washingtonpost.com
Color of Money Book Club

Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, July 3, 2008 12:00 PM

Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary hosted an online discussion with Robert and Melinda Blanchard, authors of "Changing Your Course: The 5-Step Guide to Getting the Life You Want" (Sterling), on Thursday, July 3 at Noon ET.

In her last column, Michelle wrote: "This book is packed with stories of people who changed careers or employees who decided to become entrepreneurs...But this book isn't just about following a dream of entrepreneurship. It's about shifting in a direction that makes life more fulfilling, financially and emotionally."

Transcript follows.

Read Michelle's past Color of Money columns.

____________________

Michelle Singletary: Good afternoon to all. And before I forget I hope you all have a wonderful 4th.

Now let's get started (thrilled to see so many questions the day before a holiday).

_______________________

Fairfax, Va.: Hi Michelle! Love the chats! Your article on inflation made me think...do you have any suggestions on some shorter-term investments which will help fight again the erosion from inflation? I'm saving to pay for grad school with NO DEBT (yay!) but unfortunately this means I'll need the cash a little sooner than a lot of investments will give it to me. What are some good ways to keep this money accessible within the next 5 years, without having it just parked in my savings account? Thanks!

P.S. You would have been PROUD at my reaction to a friend who told me to "just pay for it with a credit card"!!!

Michelle Singletary: Hey. Thanks for the lovely comment.

As for your investment. I can't really tell you where to invest. But I will say that if you need the money in 5 years or less you probably shouldn't invest it. Investing means risk and you NEED that money.

Unfortunately that means parking it for safety in savings or money market. But look on www.bankrate.com for banks, thrifts, credit unions, Internet-only banks such as ING for the highest yielding savings account you can find.

_______________________

Ameri, Ca.: Hi Michelle. Just wanted to say -- I learned about debt the hard way but I'm glad that I know better now. I finally paid off all of my credit card debt and it's a good feeling! All it takes is a lot of determination (and patience)!

Michelle Singletary: A big, hug, YEAH for you for getting rid of that bondage.

Debt is never good no matter what it's for. Some debt is necessary (most of us don't have the cash to buy a home outright). But ALL debt puts you in bondage.

So good for you.

As in keeping with the theme today about change, you certainly made a great change to your life.

_______________________

Atlanta, Ga.: Michelle, I have a question, not about the book.

Okay, so typically people say to pay off the house when you can, right? Well, at least you do. I live in a city with high cost of living, we've paid off an enormous amount on the house (including another large amount for our construction). We have a home equity line of credit, which I try not to use, but occasionally do to balance things out.

So, I am disciplined at paying the mortgage, and the HELOC, and we put money into savings, maxing out 401k, etc. In certain years we can put money into IRAs. Sometimes I borrow that money from the equity line.

We have no other debt. No car, credit card, etc. Just the house. Is it a horrible thing, given that I pay it off as soon as I can - to borrow like I do? I owe less than 1/2 the value of the home given the mortgage and equity line (we own other real estate - rental properties - too that is mortgaged, but none of them do we owe more than 80%).

I know most people would say not to borrow to invest, but I don't get the opportunity to invest in my IRA but the once, don't get the tax break cause it's a Roth - but it's a great investment for the future. Right? And the alternative would be to get a mortgage where I owe 80% - then that 'extra' money left over (i.e., pull money out of equity) - could be for the IRA.

What do you think?

Michelle Singletary: I think you have a budgeting problem. Why are you borrowing so much from your line of credit?

What I say is pay off the aggressively IF you have:

-- an emergency fund

-- life happens fund (to pay for major things that come up like car repairs so you don't have to tap your emergency fund

-- are saving well for retirement

-- are saving for kids college fund (what you can) if you have kids

-- you don't have consumer debt (credit cards, student loans, car loans, 401 (k) loans etc.

If you've done all the above use any extra money to get out of mortgage bondage.

But in your case it sound like you need to focus on reducing your spending so you have the money to pay for the things you want without borrowing. You are on a borrowing cycle that doesn't sound good.

_______________________

Detroit, Mich.: I was recently laid off due to a company reorganization. I have been contacted by other regions within the company regarding job opportunities, but I really want to transition out of the office and into a home office. How do I direct the conversation with a prospective hiring manager to effectuate this quality of life change for myself?

