Sunday Conversation #2 with Frugal Dad

cup-of-coffee.jpgWelcome to Sunday Conversation #2! This is the first of many conversations between readers and yours truly. Any subject is on the table (remember, keep it family friendly). Simply ask your question in the comments section of today’s post and I will respond next Sunday.

Pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and let’s get started

Kelly from My Small Cents asks, “Would you recommend changing your blog’s name after it’s been up and running for a few months? I have a blog with a (very) modest following- I chose the name rather haphazardly and now I’m not at all happy with it because I don’t feel that it represents me well.”

Kelly, I would recommend against changing a blog’s name once you have started branding it in a similar fashion you would a business. In other words, do visitors come to visit “Kelly,” or do they come to visit “My Small Cents?” In my case, the “Frugal Dad” name has become somewhat popular in the personal finance blogging circuit (at least I hope it has), and it wouldn’t make sense for me to change now.

Having said all that, if you are not happy with some aspect of your product and still have an opportunity to change it, I say go for it. Communicate the change to your readers and ask them to follow you as you start a new project as XYZ.com, or whatever your new name will be. If you have reservations about your name, your image, etc. it will eventually show in your level of passion and enthusiasm about your brand. Create something you can be proud of and spread your message to anyone who will listen! Good luck, and let us know what you decide to do.

Kacper of Kacper Wrzesniewski asks, “What is your greatest success as a Frugal Dad so far?”

Kacper, this was an interesting question, and one that caused me to really stop and think about the answer. Because I now attempt to compartmentalize various areas of my life (writing, family and full time career) I have a couple different answers.

As a Frugal “Dad” I would say that my greatest success is sharing in raising two wonderful children. My wife and I have worked hard to instill values in them at an early age that will carry them through the remainder of their lives.

From a frugal perspective my greatest success has been breaking the cycle of credit card usage my wife and I began to rely on to compensate for living on one income. The elimination of this lifestyle debt, and the credit cards than went along with it, has been a “freeing” experience, financially. Dave Ramsey wasn’t kidding about experiencing Financial Peace.

As a blogger, my greatest success has been convincing 900 strangers (and a few friends) to follow my writing in just four short months. I never dreamed so many of you would subscribe and I am humbled by your numbers. When the subscriber count reached 500 or so I began feeling pressure to put out top-notch content – after all, FIVE HUNDRED people were reading everything I wrote! That was a growing pain that went away after I realized what people really wanted was the same thing I want from a blog – just an informal conversation about money, living frugally, raising kids, being a better employee, actionable savings and deals, etc. Sometimes the fear of performing can be lessened by the realization that none of us are perfect. Some days I’m more “in the groove” than others, and sometimes life happens and I’m just not particularly in the mood to be overly inspiring. One of the great things about interacting with so many of you is that just about the time I start to feel that way I’ll get a nice email or comment with some encouraging words to lift my spirits.

Camila at camilajovob asks, “Where do you mark the line between being frugal and being cheap?

I wrote a long post on this very subject a while back, but I really think it can be summed up in a couple key ideas. Frugal people appreciate the value in things, and are willing to pay a bit more upfront for quality goods and services. Cheap people ALWAYS look for the lower bottom line, regardless of the risk of receiving an inferior product or service. For instance, there are some things I refuse to be cheap on. I am adamant that my wife’s car be reliable, safe and properly maintained. Sure, I could stretch the life out of the tires a little longer, or go further between oil changes, or use a cheaper mechanic, but I appreciate quality and demand it when it comes to the safety of my wife and kids. After all, she is hauling precious cargo in that vehicle! Now, for my own vehicle…well, that’s a different story!

Dawn asked the following set of questions, “I would be interested in learning a few things to do with kids over summer vacation that doesn’t involve big bucks for camp. Kids 13, 9 and 2.”

Dawn, many of the same spring break activities I recommended are good candidates for summer vacation entertainment. Some of the best times I had as a kid were spending time with my grandparents. My grandfather taught me how to place chess, and we spent many days in the backyard creating sawdust to build various contraptions around the house. I helped my grandmother shell peas, roll coins and work a variety of puzzles. None of these activities are overly expensive, and a few of them can instill the value of hard work, self-sufficiency, etc. in your young children.

