Mailbag: Questions About Mass Layoffs, Financial Autopilot, Cast Iron and More

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. Authorized signer on checking account2. Mass layoffs at work3. Financial autopilot is very boring4. Cast iron is gross!5. Stock market not realistic6. Free tools…

Mailbag: Questions About Mass Layoffs, Financial Autopilot, Cast Iron and More

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. Authorized signer on checking account2. Mass layoffs at work3. Financial autopilot is very boring4. Cast iron is gross!5. Stock market not realistic6. Free tools for podcasting7. “Stolen” reusable containers8. Inexpensive family games for holidays9. Different credit scores?10. Cheap but durable backpack11. Tips for razor blade life12. 2020 reading list
Something I like to do each December is make a batch of homemade egg nog. I use this basic recipe from Serious Eats, mixing it together in a cocktail mixer, and I keep it in the fridge in a container.
My belief in the past had been that you should drink it fairly quickly after making it, but a friend of mine has persuaded me to let it age for a couple of weeks in the fridge, so I have some egg nog in the fridge in a few jars aging for a couple of weeks.
I’m sure many of you will want to know the cost calculations on this. It’s definitely cheaper to make it yourself unless you’re buying organic dairy products from a local farm versus buying the dirt cheap eggnog at the store (and even then, it’s fairly close). It’s pretty easy to do — you just put the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake it for a while, then strain it so that any thicker parts of the eggs are strained out. I think it’s pretty tasty, too.
(Just make sure the eggs you’re using are pasteurized.)
On with the questions!
Q1: Authorized signer on checking account
I recently found out I’m an authorized user on my dad’s checking account, leftover from long ago. I called the credit union and they said we both have to come to their office in person (which isn’t easy for my elderly father) and he would need to close the entire checking account and open a new one just to have me removed as an authorized user. I’ve explained the situation and complained plenty. I don’t buy what they’re saying one bit as I bank almost exclusively online, but they’re not budging. My question is are there any negative implications to just staying as an authorized user on his account? I know it doesn’t affect my credit report. But could it have a negative impact on my ChexSystems report if, let’s say, he overdrafts? And should he pass away with debt or other financial issues, would I have any obligation to pay that if our names are connected on his checking account? I’m trying to gauge if I should put the effort to fight this or just let it go.
– Bianca
I did some research into this, including contacting a local bank and having a long conversation with the manager. In most situations, an authorized signer is not liable for anything regarding the account — that’s standard policy for banks today. However, banking practices haven’t always been as standardized as they are today, so the bank manager strongly encouraged me to tell you to check with the bank in question and ask them directly. Just simply state that you are an authorized signer on an account and what your concerns are.
Again, in normal banking practices, if you are an authorized signer and he passes away, your ability to sign related to that account also ends immediately. It is he who is authorizing you, and that authorization terminates at his death. This makes sense, as the account is now part of his estate.
Here’s another way to think of it: all of the risk is with him because he’s the account owner. You are not an owner, merely someone he gave permission to sign documents related to the account. It’s not your actual responsibility.
My recommendation would be to call the bank and ask these questions very specifically. You’ll likely be handed off to a branch manager who can answer those questions. Unless their policies are outside of what I understand to be the norm, you will be fine remaining an authorized signer on the account.
Q2: Mass layoffs at work
This morning a third of my department was let go. They were given two weeks severance, walked one by one to their desks to clear them out, and escorted out the door. I’m scared and everyone’s scared. I have spent today trying to figure out what I should be doing right now. I have $65K in student loan debt and $11K in credit card debt and no money in the bank other than some in my 401(k). My wife works but makes maybe half of what I do. Please help with specific advice on what to do.
– Jim
Obviously, you shouldn’t bet on your employer employing you for a lot longer. It’s very likely you’re going to be hit with a flood of work as you take up the slack from the terminated people, plus they’ve shown you how expendable you actually are. If I were you, I’d be looking elsewhere for work as soon as possible.
First, you have to cut back on your spending immediately. A lot of the more frivolous things you spend money on have to go for a while. Buy everything store brand. Eat most of your meals at home. Don’t go out nearly as much and have a lot of “date nights” at home. Enjoy hobby stuff you already have instead of buying new stuff. You need to channel that saved money into a savings account and build yourself a nice emergency fund so that you can survive for a few months without work. I strongly recommend setting up an automatic transfer from your checking to your savings account each week for a healthy amount — $50, perhaps — and never turning it off. In the short term, supplement it with even more so you can build it up quickly. That way, if you need to use it in the future, there’s always cash in there for emergencies like a sudden job loss.
Also, polish up that resume and start talking quietly to anyone you know in the field outside of your employer. Ask them if there are any openings at their organization that you might be right for. Beyond that, start getting involved in any local groups that are related to your field (if you’re not already) and stay involved, because it’s situations like this where the relationships you have with people in those groups can really prove useful. Look online and offline for these groups.
Those are the two most important things for you to do right now. You’ve got to get your finances in better shape while looking for a new job. Some of these changes — like a better grip on your spending and more involvement in your local professional community — should be permanent ones, lasting after you find a new job.
Q3: Financial autopilot is very boring
I think I’m where you’re at with having all of your finances on autopilot and it’s really boring. I have some money in my checking account that I can spend on whatever I want and everything else is automatically paid. I have every single one of my bills on auto-pay. I automatically put money into an emergency fund and a bunch into retirement all automatically. I just buy food and household supplies and fun things out of checking and I just wait. If I lose my job or something, I’d just go in and turn off a bunch of automatic transfers and move some money over from my emergency fund for a while. I used to stress so much about finances and now I don’t even think about it for weeks at a time. It’s actually pretty boring because there’s nothing really to think about, so I have time to think about other things in life and that’s actually kind of the problem because thinking about other things sometimes tempts me to spend that money and change things. It’s like putting together a LEGO kit — fun when you are building it but boring when it’s done.
– Ambrose
I’m very much in that same boat. Almost everything in our financial life is on autopilot. The only issue that ever comes up is when something automatic breaks. We have a healthy enough emergency fund that unexpected events don’t really derail anything.
It becomes a waiting game at that point and it’s easy to focus on other things. I’ve been trying to stretch the self-improvement principles I learned from all of this into other areas of my life, reading a lot of philosophy, delving into hobbies and trying frugal projects because it’s enjoyable for me to figure out optimal ways of doing things (in terms of both time and money).
I think the important thing is to find things to focus on that aren’t going to damage the financial system you have in place while also making you feel fulfilled. I have a number of things in my life that do this for me. I think it’s also helpful to really focus on gratitude and be grateful for having that kind of financial stability and the peace and lack of stress it brings because it’s fairly rare today.
Q4: Cast iron is gross!
So you’re telling me the shiny nonstick layer in a cast-iron skillet is just cooked-in oil and food bits and stuff? That is seriously gross!
– Amy
It’s not what y
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