Melinda Blanchard: This is an interesting question. Are you convinced that you could do as good a job from a home office? If so, why don't you write a short proposal explaining how it would work.

_______________________

Maryland: Hello Michelle,

This was the perfect book for the Washington crowd, I (like many of your readers) am a government employee (for 25 years now). There were so many things I wanted to do with my life but thought it best to "play it safe". I do love to see how others are living there dream, I could only imagine how great it must be to live (at least a portion of the year) in the caribean. Thanks for sharing.

Robert Blanchard: There's nothing wrong with playing it safe, but remember it's never too late to try something else. After 25 years as a government employee, you clearly have plenty of patience and a stick-to-it attitude. Both traits will come in handy if you decide to make a change. Good luck.

Michelle Singletary: Thanks. Thought it was a good book too -- and certainly not just for DC area or federal workers.

I like the idea the authors had of looking at change as an opportunity.

_______________________

Alexandria, Va.: I just wanted to say thanks so much for the book! You sent one to my husband and I am working through it right now. It completely speaks to me/us on many levels - mostly because we are working on a plan where I will go to law school in 2011 or 2012 and my DH will start a freelance writing career. (debt free and with substantial EF & retirement savings)

I'll be 45 when I'm done with school - and moving on to the next dream. Thanks for such a powerful book that will help us make our plans even better!

Michelle Singletary: You are so very welcome. I give out books every month (thanks to the publishers) and rarely get a thank you note from those who win.

So thanks. And good luck with your change.

_______________________

Moving from D.C.: Hi Michelle, I'm sorry that this question is unrelated to the book club, but I hope you'll take my question anyway. My husband and I are moving at the end of July to NYC to be near family. Since I'm leaving a job with the federal government and have become vested in the TSP, I'm wondering if it's best for me to just keep my money there. At this point, I don't have a separate retirement account, and I've heard that the TSP is one of the best plans out there in terms of low-fees, etc. I know there aren't lots of fund choices in the TSP, but I feel okay about the lifecycle funds where I've placed the money. Does this make sense? Or should I be looking into other options? Also, I've heard that I can move money from other employer-based accounts into my TSP in the future and have all of the money in one place--is that true?

Michelle Singletary: If you like the fees and returns in your TSP then stay put.

For some (perhaps even many) rolling over money into a Rollover IRA does make sense. But again, if you like the returns and the fees are low you are making the right choice for you.

Not sure about your last question. I'm not sure if you leave a company or the government plan you can add any new funds. But call and ask.

_______________________

Warwick, R.I.: Hello all, I have just finished my second book of the Blanchards and I am so gratful to have found them and their inspiration.

Robert Blanchard: Thanks for reading our books and we are happy that you found them inspiring.

_______________________

Little Rock, Ark.: First of all, I really enjoyed the book! You two seem like amazing people. Right now I'm working as a nurse at a retirement home, but I don't enjoy the work at all. I've always wanted to go back to school and learn how to do acupuncture and then maybe have my own practice. But as much as I would love to change my course, I'm not sure if it's possible, b/c my husband is out of work and we have 3 young children and almost no savings. I guess I feel lucky to have any job at all, even if I don't like it. Is it possible to change courses without jeapordizing my family's well-being?

Melinda Blanchard: Thanks so much for your note! Here's the thing. Some changes can't happen all at once and in today's economy, we all have to be very, very careful. However, that doesn't mean you should feel stuck. It sounds like you just may need to do a little more research about how you could accomplish your goal. How can you learn to do acupuncture without jeopardizing your job? Is there a class you could audit? Maybe another acupuncture specialist who would be willing to let you assist and learn on the job? Have you exhausted all of the possibilities?

Michelle Singletary: I totally agree with Melinda. In your situation, you can't change yet. But if you have time (and as the mother of three myself I have very little) but see if you can work part-time with an acupuncturist.

As Melinda says take it slow but don't give up on the dream.

_______________________

Erie, Pa.: Michelle, I have put myself on a news diet. The economic drum-beating of doom and death has just been too much lately. My husband and I are planning for retirement. I have decided to retire from my job and work for two more years at another job. My husband is already retired and has started a small home-based business. We have saved all of our lives and have a small stock portfolio, 2 small rental homes, and a couple of IRAs. I will get a pension. We have old cars, one basic cell phone, no cable, and buy a lot of stuff used.

