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. Sell house as-is?
2. Car repair problem
3. Is job hopping necessary?
4. MLM “friend”
5. Throwing away stuff with value
6. Reading to children
7. Scary junk mail
8. Reliable brands too expensive
9. Jury duty question
10. Safely switching primary credit card
11. Disaster question
12. Days where I resist change
About a week ago, I had a dinner table conversation with my children about making bread. We talked about how the yeast makes the bread rise, which is what causes the “holes” in bread – it’s literally gas produced by the yeast.
The next question was inevitable: “where does yeast come from?”
Well, the yeast you buy at the store is grown in a factory lab. When you buy it, it’s been prepared in some way to make it easy to use in baking.
“Well, where did they get it from?”
Well, originally, they presumably got some from the environment around them and started growing the right kind of yeast by feeding it. There is yeast all around us, after all.
This fascinated them. Yeast everywhere, huh?
This led to the next question: why don’t we just use our own yeast? Well, you can, but it’s tricky. If you want to go down that route, the best route is to make sourdough, which is a mix of the natural environment’s yeast and bacteria that eventually builds into a stable colony that you can keep reusing.
And, with that, they were off to the races. We decided to make our own sourdough starter from scratch.
The starter is currently several days old and sitting on our kitchen counter. I’ve done this a few times and so I know that during the first week or two, it evolves through a lot of different phases, with very different smells and textures. It often has a phase that smells like citrus fruits. There’s usually a “dirty sock” phase that makes you wonder if something has gone wrong with it. Sometimes it’ll take off immediately – other times, it’ll seemingly do almost nothing at all for a week.
The thing is, if you give it some time, it will usually stabilize into something that smells pleasantly sour, and that’s when it’s great to use for bread. We haven’t reached that point yet.
In fact, last Thursday morning, it was right smack in the middle of the “dirty socks” phase and everyone was wondering if we should just throw it out. Nope, let it keep going. It’ll change. And it did.
This morning, though? It’s getting close. It smells pleasantly sour. If it smells like this for the next day or two, we’ll be making some bread soon from our own new starter.
Q1: Sell house as-is?
I want to sell my house but the updates are overwhelming and very expensive. Honestly, my rescue dogs have destroyed my house. Should I fix or just sell “as is.” The property is very desirable in my area. We are on 5 acres of protected land and the house is only 30 years old.
The house was purchased at the height of the market and is not worth what we paid for it. We want to get something much smaller (actually rent and not buy) and get rid of this huge mortgage payment and additional house expenses.
Pool needs to be redone
deck replaced (really falling apart)
painting (inside and outside)
Would love to hear back from you with some suggestions.
Without knowing what state your house is in exactly and the state of your local real estate market, it’s hard to really suggest what you should do. Honestly, I would ask around your friends for a good real estate agent, bring them in, and get their input on it.
The thing to remember is this: you’ll probably only get more out of it than you put into it if you add a lot of sweat equity. If you’re willing to do a lot of work yourself to update and fix up your house, you’ll probably recoup your cost and add some value. If you hire people to do it, you probably won’t recoup much value at all, so it’s likely not worth it.
From what you’ve written, you don’t want to tackle this work. If it’s something you’re resistant to, then you’re probably better off selling as-is.
Q2: Car repair problem
The starter on my husband’s car is failing. It takes ten or so turns of the key for it to start most of the time. It’ll make a sound like it’s almost starting and then just not start.
He says this is a reason to get a new car, but I don’t see why we don’t just get the starter replaced. He says when something goes wrong, soon everything will go wrong and talks about planned obsolescence. What do you think?
My philosophy is that you should keep driving a car until the repair bill to fix all of the serious problems exceeds the value of the car. That’s the general rule I use these days.
In general, a starter alone costs about $500 to replace. A mechanic with the right equipment can replace one fairly quickly on most cars and the part isn’t incredibly expensive.
Now, compare that to the value of that car. Would you be able to sell that car for more than $500? If so (and this is almost certainly true), you’re better off just fixing the starter and continuing to use it.
Planned obsolescence generally doesn’t occur in competitive industries these days because doing so will make your product seem like utter junk compared to the competition. Cars today generally last well into the 200,000 mile range, and many last far beyond that.