A couple roundups ago I shared an idea sponsored by Sunkist whereby kids may receive a lemonade stand kit and donate proceeds to charity. We are thinking of doing this during the summer so our kids can raise money to donate to their favorite charities. Help them learn about charities in your local area, and be sure they get to experience the transfer of money from their hands to the charitable organization. This exchange of money and labor in the name of a good cause will do more to create a spirit of giving than you could imagine.

“Also if you use a filter like Brita or Pur with kids in the house and do you find it’s as good as getting the gallon refills @ 49 cents each. Our water here in Chicago is horrid.”

We are fortunate to have pretty good water right out of the tap. Our water-through-the-door on the refrigerator passes through a filter and has a clean taste. One thing to consider – bottled waters by default do not typically add fluoride, which is added to tap water by most municipalities water treatment facilities. The jury is still out on whether or not this lack of fluoride has affected kid’s teeth assuming they were never given good, old-fashioned tap water.

“Any suggestions for those of us with kids who rent & can’t do much in the way of fixes to the house other than CFL’s?”

If you are a renter, you can still perform a summer energy audit to check for areas where your home or apartment is operating inefficiently. Of course, it may be up to the landlord to perform the improvements, but it’s worth bringing it up. For instance, weatherstripping around doors has a way of wearing out over the years allowing air to escape around the door. Replacing the strip is an easy job, but you may want to run it by your landlord to see if they would be willing to perform the updates. If not, ask if you can do it yourself. The time, money, and effort could be well worth it in reduced utility bills during the summer months.

“What are your grocery bills looking like these days with inflation (a question possibly for your wife) and how are you combating them. Going to Aldi vs big name store only shopping sales etc?”

Believe it or not we’ve actually had success keeping our costs down by shopping at Walmart. We were Kroger shoppers for a long time, but have noticed their prices trending up at a faster pace than that of Walmart’s, particularly in the produce and dairy sections. My experience may be unique, as Kroger recently built a giant new store in our area and I suspect the price increases are aimed at paying for the new-store!

“If you were bequeathed 20K with the note that it was either to be used as a partial down payment or for kids college funds & you were still trying to pay down debt & property taxes in the area start at 6-8K would you keep for college funds (currently non existent) or save for a house. We are happy renting at the current time.”

This is a tough one, and illustrates why I don’t like the idea of giving money with strings attached. If I was still in debt and received 20K my first inclination would be to pay down debt, particularly if I could become debt free by using the entire windfall. However, in the name of honoring the request of the person who left this money perhaps a compromise is in order. Would it be possible to establish college funds for your children with a third of the money, save another third for a future house down payment fund, and use the remaining third to pay down your debts?

Bottom line – you know what’s best for your situation, and I would advise you not to allow someone else’s wishes to increase a burden on your finances. If you are happy renting, and are not financially prepared to take on a mortgage, then do not do it. Down the road, when you are financially ready, this money will be set aside to assist with a down payment on your home – making it a true blessing.

“On that same vein how do you get family & friends to stop telling you to buy a home when you don’t have a down payment & don’t want to have two incomes currently just to pay for a house. A flip of keeping up with the Joneses I guess.”

I would refer you to my newlywed article where I remind young people there is no shame in renting. Familial peer pressure is real, and the only way to work through it is to create healthy boundaries, especially when it comes to finances. Keep the conversations light and explain that you are working to become debt free and save up a sizable down payment to keep your mortgage payment low. If that doesn’t work, ask them to contribute to your down payment fund – that usually keeps them quiet for a while!

Lee asks the following questions, “I’m curious whether you are in the midst of all this tornado weather and storms? (in other words, where do you and your family live? (if you mentioned it already, sorry, I missed it.)

We live in the southeast United States, and yes, we have recently been affected by recent storms. Fortunately, we were not personally affected, but our neighbors to the north were struck by two tornadoes in the early morning hours on Mother’s Day. A couple people I work with sustained major damage, but fortunately escaped injury.

We’re also waiting for our rebate check, and thought it would be here the 9th. I’m curious if there’s a lot of us out there who haven’t received their rebates when supposed to.

I’ve heard mixed reviews on the stimulus checks. It seems the “received by” date is the date most people are receiving their checks via direct deposit, but not any earlier. We did not receive a tax refund this year so I did not provide my banking information – looks like we’ll be waiting on snail mail to receive our stimulus check.

Also, what role does your faith play in your life? Just curious, as a Christian myself. Do you have favorite charities or organizations that you donate to? We sponsor children with Compassion and give to “Right to Life” and “Feed the Children”, as well as other ministries that we feel we’re supposed to. Again, you can answer as you feel comfortable. Some people don’t want to get too personal.