So why am I so worried and anxious about our future? What can the average person do?

Michelle Singletary: I hear you. I HAVE to read the news and it does get me down. But don't shut out the news. You need to stay in the know.

Instead continue to count your blessing and keep an eye on your own finances. Don't be worried if you are doing things well. Just let the news be a reminder of what can happen if you don't do your best to be a good manager of your own money.

_______________________

10101: Michelle: Happy Fourth to you, your guests and your families. We just paid off our mortgage! We refinanced twice (from 13.5% down to 5.75%), and still paid it off 6 years earlier than the term in the first mortgage. We have no other debt.

The feeling of owning our home outright is great. If we choose, it is a home we can stay in. It is a burden lifted from our shoulders, or like an overhead cloud disappeared.

Keep telling it like is: say no to unnecessary spending, and yes to saving. It can be done.

Michelle Singletary: WOW.

Wish you were here so I could give you a high five.

I can't wait for the day I can be mortgage-free.

So, so, so happy for you. And I hope others get to feel what you feel right now.

And think this Independence Day is really a celebration of independence for you!!!!

_______________________

Warwick, R.I.: The book I just finished is "Changing Your Course" and now I plan on going back through and working the steps. I do have a question about your topic of change...I love what I do for work. I have a creative job and I look forward to doing most parts of it everyday. The change that I am seeking now is not what I am doing but how I am doing it. I want to work more full time and grow and expand my business to the next level but I am not sure how to begin.

The steps and tools in the Blanchard's book lit a fire inside of me and have prompted some soul searching...for that I am grateful.I want to do what I do but do it better.

Melinda Blanchard: Congratulations!!! The first step in our book is to DECIDE to make a change and it sounds like you've succeeded. Fantastic! Work slowly and carefully through Step 2 - RESEARCH - and you'll figure out how to move forward. Chances are there are several different routes you could take to expanding your business so you've got to research your options before evaluating which one is right for you. Good luck and keep us posted on your progress.

_______________________

Silver Spring, Md.: M - Not to veer from your book topic, but I'd like you to address the issue of cars. I was just reading in the paper yesterday about the nose-dive in car prices on some of the more gas guzzling models. Certainly we'd all like to save money on gas, but the purchase of a car with the attendant depreciation is also costly. It's just that the "cost" of a new car is more subtle than numbers on the gas pump. I want to caution your readers against wholesale trade-in of larger cars, particularly if they're upside-down on the car. While the cost of gas isn't fun, a large car payment must also be counted into the cost equation.

washingtonpost.com: Fuel-Efficient Or Financially Prudent (Color of Money, May 25)

Michelle Singletary: Beat you to it. I've already cautioned my readers.

But thanks nontheless.

_______________________

Nashville, Tenn.: We have a final payment on our car for $12,500 and took $8,000 from our 401k to help pay it...we have 3 1/2 weeks to come up with the rest of the money. Do you think this is wise to take this retirement money to pay off the lease. Knowing that the amount would be greater taking the car back. Our credit wont allow us to refinance the car but we could earn it with my type of work in commission sales...what should we do??

Michelle Singletary: First, I would not have taken money from my retirement to pay off the lease.

But I'm not sure why you have to "pay off" the lease. Can't you just make the monthly payments.

So yes, I would cut expenses, get another job, etc. to pay for the lease/car and not rob the retirement.

By the way didn't you have to pay a penalty to take the money out of retirement? If you did that means you just added on to the cost of that lease (or fleece as radio host Dave Ramsey calles it).

Lesson to you all. Don't lease.

_______________________

Washington D.C.: Hi Michelle, Really enjoy your chats! You were on a news segment this morning on NBC channel 4, and you look even nicer in person than your photo! (I mean that as a compliment, please don't be offended).

Husband and I are moving into a house, after saving carefully for the 20% down payment for over 2 years. My first thought is to save for an emergency fund, and then a life happens fund. Should I save for them concurrently, or wait until the emergency fund is full, or does it matter?

Thank you!

Michelle Singletary: First, thank you so much. Totally not offended. I usually hate any picture of me. I'm so much cuter in person :)

And take your time with both funds. Save for each at the same time. For exaample, if you have an extra $100 a month to put in savings put $50 in the emergency fund and $50 in the life happens fund.