I would almost certainly just repair the starter in this case.
Q3: Is job hopping necessary?
Most of the job guides I see for recent graduates in STEM fields is that you absolutely must job hop in order to make a good income. The problem is that the part of employment I hate the most was the applications and interviews. I just did that and it was awful and I would prefer to never have to do it again. But then I worry that I am costing myself a ton of salary by not job hopping. Thoughts?
Here’s the thing: a lot of the time, people jump from job to job without really formally going through the interview process. They might do it as a matter of formality, but quite often, the hiring decision is made elsewhere. It’s made because the company knows of your work and wants you. It’s made because you have a friend at that other company. It’s made by talking to social media contacts or knowing people at local meet ups.
The best way to job hop in the modern era is to simply be involved in your professional community and have a useful skillset. Get involved in local professional groups. Participate in social media in career-oriented ways and be helpful. Start a blog and share professional insights that you have. Go to conferences and conventions. Make it your goal to know lots of people and build lots of relationships. Invest the time to strengthen those relationships by helping people when you can and staying in contact with them.
What you’ll find over time is that opportunities fall into your lap, and if you suggest that you’re open to opportunities, they tend to fall pretty quickly. If you appear to be a person that will help a team succeed, people will want you.
In other words, if you invest time and effort into your career, you will likely be able to “job hop” without going through stressful interview processes.
Q4: MLM “friend”
One of my oldest friends has been bitten by the “sell to your friends” bug. She basically spends a lot of time lately spamming her friends to buy makeup from her and views herself as a “business owner.” I have no interest in the product and I think the whole thing is a scam and I want her to stop bugging me about it and be my friend and stop treating me like just another client to make a buck off of. What do I do?
People who are hooked on MLM schemes (think Mary Kay, Amway, Pampered Chef, etc.) are typically just following the business plan they’re given. They’re taught, as part of their orientation, to use their social media channels to sell. They’re taught to target their friends to sell. This is what they’re told to do, and they’re usually not given any indication that there will be negative pushback from friends.
Part of the reason that people “get away” with this is that it is very hard to tell a friend to back off when they’re really enthusiastically selling a product to you. This is because MLMs, at their core, take advantage of friendships.
My suggestion? Just brush these pitches off until your friend figures out that MLM won’t make her rich unless she’s at the top of the pyramid. A conversation about it when your friend is a true believer almost always won’t end well, so just let it pass and be there when it ends.
Note to other readers: your friends don’t want to be sold to. If you think they do, they’re just being polite to you.
Q5: Throwing away stuff with value
Trying to downsize my stuff but I run into what I call the “little value” problem. I have something that I could probably sell for $0.25 or $0.50 at a yard sale. I have no use for it and don’t want it any more. The weather isn’t conducive to yard sales for another six months. Do I just throw it away? Now, multiply this by 100 times. Do I just throw away $25 or $50?
For me, it depends on what the thing is. Is it one of many very similar items, like a DVD or a book? In that situation, I’d make a huge list of them, post it on Craigslist, and sell them for a quarter each (or 5 for a dollar!).
If the items are really small, I might just get a tub and put all of those items in there to sell at a yard sale in six months, then store that tub in the corner of the garage.
However, if it’s a big bulky item that isn’t worth the effort to list on Craigslist individually, I’d toss it. The amount of effort you’d have to put into selling it for $0.25 or $0.50 is not going to be worth it.
Q6: Reading to children
What do you read to children as they grow older and are kind of outgrowing “bedtime stories” but still like the routine of it? My kids are too old for picture books and a lot of the chapter books for their age aren’t very good – you can just feel that they were cranked out as fast as possible.
This question will be touched upon again in a post I’m planning for later in the week, but it’s worth covering on its own.
My oldest child is a preteen and my two younger ones are in the middle of elementary school years and they still all love bedtime stories, perhaps more for the routine of it than anything. The thing is, it almost doesn’t matter what I read to them.
Lately, we’ve been mixing two things. We read books that are probably just a bit above the level of the oldest child in terms of reading ability so that we can get into some thoughtful material. When we do this, and read it just a chapter or a section at a time, they can all follow it. I also read some really great short stories – truly classic stuff like The Lottery – and we talk about them, either right then or in the morning.
