Why I rent instead of buying

One of us owns a house and one of us doesn’t.  The one who doesn’t (me) is in a location where I *could* afford to buy, but I’m not.

Linda wanted a post on why I rent instead of buy, so here it is!  (Because Grumpy Rumblings aims to please!  Also, we needed a Monday Money post, so this seemed like a good idea.)

My first answer is, “Because I always planned on leaving this shit-hole of a state.”  I would like to own a house, but not here.

#2, however, points out that once I was more optimistic.  A little.  I thought that if my partner moved here we could buy a big house (instead of renting a tiny apartment) and we could try to be happy here.  After all I’ve always wanted to own my own house and paint my own walls and just own it.  (#2 thinks homeownership is over-rated, but #2 also doesn’t mind vertical blinds or wallpaper.)  It’s been so long since those days that I can’t remember them, but #2 swears we had those discussions.  [She may even have gchat proof that she's too lazy to search for, but totally could if she cared enough which she doesn't.]

At first I wasn’t living with my partner so there was no reason to buy.  Then I was saving up money.  Then, I never bought one because I didn’t want to have to sell it later, when I left.  By the time I had partner and down-payment, I wasn’t ready to commit to living in the house for at least 5 years.  And selling it later can be really obnoxious.  Who wants the hassle and the risk?

My friend did the buy-now-and-sell-when-you-leave route, and they took a bath on the finances because they had to unload it or else be long-distance landlords (NOOOOoooooo).  Personally, I would not have made the decision to buy when hir partner didn’t have a job here despite 2 years of looking, but oh well.  Now they are both employed and homeowners in a different state!

So, there you have it.

How did you make the rent vs. buy decision?

Link love

Hai controversies discusses white doctor coats.

Miser mom is a genius.

Healthy tipping point discusses ways to challenge unhealthy narratives.

Negotiating gender roles.

I just found this site which is medium-cool.

Editorial correspondence first paragraphs that kory stamper cannot send.

How much do professors work (at one school).

Don’t agree that spousal spats have to be normal, but the rest of this post is interesting.

Professional library literature.

You saw this, right?

Something about robots and academia.

Ask the grumpies: How to deal with 9 month salaries?

Kaycookie asks:

My husband is new TT science faculty and I am also working part time teaching in a different department. Okay, very part time because we have 3 little kids. Anyways, any suggestions on dealing with a 9 month salary over 12 months, but then also getting summer support (he is guaranteed this for at least 4 years)? We budget just fine during the year, but not much left to save (about $300/month on top of mandatory retirement at about 13% salary with their match). Is it a bad time to just plan on saving mostly in the summer since we get almost half or our income then?

Hm, here’s another one we should have made an effort to answer earlier.

I’m assuming here that you’re saying that you can save $300/month during the school year but are expecting a deficit during the summer, not that you’re saving $300 on top of saving for the summer during your regular 9 months.

I was in a similar situation for two years (I had 9-months only, DH had summer salary for two years).
1. I sat down and figured out our actual expenses (these include the $1K “emergency” or forgotten fixed expense that we seem to get almost every single month) and our required expenses (mortgage, insurance, etc).
2. From that information, I figured out how much we spend each month and multiplied that by 3 to account for the summer months.
3. Then I subtracted DH’s salary for those three months.
4. Then I added a one month buffer for an emergency fund, just in case the university screwed something up with the summer salary or we had an emergency.  (They never screwed up his, but recently they totally screwed up mine two years in a row after they moved from decentralized grant administration to centralized.)
5. You could then divide that number by 9 to see how much you’d need to save each month not to feel a pinch during the summer. I didn’t do that, but instead looked at the whole number and put away the full amount– as soon as I got that amount I stopped putting money towards summer savings.

However, in my case we were making more than we were spending, which gave us an automatic buffer.  My calculations only told me how much money we could put away in extra retirement or (later) towards the mortgage.  You’re already spending almost exactly what you’re earning.  That doesn’t give you much room.  On top of that, it’s going to make cutting expenses in the summer especially difficult.  Instead of making little cuts throughout the school year, you risk being forced to eat rice and beans or carry a credit card balance (wasting money on interest) come August or September.  That’s not going to be pleasant, especially if you have to do any kind of back to school shopping.

So, what can you do?  One thing you can do is see if the university will prorate your salary to 12 months for free.  When they do that, they pay your 9 month salary as if it was a 12 month salary so you get the same amount each month.  That way you know exactly how much money you’re getting and it’s easier to force yourself to make those little cuts (so you don’t have to make big cuts later).  I think most places will do this if you ask.

You can also increase your earnings.  Even a temporary increase in earnings will allow you to put away extra money for summer.  You don’t have to put away the same amount each month so long as you have the full amount in May (or June or April, depending on when the last set of full paychecks comes).  You probably know better than we do how bringing in more income works in your situation.  Work more part-time hours, for example.  Your DH is probably submitting grants.  Perhaps you could babysit.  Etc.

