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The Simple Dollar

Is sneaking food into a movie theater ethical?

Movie theater concessions are expensive. On the other hand, when you buy a ticket, you are agreeing to the vendor's rules, which include no outside food. Movie theater food ethics are addressed in question 8 of this week's mailbag.

By Guest blogger / August 3, 2012

Moviegoers wait in line before seeing "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" at the AMC movie theater at the Westfield Century City shopping mall in Los Angeles in this 2009 file photo. Hamm argues that sneaking food into a movie theater is unethical, even though concession prices are outrageous.

Matt Sayles/AP/File


What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
 1. Reasonable family grocery budget
 2. Community festivals
 3. Investing inheritance
 4. The overzealous winner
 5. Choosing between jobs
 6. Money and pride
 7. Salted butter for homemade bread?
 8. Sneaking food into theatres
 9. Moving, with or without car
 10. Record keeping for exercise

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The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two. Our busy lives are crazy enough without having to compare five hundred mutual funds – we just want simple ways to manage our finances and save a little money.

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I have the “joy” of living in a swing state in the 2012 presidential election, which means that we’re already getting political flyers and phone calls related to the presidential election. The congressional district we live in also seems to be one that both major political parties have identified as a target.

In the last few months, I’ve seen political ads and promotions of all kinds. Whenever I hear one that tells me how bad of a person a particular candidate is, I usually end up liking that person more because I know I’m not hearing the full story and I also know some political hack is out there trying to do a hatchet job.

I know I’m not the “typical” American voter, at least not as defined by the campaigns. However, I will say that if a candidate just came out and said, “I believe in X and it is the most important issue to me. I also believe in Y and Z. Other issues are more secondary to me. If I win this election, I will fight hard for X, Y, and Z.” and didn’t bother to drag the other guy through the mud at all, I’d probably support that straight-speaking candidate even if I didn’t wholly agree with X, Y, and Z.

Hearing that one candidate may have been involved in a corporation that once did something unethical doesn’t make me want to not vote for that person, nor does hearing that another candidate may have once been friends with someone who had some radical views or did something wrong. I can certainly say I’ve got friends who have some rather radical views on certain issues (both conservative and liberal), that I have friends who have done some wrong things in the past, and that I’ve worked for organizations who have made some ethical calls I don’t wholly agree with.

How about, for once, everyone just says what they actually want for America, tells me what they’ll actually fight for, and then doesn’t waste my time blasting the other candidate for being human?

It’s too much to ask for, I guess.

Q1: Reasonable family grocery budget
 We are a family of four (kids ages 5 and 3). I like to eat healthy diet with lots of fruits and veggies and whole grains, with little meat. Kids eat breakfast and lunch at preschool, but of course we do keep some snacks around the house for them in addition to fruit and cheese.

My question is, what do you think is a reasonable monthly grocery (food only) budget for us? I do the obvious things, like buy in season produce and stretch meat when we use it and use coupons and plan according to what is on sale. That being said, I do buy certain organic items (high pesticide fruit and veggies and meat). However, I find we are often spending close to $700 a month. I’d like it to be closer to $550 or even $600, but I’m wondering if that is just an unreasonable goal, given that I refuse to buy cheaper conventional grown produce if it is one of the dirty dozen and meat that is not grass fed and certified humane.
 - Angela

The USDA estimates that, for a family of your size, you could be spending anywhere from $546.80 to $1064.70 a month on food. Here’s that USDA report. If you want to aim for the low-end cost in that range, you should be subscribing to the USDA’s “Thrifty Food Plan”.

The problem is that you’re adding requirements to the food you buy that elevates the price. You won’t buy any of the “dirty dozen” of produce, you won’t buy meat that’s not grass fed and certified humane, and you buy some organic items. All of those things elevate your food bill.

If you want to aim for a lower price, you have to give up some requirements, whether it’s the specific food requirements you mention or something else. Everything has a cost to it.

Q2: Community festivals
 I love going to the summer festivals in the towns near here, but every time I go, I seem to wind up spending a lot more money than I plan to. I know you like going to festivals since you’ve written about them before. How do you do it without spending more than you think you should?
 - Gregory

My family also enjoys summer community festivals. There are a few tactics we use to cut back on the expense of them.

First, we always pack meals before we leave. We usually pack a cooler with sandwiches and other items in it. We also usually carry a snack with us that’s filling but small, like a bag of nuts. This keeps us from diving into the expensive festival food. We also carry around bottled water and refill them at any fountains we find.

Second, we watch for advance tickets. Many festivals will sell tickets in advance for children’s rides, concerts, and so forth, usually at a nice discount. If we’re planning on hitting a festival on a certain weekend, we’ll get tickets before we go.