In the last month, I’ve read them some philosophy, read a good news article from the New York Times, read chapters of a novel, and read a couple of short stories to them at bedtime. I now mostly just read interesting stuff that will make them think, and I look for it all the time.
Q7: Scary junk mail
How do people get away with sending junk mail that looks like a bill or a legal notice? Some of them are clearly junk but other ones really look like a legal notice and if you don’t read it carefully you’re going to end up paying some company for a service.
Here’s the thing: real mail that actually matters doesn’t go out of its way to look official and scary. It doesn’t blast “FINAL NOTICE!” on the envelope. Mail that matters tends to come in plain envelopes with a real postmark on them – or, in the case of a normal bill, the envelope might seem like a mild ad for the company at best.
In general, I toss anything that has a “presorted” postmark and anything that uses fake handwriting on the envelope. Those are definite signs of junk mail. I generally open everything else.
If something looks like an OFFICIAL NOTICE and I don’t know exactly what it is, I independently do some research on my phone and figure out whether it’s garbage or not. It almost always is, but I check. I don’t call any numbers on that piece of correspondence.
This eliminates virtually all of my junk mail.
Q8: Reliable brands too expensive
I agree with you that over the very long term that buying reliable stuff is the right way to go but often the most reliable stuff is so expensive that most people can’t realistically buy it.
Take really good sturdy socks. They cost $20 a pair and last for twenty years. You can get a pair of cheap socks at the dollar store for $1 each that last for six months. Obviously over the long haul the expensive socks are better. But when you make minimum wage, a $20 pair of socks is utterly stupid.
We need advice on stuff that’s realistic. What’s the cheap stuff that’s actually decent, not the expensive stuff that’s the best?
People who write in asking about the most reliable version of an item are generally ones who are willing to invest in something just to never have to worry about it again, or at least not worry about it for a long time, and ideally because of that their cost per use is pretty low even after an up front purchase.
So, let’s look at this sock example a little bit. I’ve often recommended Darn Tough Socks here because I wear them myself. They’re almost indestructible. I’m gradually shifting over to just wearing those socks all the time, but that’s because, as I throw away a few pairs of old ragged socks, I can afford to replace it with a good pair that’ll last until I’m 60. As you point out, if you have the up front money, you can invest in stuff that will last and end up having a lower cost per use over the long haul.
But what about when you can’t afford that up front investment? One way to do it is to do it slowly. Rather than replacing all of your socks at once, when you find yourself getting low, buy one bag of cheap socks and then just one pair of really good socks, and put them in regular rotation. The next time it happens, do the same. Eventually, all of your cheap socks will be gone. You don’t need to go buy a ton of $20 a pair socks.
Another way is to do it via gifts. My family, at least, is very big into gift lists, particularly on Amazon, as a way to get an idea of what kind of things we’re interested in. We get creative with gifts sometimes, but we use our respective lists as a basis to get started. Load yours up with practical high quality things like, well, a pair of really good socks. That way, when you receive it as a gift, it does feel like something cool and special, but it’s insanely practical.
My final piece of advice is to just stick on the cheap side with most stuff. Most of the stuff I buy at the store is store brand. I basically only invest significant money into stuff I know I’m going to use again and again and I realize that it’s very likely that I’ll save money and time over the long term by investing in it now. When it comes to most things, I’m better off just sticking with the cheap stuff.
There’s no shame in a bag of dollar socks – they’ll work for a while and then wear out. The cost per use really isn’t much more than a pair of really sturdy socks, especially if you’re not too hard on them.
Q9: Jury duty question
What happens to you if you don’t call for jury duty or forget about it?
First of all, not following procedures for jury duty is technically illegal. Doing so makes you in contempt of court, which can result in fines and possibly even jail time.
However, it is generally not worth the hassle for the court system to track down someone who forgot to call a number one day. If you forget once, they generally don’t do anything to you. Usually, you’re just put back into the pool of potential jurors and your name often comes up again fairly soon.
Note that this isn’t a guarantee. You are breaking the law by not following up with jury duty.