And, of course, you can try cutting expenses.  A good place to start is to call up all your providers (cellphone, insurance, internet, etc.) and ask for discounts.  It’s amazing what just asking can cut off your monthly bills.  After that you may have to think about bigger cuts– where does your money go?  Setting up Mint.com for a few months may help if you don’t know.  For us when we need to cut, it’s eating out that’s the first big variable expense.  For others it may be clothing or wasting food or vacations etc.  You’ll need to look and see what you’re able to cut and what you’re willing to cut.  If you’re still having trouble you may need to think about larger cuts– housing, transportation, etc.

To make sure you aren’t tempted to touch the summer money before summer, you may want to put it in a separate (possibly online) saving account or put it into laddered CDs that mature and deposit in your checking right when you need them.  Back when interest rates were higher, this was a way to make a little extra money, but now it would just be mainly of use as a commitment device.

Longer-term you’ll have better information about raises, your part-time hours, grants, and so on.  It’s difficult to think about what life will be like without the summer money four years from now if there’s a chance for you to replace it.  Still, you really should think about the worst case scenario– what happens if you lose the summer money but don’t make it up another way?  What will you do to increase income, cut expenses, or save now so you can spend down later?  The less you spend now, the smaller the change to your lifestyle will be if that happens.

Sidenote:  Once the kids are older, you’ll want to up that retirement savings.  13% is fine for now, but you probably have some catch-up savings to do from graduate school.  Think about IRAs once your income goes up.

#2 has never gotten summer salary (boo) but I have my university spread the 9 month salary over 12 months.  I figured it out once, and it cost me literally less than $12 in interest that I could theoretically have earned.  I’m willing to pay $12 in order to get the same amount every month.  Maybe one day I’ll hit the big-time on a grant.  No luck yet.

Gumpeteers, have you been in this situation before?  What do you do with 9 month salaries?  What do you do when you’ve gotten used to summer money?

So… a hypothetical behavior problem

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you have an amazing wonderful DC1 who has been incredibly well-behaved for all 7 years of hir short life.  (Except during brief times when ze has been under-challenged, and occasionally when hanging out with hir favorite extended family relatives.) Hypothetically this 7 year old is in 3rd grade at a private school.

And during the first half of third grade at this private school, the then-6 year old was a complete and total angel.

But something about age 7 changed things.  DC1 tries really hard to be good, but is easily distracted.  Ze doesn’t always listen to hir teachers.  Ze tries to be silly in ways that are disruptive to the class.  Ze doesn’t show hir teachers the quiet respect that ze used to just last semester.  Ze starts forgetting to hand in hir homework.  It isn’t an every day problem, but it is becoming an every week problem.  DC1 also doesn’t always listen to hir parents and even occasionally talks back(!).

Third grade is a little difficult in this school– they start having more electives and different teachers early.  It isn’t like K-2 where there was one teacher for all subjects except art, music, PE, French, and Spanish.  There’s different teachers for the different subjects, with the maximum of two overlaps.  DC1 is really only having problems with two of the teachers (or rather, two of the teachers are having problems with hir– the other teachers probably deal with the misbehavior better).  Our first thought was that maybe ze was bored and has been acting out, but the class that gets the most notes home is the one that ze always talks about and is learning the most in (the teacher seems to be teaching the advanced students at middle or high school level, which is thrilling to DC1, and also mentos and coke are involved).

Our second thought is that this particular teacher punishes kids a lot because last semester DC1 was always talking about the other kids getting into trouble in class.  At a Christmas function, the teacher had remarked to us how well behaved DC1 was compared to most of the other students.  (Not anymore, apparently.)  The next thing we heard about it, a quarter later, DC1 got a negative report card with a lengthy list of infractions.  Another teacher also commented on the report card that DC1 had been disrupting hir class more than once.  We asked DC1 about each of the items, but ze couldn’t remember any details, but did mention that ze had gotten into time out after school that day but couldn’t remember why, or even which class.

So, in theory, we sat down with DC1 and brainstormed ways to address every single one of hir infractions.  For example, DC1 was to pretend that the teacher controlled an electro-magnet keeping hir rear end in the chair.  No touching other students except at recess and in PE.  Devoting a special folder to the problem class that ze took home and to class every single day.  And so on.  All of these got rewritten into an apology letter to the teacher.  We also sent a parent note apologizing, explaining DC1′s list, and asking to be notified as soon as any future disruption occurred.  Also we sent a book on classroom management that we’d both found helpful.  A smaller apology about class disruptions went to the other teacher.  In the mornings we went over the list on the drive to school every day for a week.