A final tip: withdraw a minimal amount of cash. You’ll have some in your pocket, but not enough to go crazy. When you spend it all, it will seem like an expensive chore to go find an ATM, so you’ll be careful with your money.

Q3: Investing inheritance
 I am fairly new to investing. I am a 24 year old university student and in the next few days I will be receiving a portion of my inheritance from my father.

I would like to invest this amount in a way that will get me a steady return over the next 10 or so years so I can upgrade to a larger home. I’ve read your blog about dealing with high interest debt first and will definitely be taking this advice first and foremost -along with starting an emergency fund.

The amount of money I would like to invest is $25,000.

I really don’t know where to start when it comes to investing. I am diligently reading through your blog along with the books you have recommended. Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
 - Monica

The big question most people wrestle with when it comes to investing is how much risk they can tolerate.

Some investments, like a savings account, offer almost no risk at all. They will give you a very steady and stable return over whatever timeframe you like, and there’s almost no risk of any sort of loss over any period. The problem is that the return is going to be small.

As you move up the risk scale, you start moving into investments that have a history of providing great returns over some periods, but losses over other periods. Often, these average out over a long period to have a nice return, but you might face a very long period (like 2000 to 2008) where you (at best) break even. Other long periods might have a very nice return – there have been ten year stretches in the past where the stock market returned well over 9% a year on average.

How much risk can you stomach with this money? Are you okay with breaking even if there is a good chance at a nice return? If that’s the case, I would look into stock index funds. If you’re not okay with that balance, I’d look at something less risky. A savings account is actually not a bad option for this, as you probably don’t want to lock down your money at the low interest rates that are available right now.

Q4: The overzealous winner
 I love getting together with my siblings and some of our cousins about once a month for a potluck dinner and a game night. We play cards and board games until late in the night together and it’s a lot of fun.

One of my cousins is dating a guy who is threatening to spoil the soup. He’s really, really competitive, but he’s also pretty good at all of the games we play regularly. He trash talks some and he kind of raises the competitive flavor of our game nights to a level that we don’t like. We all like to win, but he’s pretty loud about winning and brags about things and seems to revel in beating people by a large margin.

How do we handle this and keep the wonderful flow of our game nights intact?
 - Dee

Take him aside and talk to him. Tell him that you appreciate that he enjoys game night, but that his trash talking and aggressiveness are on the verge of alienating the family of the person he’s dating and that will lead to some long term problems.

If he continues to do it after that, it might be a sign of some personality issues with the guy and it’s something that your cousin should take into consideration with regards to continuing to date him.

I’ve experienced similar situations in the past, and most of the time, a brief sidebar conversation helps a lot. If it doesn’t, the person usually finds themselves un-welcome in the near future.

Q5: Choosing between jobs
 I’m 30 years old, single and in good health. I have student loan debt in repayment. I work in a freelance industry that only exists in a couple of cities in the US. I have spent the last five years working very regularly for a relatively large, successful company who provide me with frequent work, health benefits, 401k and FSA. That’s pretty unheard of in my world, so I’m very lucky. Some of the downsides are pretty typical- harder to get involved in new projects, to start my own initiatives, etc. On top of that, I’ve had a few issues where I’ve disagreed with the decisions the company has made on my projects, and it’s left me struggling with some negativity.

A good friend and former colleague who I admire started a company a few years back and has just received a windfall of work. I’m delighted, and he’s asked me to be involved immediately. The salary is about the same but no benefits. I would have work for several months, but after that his company may or may not get more work (true of any company I work for, but more so in a smaller one). I would also need to leave my current contract early, which is not great but wouldn’t necessarily sever ties with the current company.

At this point in my career, I’m eager to take advantage of opportunities for growth and development. Those can come from jobs or doing my own projects outside of work. My job at the big company leaves more time for personal projects, but the smaller company would probably offer a better chance at taking ownership of a project.

I’m extremely deliberative and I like to make decisions slowly, but I dont’ have that luxury here. I need to think fast, so any thoughts on what to consider or what you see as the most critical factors here would be very helpful.
 - Maggie

What’s your situation going to look like if the new company doesn’t have work for you after those first several months?

Can you easily find new work? If that’s the case, then I’d strongly consider jumping ship. On the other hand, if your career path is a competitive one, stability will probably have more value.

For those facing a similar situation, there’s also the question of how many dependents you have. If you’re single, a risky career leap is a lot more plausible than if you have a spouse and children. You’re single, so you’re in the best situation for making such a leap.

You’re healthy, relatively young, and single. Those signs all point towards taking the leap. If you have at least some chance of finding good work if this doesn’t work out, I’d go for it.

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