ll respond to a few of Abigail’s and Iris’s points.

    I’m afraid that the accusation of “blaming the victim” equates acknowledging reality with lacking compassion. To me they are not the same. I tell my nieces and nephews they must wear their seatbelts because if they don’t, they could end up paralyzed, brain-damaged or dead. I’m telling them the truth, because a lot of people who end up that way got that way by not wearing their seatbelts. (You are something like 17 times more likely to die in a crash if you are unbelted, and also far more likely to be severely injured.)

    I have enormous compassion for those injured people (and the dead people’s families) and I in NO WAY believe that death or permanent disability is a “just” punishment for such a trivial misstep, but it is still absolutely true that they are “to blame” for their own misfortune, in the sense that they could have easily avoided it and chose not to.

    No doubt, if someone who was paralyzed by a car accident in which she had been unbelted heard me caution my nephew about seat-belt use, and use the warning of paralysis to scare him into it, it might make her feel bad. It would seem like I was “blaming the victim,” and of course, by inference, I was. But should we stop our cautionary advice for that reason? Should we avoid warning of the reality that a great deal of grief could be avoided by preventive measures, because it will make the people who ignored those warnings and brought that grief on themselves feel worse?

    So, turning to diseases like alcoholism and depression, what CAN be done about those illnesses (and yes, I do agree that they are illnesses) is in some cases easy and in some very hard. There has been considerable alcoholism in my family and my family by marriage. Along with warning about seat-belts, I warn the younger generation in my family about that danger, and how much easier it is not to start drinking than, at least for us, it is to quit. Some listen and some don’t.

    There’s not much point in castigating the ones who don’t once they’ve developed a problem, but accepting personal responsibility is always good therapy and I observe that they do better fighting their disease if they acknowledge their own role in creating it. Believe it or not, it’s actually empowering to accept responsibility for one’s own conduct and its consequences.

    The reason that I believe alcoholics and depressives CAN affect the outcome of their diseases is because they often do. It takes an effort of will and a DECISION to acknowledge the problem, seek out help, follow treatment protocols, and nurture the conviction, against all previous habit, that improvement and even a cure is possible. And lots of people do that every day, and succeed. Or they fail and try again, and then succeed.

    I have observed two severe alcoholics in my family quit drinking when they finally DECIDED to quit drinking and stopped listening to their own excuses about how hard it was. Yes, it is hard.

    And maybe it is simply TOO hard for some people. We are all different, and that variability makes it impossible for any of us to judge another’s pain, effort, commitment, etc., with any degree of accuracy. HOWEVER, the fact that some people may not be able, no matter how great their effort, to break free from their pain, does not mean we should go to the other extreme and encourage EVERYONE to to believe effort will do no good, or that encouraging their effort is “blaming them” for their disease.

    I quit smoking 32 years ago basically because once, when my father was flying through town and I met him for dinner at the airport, he expressed disappointment in me that I kept ddoing something that I knew was bad for me. I told him I did know but it was hard to quit. His answer was, “So what?”

    On the hour drive home from that dinner, I thought it over and realized he was right. I thought about the fact that he had quit drinking a few years before, no therapy, no AA, just – decided to and did. I put out my cigarette and never lit another. Done deal. Hard? Kind of, for a month or so, but not as bad as I thought it would be.

    Now, just quitting drinking with no treatment can kill some alcoholics, and quitting smoking will not cure lung cancer, and so on and so on. But quitting is both possible and enough for a lot of people. Do we stop encouraging those who might benefit from it because there are some who won’t, especially when nobody, including the ill themselves, can really know which category they fall into?

    There are many techniques for dealing with depression, as well, though they won’t work for everybody. And yes, changing one’s belief structure is a big part of it. It is counterproductive to believe that one’s own happiness or equilibrium is at the mercy of some stranger’s comment on a blog, for instance. It is true only if you allow it.

    Why do sizable percentages of people in drug tests get better even though they are on the placebo (sugar pill)? Two reasons: 1) Some illness is self-limiting and will resolve itself with time, and 2) The patients believe they MAY be taking the real drug and therefore the power of their minds and emotions are made available to improve their condition.

    Depressives can harness both of those realities to their benefit. They can look forward to their disease lightening in the natural course of things (“Time cures all ills.”) and they can make changes in their lifestyles and beliefs and expect success from those changes.

    It won’t work for everyone, but it will work for some. I choose to believe I’m one of the latter. You might call that “being in deep, deep denial” but as I said in my other comment, I call it “being happy” – though not yet as happy as I expect to be in the future!

    Abigail, it turned out I did have more to say. If you think it would be interesting to your readers, feel free to post it on your blog, but if you do, please do so unedited except for the first and last paragraphs.

  23. Iris says:

    Totally agree with taking responsibility for your situation, and making the best of it. But, AnnJo, I find it beyond belief that you would equate someone getting paralyzed because of not wearing their seatbelt to the situation of a depressive.

    And by depressive I don’t mean someone who mourns too long after a death in the family, but people who have struggled with mood disorder since childhood. Managing it, taking steps to live a normal life with it, absolutely. But being guilty for having it? That’s like saying you’re guilty of being short.

    The problem, I believe, is unfortunately one of terminology. Because we use “depressed” to mean “occasionally sad” or “bored” or other normal psychological states, people assume that people suffering from depression are just people who got sad one day like everybody else and then stayed that way because they were too lazy or too unenlightened to snap out of it. Well, depression is not like that at all. I know people tend to strongly resist the idea that the brain is an organ like all the other organs, but scientific research and common sense tell us that it is.

    And I would like to add one more thing. Many people avoid seeking treatment or acknowledging their problem precisely because the label of depression or other mental illness carries with it the strong connotation of “character weakness” and “bringing it on yourself”. In the end, I think we should all judge less, and show kindness more. That’s not at all incompatible with personal responsibility and self-improvement.

    Leaving this somewhat unfortunate article aside, I’d like to say, Trent, that your blog is very well-written and very useful.

  24. AnnJo says:

    @Iris, I was not at all “equating” depression to suffering paralysis due to not wearing a seatbelt. I was addressing the problem that, often, acknowledging responsibility does risk “blaming the victim.” It was an example, which evidently wasn’t as clear to you reading it as it was to me writing it.

    Thoughtful judgment is not just compatible with kindness but necessary to it if the kindness is to do more good than harm. We all have the responsibility to try to improve our own characters, and avoiding dealing with our problems is, in my book, a character weakness which I would (and do) try to overcome. Someone who “kindly” assured me it wasn’t a weakness wouldn’t be much of a true friend.

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