The final amount in both is a goal and you don't have to rush to meet it right away.

_______________________

New York, N.Y.: I just read your column about weddings and it makes me ill. Lots of people give money for weddings but the begging needs to stop. Send me an invitation, I'll give you a gift. But don't tell me what to give you.

On a different note - I just want to advise anyone going back to school to be debt-free before you go. I owe a lot of money (credit and school loans) because I wasn't in the free and clear before I started. It all adds up. I'm only a few months away from being credit-free but I will be paying the loans for a long time.

Happy 4th!

washingtonpost.com: Today's eletter (July 3).

Michelle Singletary: My comments about weddings was in my eletter sent out today. Hope you all are subscribing.

And totally agree with you on both points!

_______________________

Alexandria, Va.: Hello, I would like to know the next time you are going to hold a forum or be a guest speaker in Virginia? I missed you when you were at Tyson Corners. Also, do you meet with people and go over their finances to see what they need to do to meet their goals. I am interested in any books that I can read to help me get down my debt. Thanks for responding in advance. I really enjoy your show when it comes on helping people with money management.

Thanks, Angela

Michelle Singletary: Well, I'll actually be in Virginia next week.

Here are the details:

Life Empowerment Super Conference at St. Paul's Baptist Church, Richmond, VA

Registration is free but you must RSVP by calling 1-888-537-2482 or by visitting http://www.myspbc.org/events/lesc/home.html

I don't meet with folks one-on-one. Instead I volunteer to run a ministry at my church to help people get their finances straight. In that ministry other volunteers who are good money managers become mentors to folks with money issues. Then we meet once a month for workshops about debt, credit, budgeting etc.

For you I would advise you to go to www.debtadvice.org. You can find a consumer credit counseling agency in your area and get help with budgeting and any debt issues you have.

As for a book, check out the ones I've recommended as part of The Color of Money Book Club. Or you could get my book (buy or from the library). It's called "Spend Well, Live Rich." I give much motivation to get out of debt.

_______________________

Leesburg, Va.: I am retiring with 25+ years of service. I would like to take several months off and begin looking for another job next year. Will my break without a job look bad on my resume?

Melinda Blanchard: If you ask 5 employers what they would think of your time off, you'd probably get 5 different answers. It will depend completely on where you apply for a job.

_______________________

Jack, Burke: Wedding info you might like to share. Our daughter was married a couple of years ago. The wedding was in the coutry. Had a party tent and rented everything from them. Her mother-in-law to be grew the flowers and her friends did all the work. They had agreed to share the work when every one of them had a wedding. We had a band composed of blue grass radio moonlighters - cost $2000. Total cost was $10,000 and very nice. The other family did not have much money so we paid for almost evrything. Our daughter worked on a farm and a resturant agreed for us to supply raw food and they cooked it and delivered it to the tent. We bought beer and wine. So much was left over, the kids partied a day after the reception. A family member made the cake. Main cost was getting family taken care of with hotel for blood familiy with kids. Approximately $4,000 went for hotel and travel. Again toal was $10,000 and everyone had a great time.

Michelle Singletary: Consider it shared.

_______________________

Rockville, Md.: Hi Michelle, I love reading your column. You provide solid advice. I am a recently divorced mom with two kids. Previously, my ex-spouse managed all our finances and I was a stay at home mom. I went back to school at the age of 44 to get a graduate degree and have landed a government job now. I have $80,000 in student loan debt. I am receiving $2000/month court ordered support and making about that much at my entry level job. Luckily I have received $80,000 cash settlement. I need help managing my finances. Can you provide some valuable advice?

Thanks, Needing help.

Michelle Singletary: First, don't spend that $80,000.

Develop a budget. You might go to the web site I just mentioned www.debtadvice.org and have a credit counselor sit down with you to go though all your finances.

That money is certainly a lot but by the time you divide it up will go quickly. How might you divide it up:

-- Establish an emergeny fund with at least three to six months living expenses. Something you definitely need as a single parent.

-- Create a life happens fund (see earlier posting for description)

-- Put some in a retirement fund for yourself, especially if you don't have any retirement savings because you were a stay at home mom

-- put some in 529 plan for the three kids

-- pay off any credit card debt

--pay off any car loan

See where I'm going..