The problem here is intent. If you forget to call once, it’s pretty hard to demonstrate that you were intentionally skipping jury duty. You probably just made a mistake.
However, let’s say your name comes up again in the pool, and you don’t call again. And then this happens a third time.
At this point, it begins to look like a pattern, and it begins to either look intentional or neglectful. That’s the point at which the judicial system might start looking at you in terms of contempt of court.
My recommendation? If you forget to follow the procedure for jury duty, contact the court system as soon as possible and simply tell them that you forgot to do it. They’ll usually just say “Okay, but don’t forget again!” and then put you back into the pool for the next round of jury duty.
Q10: Safely switching primary credit card
I have always used just one credit card because that minimizes bills and makes it easy to manage. I have a card from Chase that used to have really good points rewards but the points are getting worse and worse in terms of what you can get with them. I am ready to switch cards and I have identified a new card to get.
What is the best way to do this? Do I simply apply for another card? Should I transfer the balance immediately and close the old card? I don’t want to keep using two cards.
In your situation, I’d apply for the new card and then, upon acceptance, transfer the balance if you have a 0% balance transfer offer available on the new card.
At that point, your old card should have no balance on it. I wouldn’t cancel it, though. Instead, I’d put it up somewhere and just let it ride for now. The reason is that this older card is important in maintaining your credit score, at least for a while, as it is helping to establish that you have a long positive credit history. If you close that card, you’re choosing to shorten your credit history – and it’ll probably be very short, given that you just have a new card.
So, just keep the old card open for a couple of years, but don’t use it. The bills should always have a zero balance on them, so it’s no problem. At that point, it should be fine to close it if you prefer to do so.
Q11: Disaster question
We live along the Atlantic coast and haven’t had to evacuate during a hurricane ever. However we do see that this is a possibility and are appropriately insured. My question is what documentation should we take with us should we ever have to evacuate?
I’d want to have passports, birth certificates, marriage licenses, any deeds to significant property, proof of insurance (health, life, homeowners), any professional licenses and certifications, vaccination records (especially for pets), drivers licenses, Social Security cards, recent tax returns, and an inventory of the contents of your home with photographs.
I would suggest centralizing those documents all in one place now so that they’re easy to grab if needed. I’d also suggest scanning these documents now so you have a digital copy of them somewhere offsite that’s secure.
How should you store them? I’d put all of those documents in a few large Ziploc bags that are watertight – maybe even double-layer them – and put a few silica packets inside to ensure that they aren’t damaged due to humidity or water. I’d then put those bags inside a small fireproof safe, and put that safe in the back of your closet.
Q12: Days where I resist change
So here’s the problem. 28/30 days of the month I am completely on board with financial change. I spend little and everything goes well. 2/30 days of the month, I am just frustrated and sick of it and I don’t have any patience and I want to splurge and feel good so I go off and spend a bunch of money like a fool and then I get up the next morning and regret it. Usually I’ve reversed all of my good work for the rest of the month. Don’t know how to break the cycle.
This honestly sounds a lot like a person on a diet who is struggling with binge eating. You diet really well for two weeks, then eat an entire deluxe extra large pizza and wash it down with two liters of Mountain Dew.
My number one recommendation for you is to actually budget for those binge days. Right now, start accounting for those days where you’re going to spend foolishly. Make it a part of your budget and leave money set aside for those days.
Then, on those days when you get up and feel frustrated and want to splurge, you can do so. You have that freedom and it’s not going to wreck your life.
Here’s the funny thing, something I’ve noticed in my own life: budgeting in that way, with some flexibility for days when you want to spend a little, seems to just kill my desire to do it. The idea that I can splurge whenever I want without breaking my budget makes the whole idea of splurging seem a lot less appealing.
I think it’s the difference between wearing a really tight belt and wearing a comfortable belt. They both do the job of keeping your pants up, but one of them is restrictive and you can’t wait to take it off. The other is comfortable. You don’t mind it. You even get used to it.
The best part? Although you should always have some flex money around for those challenging days, you can always reincorporate unspent flex money back into your financial goals in the form of an extra debt payment, should you decide not to spend it. The point is that you’re free to do it either way and you’ll still succeed, which feels very empowering.
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.