And things were fine for a little while.  Then ze started forgetting homework assignments again.  Specifically ze had cryptic assignments written in hir assignment notebook (ex.  “mentos and baking soda”) and could not remember what ze was supposed to do (watch videos?  bring mentos and baking soda to class?).  So DH called the school to set up an appointment.  Instead he got a phonecall back from the teacher.  She explained that those cryptic assignments had been extra credit (since DC1 always finishes hir homework in the class), and that DC1 wasn’t so bad that a conference was necessary.

DH took DC1 in to the pedi to get hir hearing checked.  Just in case.  It was fine.

Then, a week later, a note requiring a parent signature came home.  DC1 had caused another class disruption.  After some memory prodding, ze recalled that there had been a fan on in the classroom and it was so cool talking into the fan that ze had ignored the teacher’s instructions, hadn’t gotten in hir seat, and hadn’t stopped when asked.  The teacher wanted a p/t conference and left an email address.   We signed the sheet and sent it back with DC1, but not in the special folder because ze has forgotten to bring it home.  Several days later, I noticed that the signed sheet was still in DC1′s backpack and the special folder had still not been brought home.

We also noted that, despite REPEATED reminders and warnings from us, and multiple picking out special sesame sticks treats at the grocery store for the express purpose of being brought to snack, DC1 had stopped bringing/eating afternoon snack.  The problem class in question turns out to be the last class of the day.  So more brainstorming about how to remember to pack and bring a snack (this week:  strawberries).  Because DC1 really is a pill when ze has low blood sugar.

The last note home was a week ago.  The teacher hasn’t emailed back with a time for a conference.  DC1 did hand in the paper.  Ze hasn’t gotten in trouble again, yet.

I ordered How to talk so kids will listen from the library, and it was not helpful, as apparently DH and I are already perfect parents.  (We already do what it says to do except the parts where their codicil warnings note that some kids may be super irritated by those specific suggestions.  Interestingly, I felt super irritated by their first chapter that was telling me that we did things that we do not do and felt things that I do not feel.   Ironic!)  In their illustrations of how to behave, we’re already the “Gallant” side.  (There must be parents who are more the “Goofus” side, but just reading those depictions made me cringe.)  So yay us, but completely and totally not useful for our current situation.

[Side-note:  My mother says she's a bit relieved that DC1 is getting in trouble, as ze has been preternaturally good.  She was a little worried there was something wrong.]

So, for the tl;dr set….

When your 7 year old starts acting like a 7 year old and is in a situation where the teacher can’t really handle 7 year olds acting like 7 year olds, and the 7 year old really wants to behave more like a 10 year old… How do you help that 7 year old listen more, respect hir teachers more, get distracted less, and remember to bring hir stuff places?

Any ideas?  Because we’re out of them.  Right now the best we’ve got is, “This too shall pass.”  But it would be nice to be able to do more than just wait it out.

My ideal house and a weird/fun website

I have complained before about the difficulty of having a house in a 4-season climate (even worse when you rent, not own, and/or when all the available properties in an area are shoddily built!).  I have moved since I wrote that, and the new place is definitely better.  However, the HVAC system is in no way balanced between the upstairs and downstairs.  In my dream world, I live in a house with correctly-balanced temperature control zones and better insulation and larger eaves, especially on the side of the house where it always rains into the windows.

I found this interesting (?) website called truehome.net.  I have many opinions about interior designs, but a lot of them are surface-level that wouldn’t play into buying a home.  For example, if the flooring’s not ideal, that can be changed pretty easily.  Anyway, truehome asked me to describe my ideal home in detail, and here’s what I wrote:

Built-in bookshelves EVERYWHERE!  Comfortable, supportive seating.  Lots of places to sleep and be cozy.  Bathrooms with separate tub & shower (deep soaker tub, no jets).  Shower does not require curtain or door (nautilus).  Toilet next to sink.  Gas stove.  Areas to be together but also lots of privacy and sound isolation.  Garage.  No-maintenance yard.  Well-insulated with a well-balanced HVAC system and zones of climate control.  Fireplace.  At least 2 bathrooms.  No HOA.  Hardwood floors.  Maybe 4BR.  No dogs nearby!  Near or in the city.  Not modern, not minimalist: comfortable.  Not country.  Colors on walls.  Efficiency, low-maintenance, green.  Comfortable, safe, easy, lovely.  High ceilings in main living areas.  Cabinets I can actually reach.  Big closets.  Maybe a courtyard.  Privacy is a high priority for me.

(#2 likes modern and minimalist and dislikes fireplaces, also prefers neutral walls.  The rest sounds great.)

Then it also had fun questions where you could pick out which castle you wanted, and the reasons you need it.  My answers to “Why do I need a castle?” included the multiple-choice options:  My servants are bored.  I identify with eccentric Bavarian kings.  Everyone needs a moat.  I like how this house is protected from pirates.