_______________________

Richmond, Va.: I need this book! All of a sudden, I'm 45, hating my job and wondering how I messed up such a bright future. I made a few bad decisions due to lack of confidence rather than lack of ability and now feel suck in a toxic environement. I worked derned hard paying my way through college and grad school and now just feel angry I can't enjoy my work more. I need to figure out how to make my career/life the way I want it. I'm capable, just doubtful.

Robert Blanchard: Here's the thing about a few bad decisions...You have probably learned a great deal from them. You can't undo them but you can use them to your benefit in the future. You need to get out of the toxic environment and as soon as possible. Use our five steps and they will help. Good luck and don't give up.

_______________________

Bethesda, Md.: Hi Michelle, I have a question about knowing what change to make. My husband has talked about lots of things from running a Bed-and-Breakfast to opening a bookstore. He gets me excited about these ideas but then a month later another idea takes the spotlight and the old idea was terrible. We're nearing the age (50s) we'd like to chuck our government jobs and start something. How can we be sure before we take that leap?

Thanks!

Melinda Blanchard: It sounds like you've already decided to work together and work for yourselves. That's a huge step! Having started 10 businesses together, we know what it's like to have lots of ideas. Go to Step 2 -RESEARCH- and work through it together. Do some soul-searching and think about how you'd really like to spend your time. Ask yourself some important questions. What would make you the most excited? Which option has the most liklihood for success? What skills do you have that would be helpful? Let us know what you decide to do!

_______________________

Cincinnati, OH: Hi Michelle, this is mostly a thank you for your columns and chats, thanks to you I'm doing much better on paying down some credit card debt. I also have a question: are other western countries in as much debt trouble as Americans? I don't see articles about Canadians losing their homes or running up hugh credit card bills, and what about Europeans? Do they shop the way we do and amass as much stuff and then spend years paying for it? Could you do a column perhaps, comparing US to Canada and/or Europe? The only country where I have traveled extensively is Ireland, and this was before the "Celtic Tiger" roared, and spending was never anything like it is here. But I do read French news pages like LeMonde and Figaro, and see plenty of ads, so wonder if ordinary French spend lavishly.

washingtonpost.com: India's Young Spenders (by Emily Wax June 24).

Michelle Singletary: Click on the link to the article. Think you will find an answer to your question.

But generally, no I think Americans are NO. 1 in terms of their love affair with debt.

_______________________

Allentown, Pa.: Hello all! This is the first time I am hearing of this book, and I'm curious - once you've decided to make a big change, how to you get started? I'm in a dead-end job and need to make a career change. I have a passion for writing, and am willing to move for the right job, but the market is tough right now and writing jobs don't pay well. I'm not sure what to do...

Melinda Blanchard: Hi there! The book is a 5-step guide that will walk you through the process. The steps are reprsented by the acronym :D.R.E.A.M.

D: DECIDE

R: RESEARCH

E: EVALUATE

A: ACT

M: MAINTAIN

You've already completed Step 1 which is to make the decision to change. We're available on our blog if you have more questions as you move forward. Our website is www.livewhatyoulove.com. We're happy to help as much as we can!

_______________________

For Fairfax: She might also want to look into CDs. Obviously, you can't do that with an emergency fund that you need to access on short notice, but if this is tuition money, she likely has a target enrollment date in mind that is months or years in the future. So locking into a CD for a year or two might give her a higher rate than just a money-market account.

Michelle Singletary: Possible answer to socking away money. Although the rates for long-term CDs weren't that great last time I checked.

_______________________

I just read your newsletter: The couple who says they just "broke even" on the wedding, paying $200-300 per person and recieving the same amount? Why not just have a nice tea for a tenth of the cost and use the leftover money for your future. Beside the core group of freinds and family, most would rather not spend $300 to have to spend the day watching Aunt Bertha dance.

Michelle Singletary: I know right!!!

When I read that line "broke even" I was a little put off.

When you invite guest to your wedding, home, party the goal shouldn't be to "break even." I thought the idea was that you were inviting people to witness, enjoy or whatever the event, party.

Maybe it's just me.

_______________________

Orinda, Ca.: Hi Michelle, Bob and Mel, I haven't read their book, but it sure looks like I will. I recently quit my job in aviation finance for various reasons. I did get a severance package, so we are OK for the time being. We are great savers (max 401, save in 529 for the three kids) and my wife has a great job that pays very well. We have no debt other than the mortgage (about 45-50% LTV).