Lee, you’ve highlighted some worthy charities and I am reluctant to add any to your list because I believe charity giving is a personal decision, both in the amount you give (if any) and where you direct those funds. I’d hate to influence one way or another. I will say that I believe charity starts at home, so I lean towards helping organizations at the community level, and even enjoy face-to-face giving when possible (Secret Santa style!). That said, there are some wonderful opportunities to help those abroad who need it most and the organizations you mentioned are great examples in this mission.

Katy, from Adventures in Parenting asks, “Congrats on the freelance writing gig. I don’t know if it’s a secret, but my question is how you did it: how do you submit for freelance jobs, and who do you submit to?

Thanks, Katy! I’m eager to share the details with readers, but it was a confidential assignment and I will continue to honor that request until the work is published. Oddly enough, this particular assignment came to me as a publisher took an interest in one of my posts and asked that I create a product around the ideas. For seeking out freelance writing/blogging jobs, I would highly recommend the sites Freelance Writing Jobs and the ProBlogger Job Board. Both sites are updated daily (usually) with new opportunities and advice on how to score jobs. You might also check out Craig’s List as they appear as the source on many of these job listings. If you go that route, be sure to thoroughly investigate the offer as stories of scammers abound in the “work from home” genre.

Budgets are Sexy asks, “George Bush offers to give you $2 Million in exactly 3 years from now (signed contract and all), BUT in order for you to get it, you have to give up EVERY PENNY you have right now – all savings, retirement, etc. Would you do it?”

Creative question! Well, you didn’t mention my income – would I have to give that up, too? If not, I suppose we could continue to live on my income and put off saving and investing for the future windfall. However, if I had to completely give up all forms of money and income, then my answer would be no deal. Maybe if I was a single guy I could just float though life for the next three years, but as a husband and father with mouths to feed I need to maintain a certain quality of life for my children. No amount of promised money in the future could cause me to sacrifice their well-being, even temporarily.

Thanks to everyone for their questions! I’ve enjoyed responding to you and plan to make this regularly scheduled programming going forward. If you would like to get my thoughts on a topic of interest, simply post a comment to this article below and I’ll include your question in next week’s Sunday Conversation.

photo by OiMax

Comments

  1. Thanks for confirming again that there’s no shame in renting! My husband and I get grief about this all the time, but the bottom line is that being renters gives us more flexibility and less to deal with in the way of home repair–not to mention that the DC housing market is still pretty unstable…

    • @Jen: You keep doing what’s right for you and your husband, and ignore unsolicited advice on the subject. You are absolutely doing the right thing!

  2. I am delurking to say “Thanks” for this site. I am a single mom left with several debts following divorce and I’m beginning to feel inspired that I can get back to having a positive cashflow and raise my credit score. Keep up the great work!

    • @celticbuffy: You can absolutely do it! I was raised by a single mom, and she is one of the strongest, smartest individuals I’ve ever known. When the responsibility of raising and caring for your kids falls solely on your shoulders it requires thick skin, a can-do attitude and ton of perserverance. You simply cannot afford to walk away when the going gets tough, because you have kids relying on you. I’m glad I could inspire you in some way, but it is you who inspires me to keep writing! Thanks for your comments, and for being a reader.

  3. Frugal Dad,

    Thanks for answering my question. In response to your last statement >Create something you can be proud of and spread your message to anyone who will listen!< I’m very proud of what I’ve created so far! My Small Cents has really become a passion of mine.

    I still am no further along in making my decision, I tend to flip flop between thinking about the power of branding and the fact that in the past four months my name (My Small Cents) is out there all over the place, and feeling that my other (new) choice would be better. But don’t worry, I’ll keep you all informed! And hey, if you want to read about frugality in France from an American perspective, hop on over.

    Thanks again for your advice.

    • @Amy: I also enjoy hearing some of the personal story from bloggers. These Q&A sessions with readers are some of favorite posts at other blogs, so I decided to start offering it myself. I’m looking forward to a new set of questions.

  4. Yeah, sorry for not clarifying the question a bit more, but your answers were great :) What I meant to say was that you’d have to basically erase all current savings, retirement, etc that you have at this moment (so basically start from scratch all over again), BUT yes – any income going forward would count ;)

    I’m always curious to see how far others would go for large amounts of money. Thx for answering, and happy Monday!

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