Readers, why do you need a castle?

We (satisficed and) bought a digital piano

We finally got around to signing DC1 up for piano lessons this past fall, about a year after we meant to.

Ze really really likes it.  The first things ze does when ze gets home is hir piano practicing, and sometimes if ze gets up early enough, ze’ll practice piano before going to school.

Unfortunately, the $100 keyboard hir grandparents got hir doesn’t have weighted keys, so you can’t do piano or forte, just one volume.  And there’s no pedals for sustained sound.  Since it seems like DC1 is going to stick with it, we really need to get hir a real piano to practice on.

Well, almost a real piano.

Looking up how to buy a used piano online is terrifying.  Page after page talking about how you need to have a trusted professional with you at point of purchase or you may end up with something that’s only good for hauling to the dump (something you will, of course, have to pay for yourself).  New pianos are confusing as well, though the only terrifying thing about them is the price point.

So… on the advice of one our readers (I think chacha, but maybe it was Ms. PoP), we looked into digital pianos.  They’re new and under warranty.  They don’t have to be tuned every year.  They cost a fraction of what a low grade real piano costs.  And… they don’t sound too bad.

After reading tons of reviews and scouring the piano forum, we decided to get a low-mid-level Casio for $1099. Specifically the Casio PX850 BK 88-Key Touch Sensitive Privia Digital Piano. This piano is on all of the top 10 digital piano lists that I found.  Although it was only #1 on one of those lists, the #1s on the other lists weren’t even listed on many of the lists (if that makes sense).  The only detracting thing on the Amazon reviews is that some people find that after several weeks of intense playing, the keys start to clack a little because the pads wear thin (they should be wool, complains one reviewer), but that seems to be a potential problem across our price range, and probably isn’t one our 7 year old will encounter for a few years.    The piano forums recommend this one as a good learning piano, and while some people have preferred digital pianos, nobody really says anything bad about this piano (while those “preferred” pianos all have detractors).  Everyone seems to agree that this piano is pretty good and is a good value.

We tried to find a place in town that carried it that we could listen and then buy from, but the place in town that said they had it turned out to be out of stock.  They did have the $1699 Yamaha that some people prefer to the Casio (and many people do not), and we weren’t that impressed with it.  We talked about trying to find a place in the city that has a bunch of pianos we could listen to, but it seems like all the shops in the city have a monopoly of one brand– they just carry Yamaha or just Roland etc.  And we didn’t really want to go into the city this weekend anyway.

So we ended up getting it without listening to it from Amazon.  I splurged and got the recommended bench for $44 instead of a slightly less expensive one because someone in the reviews said that one of the settings fit hir 4 year old.

The Casio came in less than a week.  DH spent the evening putting it together, mostly after DC1 slept.  At 10-something, he got DC2 and me to look at and listen to the finished product.  It’s beautiful.  It looks like a real piano, but it’s slimmer.  It feels like a real piano.  It sounds like a real piano.  Plus, unlike that $1700 Yamaha, it didn’t have tons of confusing controls.  Its controls are even more intuitive than the controls on DC1′s old $100 keyboard.  It probably has fewer features, but we don’t need a keyboard that can bark like a dog, we need a keyboard that mimics a regular piano.

We congratulated ourselves on doing a good job picking a piano out (and thanked our lucky stars), even if we weren’t able to check out the piano in person first.  It’s exactly what we need and it’s much nicer than the ones we saw at the local store, even the equally and more expensive ones.  So we’re very happy with our purchase.  DC1 loves it too.  It’s scary spending $1000+ on something you’re not sure about.  Getting it wrong is an expensive and/or annoying proposition (depending on if you return the purchase or not).

So yay for top 10 lists and yay for piano forums and amazon and satisficing.

Have you ever made a big purchase partly-blind like this?  How did it work out?  How do you decide on big purchases?

Link love hot ‘n’ fresh

Link love! Link love! Getcha link love here…

Hobby Lobby is not slang for vagina: a guide for guys.

Phdestressed discusses the worth of a humanities PhD.

The Atlantic joins in the discussion of what can be done with a humanities PhD, with some statistics.

Academomia is bewildered by a bedtime solution.

Mike the Mad Biologist discusses who gets grants.

Not of general interest discusses wisdom she’s learned from movies.

The blog that ate manhattan discusses a benefit of electronic medical records.

This link is not safe for work (NSFW, srsly!) or kids: Sexuality, kink, and disability.  Let’s broaden the discourse on these things.

This is a really interesting idea: Write A House, which fixes up distressed houses in Detroit and gives them to writers for free so they can live and write in Detroit.  I don’t know if they’ll make it on to my list of causes for donations but it’s a cool approach to several issues at once!

 

Grumpeteers, what did we miss while we were busy having no sense of humor on April Fools’ Day?

 

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