Here's my issue: this job market is horrible for me for two reasons, financial companies and aviation. I have a great network, but everyone is negative on the job outlook. I have always worked for large organizations. Even though my MBA training taught me about running a company and I'm sure I have all the skills to do so, do I go it alone? There are literally thousands of "consultants" and "independent professionals" out there. How do I set myself apart?

Thanks and Happy 4th.

Melinda Blanchard: We all have talents and skills that set us apart from everyone else. You just need to spend some time identifying what you have to offer and and where to best market those skills.

_______________________

Wedding info: I spent 7.5K in Atlanta- not a cheap place for a wedding!-and had 75 guests on a Sat. night, complete with food and alcohol. How did I do it? The right vendors, Find the ones working out of their homes, those just starting out, etc. Had a graphic designer make custom invitations for a fraction of the cost of ordering from a big vendor. Did very simple hand-made favors. No limo-used the hotel shuttle. Got a $300 dress. No flowers on teh tables- just candles from a discount store. It was lovely.

Michelle Singletary: Nice.

_______________________

Washington D.C.: Hi Michelle, Saw you on CNN's "Your Money" show! You were great because you were very straight forward and honest. Here's my question:

I am going to leave my present federal job for a more stressful and hectic federal job. I'm excited because while its going to be for the same $$ it will give me better experience. I have $45K in my TSP,have about $17,000 in regular savings (at 3%)and have $30,000 in student loans at a fixed 3.75%. No other debt. I don't own my own home but I figure it will take me another year to put together 20% for a downpayment. Any suggestions for someone whose is about to get hectic? Thanks.

Michelle Singletary: Pay off that student loan debt first..before saving for the downpayment for the house.

P.S. And good luck on the new job.

_______________________

South Riding, Va.: Hi, A slightly different take on the question of change:We would like to have a second child in the next year or so. I currently work full-time, and make just enough to pay for daycare and put the max allowed in a 403(b), but also provide the family's health benefits and get tuition remission that I am using to earn my PhD. My husband's salary is enough to pay the other household expenses and save toward retirement, but the higher gas and food prices have really cut into our savings.What kind of change can we make so that we can afford the expense of 2 kids in daycare?

Melinda Blanchard: The big question is what kind of change do you WANT to make? What part of your life is working and what part needs some adjustment? That's your first decision.

Robert Blanchard: Having a second child is wonderful and you shouldn't let the cost of living stop you. Once you get your PhD you'll probably be in a much better finacial position, so your savings can be rebuilt.

_______________________

Austin, Tx.: College for 3 students at same time.....

Fall 2009 will have 3 college students; thus far paid for out of pocket and with small local 'merit-based' scholarships. Do not qualify for 'financial-based' scholarships. Any advice on how to get the girls thru college without a lot of debt?

They are working summer jobs; but will barely cover books and spending money. College tuition, room and board are skyrocketing.

Thank you for advice or suggestions to research further.

Michelle Singletary: Can they live at home?

That would cut the costs in half.

_______________________

When I read that line "broke even" I was a little put off.: I know! A wedding ceremony is a sacred and legal ritual, not an investment scheme!

Michelle Singletary: I'm with you.

_______________________

Weddings: I'm wondering why not just put "cost to attend" on the wedding invitation so that people know up front what's expected instead bad-mouthing those who didn't understand the money subtext? Those who can't afford it will know not to accept, and those who don't think the bride and groom are worth the money (works both ways you know) can decline also.

Michelle Singletary: I fully expect soon to get such a notice in the next wedding invitation.

_______________________

Las Vegas, Nev.: I recently became unemployed due to downsizing. Being 60 and never previosuly unemployed, I am having a difficult time finding employment and am very discouraged. Am looking to do jobs from home, but know there are so many scams out there - those I have contacted want upfront payments. Any suggestions?

Melinda Blanchard: You're right to be cautious and yes, there are LOTS of scams out there. How about working from home without a boss? Is that something you've considered? Think about what skills you have to offer and research how you might be able to provide them to people who could use your help.

Michelle Singletary: You might also try some temp agencies. At least that will get you back in the door of a company. Often such jobs can lead to a permanent position.

_______________________

Atlanta, Ga.: I haven't read the book, but my husband and I are in the process of rethinking everything. We've been married 8 years, 2 kids, etc. We both did the playing it safe thing - going to school, taking jobs we might not love, etc.

But now I'm thinking: hey, why not take a little more charge and decide what we want and where we want to live? It's easier and more difficult these days (yes, there's more way to research more easily, but everyone else has that as well).

I kick myself for some safe decisions made when I was younger, and we both realize that many times, 'safe' means, not taking risks. Yes, you can sit on your couch and watch TV and hope for the best, or you can get out there and take some chances. We're looking into taking some chances (like, how do we move to a Caribbean island - or wherever we do want to live).

Robert Blanchard: What you do and where you live and who you spend your time with are the key ingredients to happiness. It's great to be rethinking everything and you'll be glad you did once you make your change. Hope our book is a good tool for you.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Re: car lease - Can the poster return the car & put the $8k toward a used car? The lease contract should have an option to return - try going to Carmax, etc. to have them assess it. If the value is equal to/greater than the buyout, have them buy the car & send that check to the leasing company. Then, buy a car you can -actually- afford, rather than continue to live the unrealistic, unaffordable dream. And sleep better for it, too.

Michelle Singletary: A thought for the leasing person.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I find myself wondering how Michelle handles weddings. Do you enjoy yourself, or do you spend time judging the event as extravagent and then build columns around the couples? Have you ever been approached by people who suspected you used them as bad examples of how to live your life?

I still find myself just as married by a clerk at the court house as do those who did it at a church and with all the bells-and-whistles, but I try not to come across as smug and superior about it.

Michelle Singletary: Right, you just come across as smug and superior about me.

_______________________

Chesapeake, Va.: My wife and I have 1,000,000+ in assets exclusive of house (2/3 paid off). Two daughters in college with their costs all covered. We are afraid of making the leap into retirement because of health insurance concerns. (I'm 57 she's 56)

Robert Blanchard: Have you checked out AARP for insurance? At the risk of sounding like a commercial, we just switched our car and house insurance to their policies and saved a bundle. We would have switched health but they don't handle Vermont.

Good luck

_______________________

20001: I'm glad that you noted that the expectation of cash may be cultural. Even so, I was appalled by the suggestion that the amount of any gift should be conditioned on the cost of the wedding. The idea! I'm getting married this fall, and some guests will need to travel to DC and obtain lodging. I've told everyone who has asked that we don't want anything. That people would spend good money just to be here in this economic climate is more than enough for us.

Michelle Singletary: Good for you.

_______________________

Need a reality check: Hi, Michelle-- I am an avid reader of yours, and hope you'll take this non-book of the week question. I own a nicely sized condo for me and my young son. I've spent some $ in the last few years upgrading it to make it nice for us. But, he's getting older (now 9 1/2) and I'd like to have more outdoor space for him to play, ride his bike, etc. (we live in a high-rise and w/my work schedule, he doesn't get nearly the amount of outside time he'd like, and none of his school friends live in our building), so I'm considering selling the condo for a bit less than I paid (I put 20% down 4 years ago), and taking the $ to buy a slightly bigger place (we have just one bath now, hard with a growing boy and single mom). I would, of course, not get all my 20% down back, but I have been paying extra each month, so have some additional equity built in.

What do you think? Does it make sense to take a bit of a loss on my condo, and buy something bigger that I could not have afforded 4 years ago (between price coming down on new house, and higher salary).

Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: Crunch the numbers without thinking about the play area for your son (there are parks).

If the numbers really work and you can continue to save for emergencies, your retirement, his college fund, then take the leap and move.

In other words, if you can afford to move I think wanting space for you and your son is a good enough reason to buy more house.

_______________________

Austin, tx: Only community college is close enough to live at home and my goal is for them to have full college experience that I did not - I worked full time and attended college part time.

Michelle Singletary: Well, they could go to the community college for two years, transfer to the 4-year school have that experience and degree for far less.

Look, you can't afford to send them all to the school they want without major debt.

Don't take on the debt. Think outside the box.

_______________________

Michelle Singletary: Well, it's after 1 p.m. So sorry if I didn't get to your question.

Please continue to look for my print column and eletter, you may find your question answered there.

Thanks to Bob and Melinda for joining me today.

Have a great holiday everyone.

_______________________

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive