November Mortgage Update: And hypotheticals

Last month (October):
Balance:$40,306.31
Years left: 3
P =$1,042.82, I =$171.58, Escrow =$788.73

This month (November):
Balance:$37,254.58
Years left: 2.75
P =$1,054.86, I =$159.55, Escrow =$788.73

One month’s prepayment savings: $7.90

Man, it sure is nice to be getting paid again.  Beautiful beautiful paycheck.  Bank account numbers are going up instead of down again.  :)

I won’t find out whether or not I’m getting a half-paid sabbatical next year for several months.  However, I may take the year off unpaid *anyway*.  We have an awfully large savings buffer and DH’s company swears they have enough money to stay in business for the next two years even if they earn no more money during that time (and they’ve got grants out and products being made, so hopefully they’ll get more money).  And DH is one of their valued employees.  And he should be able to find new employment even if he loses his job depending on where we do the sabbatical.

There’s a lot of questions about where to go too, but I’ll defer that for a later post.  All of the places, however, have a higher cost of living than where we are right now (which isn’t difficult!)  Think double the cost of daycare, 1.5 to 2x the cost of housing for something much less nice than our current mortgage (even without the prepayment).

The hypotheticals I want to address right now involve the house.

We currently have 3 cats, one of whom still occasionally pees on a comforter or pile of laundry if we leave it out when she’s out and about.

Our house is also a superficial mess.  Yes, the carpet in the kids’ bathroom is gone and the vertical blinds that were in the worst shape have been replaced, but that’s only the tip of the home-repair ice berg.  The kittens literally shredded the master bathroom when they were still kittens.  It will need to have the wallpaper completely removed, patching done, and paint.  The entire house needs to be painted– it’s grungy and chipping in places and occasionally sports two year old art.  There’s a sizable black ink stain in the carpet in DC1’s room that won’t go away with steam cleaning (it, in fact, just gets bigger every time we try).  The deck needs painting.  The screens need to be replaced or patched.  The guest toilet is getting rusty.  And on and on and on.

We are not allowed to rent to students by HOA rules.  (Though we’re fairly sure there’s a group of students living down the street from us, but the HOA board is currently weak.  When strong it has brought lawsuits to such houses and won against them.)

Our house, in theory, if it were in good shape, would rent unfurnished for $2000/mo.  Though one year rentals may drop as low as say, $1600/mo.  (Note, our required mortgage is $2003/mo, though as you can see the escrow and interest are under $1000/mo.)  Storage for our furniture would cost something like $300-500/mo, give or take.

In bad shape, any house in town will rent for $1200/mo, possibly even $1500/mo.  Our house would be a bargain at that price, even with stained carpet.  Though we’d still have to repaint, I think.

We’re not sure if anyplace we go will allow 3 cats.  Two, yes.  We might be able to leave one of the cats at a relative’s place for the year (though the two black kittens are very attached to each other, and we’d be breaking that attachment– it is unlikely that a relative would take the incontinent kitten).

Our utilities range from $50/mo to $800/mo depending on time of year.  Lawn mowing costs $35/mo, plus weeding $50/mo, but only during the growing season.  Our lawn has to meet a certain standard or we get nasty letters from the HOA  threatening to take our house.

Obviously we’ll stop mortgage pre-payment for next year if I go on leave.

So our choices:

1.  Fix everything up, try to get market rate for the house.

2.  Fix some stuff up (painting, but patch instead of replace screens, put a rug over the ink spot etc.), put the house on the market for cheap.  Potentially offer a discount for renting it furnished rather than unfurnished.

3.  Hire someone to house sit.  Here we could either ask that they pay utilities and take care of the lawn or we could pay utilities and pay them to take care of the house and the two kittens.  If we pay them, then we could get the house fixed up while we’re gone rather than this year when we’re both living here and busy.  With infinite money we could even have the kitchen redone (except we don’t have infinite money).

So I don’t know.  We have quite a bit of extra money in savings right now earmarked for home improvement (we’ve only spent ~$3K so far), though some of that may end up going for rent next year depending on what we end up doing.  If we had a lot more money we’d pick option #3 no contest.  But while we could afford that option (without the kitchen remodel), it would potentially drain our non-retirement/non-529 savings (when combined with our living expenses for next year).  

What are your thoughts on the options?  What should we be considering to make the decision?

Ask the grumpies: Obligation to house a sibling?

Kellen asks:

Let’s say I have a sibling, older than me, who has received enough bail outs from our parents that they don’t want to bail this sibling out anymore. That is–they want to help, but they feel like it’s enabling said sibling to continue not standing on their own two feet.

Now, sibling just moved to a small town very far away because sibling’s partner moved there for work. Sibling has no job, no money, and maxed out credit card. Sibling would need financial help to even pay for the gas and probable car repairs needed to drive across the country to move close to the family. One suggestion from parents is that sibling must stay in the small, far away town, find a job, even if it’s bagging groceries, and save enough to pay sibling’s own way.

Now, here I am, in a very good spot in life, just made it to saving 50% of my income this month. I don’t know if it’s good for sibling to stay in this small town with no money, and learn to hold down a job, or if, as family, there’s some obligation to help sibling get to where I am and stay in my (sort of) spare room (which is really our office/living room space) while sibling finds a job around here (in the big city).

Also, sibling has a degree as an elementary school educator + a masters degree in something like team-building activities (?), but has been trying to work as a general contractor. So sibling is not completely without qualifications, but kind-of without qualifications to do the kind of work sibling likes (working outdoors, doing labor). Also, I only know people who work in offices, which sibling has 0 experience with, so I can’t really help sibling find a job.

So, this is the kind of question that if the grumpies could answer it, they’d be able to sell the answer and make millions and millions of dollars, maybe billions once you add in speaking tours and private consulting with very rich people.

In terms of whether or not you have an obligation to invite hir to where you are and stay in your spare room.  The answer there is no.  It sounds like your sibling has worn out your parents and they may be right that ze needs to figure things out before someone else comes to the rescue.  And it sounds like sibling probably isn’t in a situation where your help would actually be help rather than enabling.  Sibling is an adult.  There aren’t children involved.  Your parents have tried to help and have decided that that kind of help isn’t helpful.  What you can offer may not be helpful either.  Your parents may be right that sibling has to hit bottom and build hir way up before ze can actually make use of any help you could give.  They may be wrong, but it’s not like their decision has to be a permanent one.  Time will provide more information.

We can also tell you from personal experience that it is seriously irritating to house a user.  Housing someone like #2 when she needs it is great!  She’s thankful and does chores both asked (without complaint) and unasked and is basically a pleasant person to be around, and she gets stuff done that she came to do and so on.  Housing someone who is used to being bailed out gets seriously annoying when he doesn’t hold up his end of what he’s supposed to be doing, complains that you don’t keep the a/c low enough (and that he’s the one who has to move his car morning and evening to comply with the HOA) even though he’s not paying rent, assumes he’s staying longer than you thought you had agreed (say, until the out-of-state house sells), and wastes all his money on things like fast food.  And you get to hear how his wife won’t move to town and get a job because then she’d lose free babysitting from her mom that you suspect the mom didn’t exactly agree to.  It is super stressful.  *koff*

You do probably have a familial obligation to keep your ears open and keep in contact with your parents to make sure that someone is keeping a long-distance eye on said sibling.  But you do not have an obligation to invite hir to live with you.  And if said sibling seems to have turned things around a bit and seems to be on a path where it’s clear that you can help in some way that doesn’t have the potential to majorly blow up, then it would be nice of you to help.  And if said sibling hits a true rock bottom, it would be nice of you to help your parents pay for attorney’s costs or counseling costs or for you to help said sibling get into whatever (government or nonprofit) programs or systems that might help.

So we can’t tell you what to do, but we can give you permission not to invite your sibling to stay with you when your parents have given many second and third and fourth chances that seem to have hurt rather than helped.

What say you, grumpy nation?  Got any better advice?

Deaccessioning: A sad post

… Not actually that sad.

Last night we laid out the space and we estimate that between the two of us we can fit in about 11 bookcases in the new apartment.

Currently we have 16 bookcases and 2 built-ins.

Oops.

We’re still working on deaccessioning the relatively easy stuff. I’m down under 1300 books, from a high well over 1500.  My partner has at least that many, too!

We’re going through by areas of the house. Some bookshelves are just full of stuff that can’t go. Others are full of chaff. So we start with the chaff.

Gonna be a lean mean LIVING IN PARADISE machine.

I discovered there are some books I was keeping out of guilt, and now I feel great about letting go of them.  I have some “I’m never going to read this” and “I read this but don’t ever ever want to read again” and “why do I have this?”  (note that it took YEARS into our relationship before I EVER felt ok about getting rid of a book he’d given me as a gift.  But now I know we just have love and a stable relationship, and there will be more gifts.)  There are also books that I realized I can get rid of because I’ve internalized the knowledge that I need from them after many years.

At some point we’re going to end up having to make hard choices. Probably what will happen is we’ll bring way too many books anyway and have to deal with it there in some way.  I’m totes gonna overfill the bookcases we have with double-stacking and all. It gonna be all jenga up inside.  And then who knows?

We could add something moralistic about minimalism or money spent or what have you, but that would just be patronizing, so we won’t bore you with that.  I HAVE NO REGRETS.  Except the regret that downsizing comes with deaccessioning, but sacrifices must be made, and there’s a good library in walking distance to our new apartment.  In the meantime, onto the next quadrant!

#2 notes that they have 13 bookcases, including built-ins, but that’s only because her partner tends to get rid of books after reading them rather than holding on to them.  (Sometimes he’ll be halfway through a new book he just bought and realize he bought it, read it, and got rid of it years ago.)  Also most of her newly purchased romance novels are on kindle.

Bibliophiles, how do you deal with not having enough space for books?

Even the super-confident super-awesome are not immune to culture

Occasionally I have to take a break from mommy-blogs.

Why?  Because they make me anxious.

I know, you’re thinking, how could *I* be anxious about parenting?  I’m the laziest (non-negligent) parent on the planet and my kids are disgustingly perfect (though of course you note that I would never use the adverb, “disgustingly,” I would say they’re “awesomely” perfect or something [actually I would say “amazingly,” but I grant you our frequent use of “awesome”]).  Both of these are true.

But mommy-blog anxiety gets even to me.  Culture is *that* strong.  There’s only so many blogs on having to lose the baby-weight, worrying about what/how much baby is eating or how much screen time toddler is getting or worrying about whether something is too early or too late or too long or whateverthe[expletive deleted] before even I start questioning if these are things I should be worrying about and are my kids really as wonderful as they seem [spoiler alert:  they are!] and if so, what’s wrong with them [rational answer: nothing!].

Now, I’m not talking about blogs where the kids or parents have actual real problems+.  [Also, I’m not singling out any one blog right now.  This unnecessary anxiety seems to be a contagion that is going through a huge number of mommy blogs right now.]  I’m talking about blogs where the kids are seemingly perfect, and the mom is seemingly perfect, but instead of acknowledging that fact, it’s anxiety this and worry that.  If their seeming perfection is wrong, then maybe I’m wrong about mine.

Of course, I’m not.  Even when the skinny girl complains about how fat she is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my normal weight.  But (just like in college with the weight thing) I can only stand so many repeated hits before it starts to get to me.  The patriarchy is expert at using the virtual paper cut as a primary weapon.  It perfected the ton-of-feathers attack.  Any one blog or post or NYTimes article can be brushed off, or given a supportive comment in response.  At some point part of me wants to say, “CALM the [expletive] down!  You’re working for the patriarchy!”  But that’s not supportive so I try not to, especially since it’s not any one post’s fault or even any one blogger’s fault– it’s the culmination of many posts and blogs with the same message to be more anxious.  I get grumpy because the patriarchy does that to me.

And you may be thinking, “You’re grumpy because deep down you know things aren’t really that perfect.”  But that’s not true.  Deep down I know they really are, because I have huge trust in my family.  I have trust that even if there’s bumps and growing pains, that they’ll figure things out for themselves even if I’m not doing whatever is “optimal” for them.  I trust that there is no “optimal,” that there’s just “different” and “sub-optimal” is another word for “learning experience” (or, as my mom would say, “character building”).  I trust that my husband and I love our kids and will always be there for them and that they know that.  I don’t have to trust me to know deep down that my kids are doing great, I have to trust them and my husband and that we’ll tackle the challenges as they come.

And I’m sure there will be challenges and we’ll work through them.  But if there aren’t any right now, I don’t need to @#$#@ing create any.

I could do one of three things.  1.  I could comment super-supportive calming words on these blogs in an attempt to spread confidence (though of course this sometimes backfires because tone is difficult in writing among other reasons), 2.  I could do lots of introspection and re-affirm my core confidence and awesomeness, or 3.  I could avoid the anxiety paper-cuts by not going to those blogs.  Guess which option is the least work and most conducive to getting two more papers and a grant proposal out before summer ends?++

So… currently taking a break from mommy blogs, at least until swim-suit season is over.

+And we are *certainly* not talking about things like post-partum depression.

++Also note that we are not blaming people for working through their anxieties via the media of blogging.  It’s the patriarchy that is the ultimate root cause of that kind of unnecessary anxiety.  But that doesn’t mean we have to read about it if it has negative effects on our own well-being.

In which #1 tries to cajole #2 into blogging about her move

#1: We don’t have much in the blog queue. A bunch of ask the grumpies though, so we’re set on Fridays for a few weeks. I put a book review on Monday, but there are many other Mondays ahead if you feel like doing something monetary.
#2: I dunno bout money.
#1: Well, anything to do with the move and career is money, because career is money. And quality of life can be money.
#2: Hm. I’ll think about it.
#1: I bet our readers want to know what’s up with you, even things you find boring.
#2: We don’t really know what we’re doing right now anyway
#1: you can post about that
#2: sometimes we have a serious talk, and then sex.
#1: I don’t think they need to hear about the sex
#2: (sometimes we have sex without the talk beforehand, too)
#1: it would be sad if you only had sex after serious talks. I’d be like, let’s talk about global warming.
#2: I’ll warm your globes, baby!

Also…

#2 would like to espouse the opinion that moving is the MOST TEDIOUS of all things and it even bores ME, and I’m the one doing it.  Oof!

What do you all want to know about #2’s current situation given that she’s quit her job, recovered from pneumonia, and is in the process of scheduling a move, finding a new job, and reinventing herself?  (Note that talking about the logistics of moving makes her seriously grumpy– speaking from experience.)  Please keep it PG-rated.

The Lawn

We have a corner lot and a big lawn.  We get nasty letters from the HOA from time to time.

In the past we’ve had a full-service lawn company (until we moved in ourselves– they were super expensive), mowers every 2 weeks, mowers every week, DH using the manual mower (big muscles!), DH using the gas mower…

We started out with one kind of grass, but now the Bermuda has moved in.  That means it has to be mowed once a week or the Bermuda heads start showing.  And the manual push mower doesn’t get the stupid Bermuda head seeds.

Drought has also done a number on our lawn, killing shade trees and trees that were meant to become shade trees.

DH now doesn’t have enough time to work as much as he wants, spend as much time with his family as he wants, and take care of the yard.  And taking care of the yard used to be a family affair, but as the years have gone by, my grass allergies have gotten so bad that I really just can’t.  I’ve tried, but even the smallest touch of grass (and many other green things) results in major hives.  I’m not much help.

We got a recommendation for a new lawn person.  He quoted $500 for a full yard cleanup (which it needs– bushes need trimming, flower beds need weeding and mulching) and $50/week for mowing and edging.  $50/week is a bit high, even for our massive lawn.  When he was talking to DH he said that would include weed maintenance in the flowerbeds, which might make it reasonable, but he didn’t write that on the estimate form.

We spent literally hundreds of dollars every month in the summer to keep the lawn watered and it still doesn’t do great.  DH spends hours every month fixing and replacing sprinkler heads.  We’ve called around and can’t find a sprinkler place that does drip irrigation.  They say the soil here makes it wrong, or something.  But that can’t be true because the city nearby has the same soil and there are people there who do drip irrigation.

It may be time to seriously consider xeriscaping.  We have a couple recommended xeriscapers in town (we called into the local gardening radio show to ask!).  It’s possible that xeriscaping the lawn would pay for itself pretty quickly given the costs of yard clean-up, mowing, and watering.  I don’t know.  Problems:  1. The HOA may not approve.  2.  We may still be stuck with a weeding nightmare because the weeds here are insane.  3.  We’re kind of on a hill (very small hill) which means the lawn isn’t conducive to just being paved over.  (DH has always wanted plaza.)  4.  If we ever move or go on sabbatical, the xeriscaped lawn might be a liability (and we’ll have a hard time pulling it out and replacing it with sod after all the expense of putting it in).  5.  $$$.  (I’m not sure how much, but it sounds like a lot!)  There are very few xeriscaped lots in our town and they’re mostly small (not corner) lots with lots of mature trees providing huge shade cover.

Anyway, I don’t know what to do.  The lawn is a huge hassle.  We hate it.  We hate taking care of it.  We hate paying people to accidentally mow down our bushes and trees and then over-charge us for the privilege of doing so.  We’re worried about the expense and outcome and time spent trying to re-design everything.  *Sigh*.

So, that’s my lawn rant.  Thoughts?

Why are academic jobs seen as the holy grail or only grail in fields with the worst job markets?

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re going to be doing a series of posts on academic job market dysfunction and the market for PhDs outside of academia.

In this comment, Miriam writes:

I think it is shameful that many Anthropology programs (including mine) don’t encourage and support non-academic careers. There are both public sector applications and, for those of us who got burned out on low wages in grad school, highly paid corporate anthropology work. User experience research is cultural anthropology. When I compare my experience to my Computer Science husband’s, it’s ridiculous. In my department, I almost had a professor withdraw from my committee when I let slip that I was considering a public-sector Anthropology career instead of an academic one. In my husband’s, the department used the amount of graduates placed with companies like Google as a selling point. More than that, the department actively built corporate links to help with placement.

Given the job market in Anthropology, it is cruel to pressure candidates to value and look for academic careers. Yes, one person from a grad cohort occasionally ended up in a tenure-track job. The overwhelming majority ended up with post-docs or one-year lectureships leading to more lectureships or adjunct positions. I will never understand why professors would expect intelligent people to look at the amount of tenure-track jobs available and not figure out that the odds are heavily against us. I also don’t really understand the bias against public-sector or corporate research. Yes, the research is more constrained, but it’s also more practical. Perhaps one sign that I was always a bad fit for my particular program is that I valued the idea of doing ethnographic research in service of a specific application more than doing it to publish an article or book that would probably only be read by other academic anthropologists.

I’ve noticed this as well.  Humanities PhDs seem to be less encouraging of outside careers than are STEM PhDs.

I do wonder if it’s that there are more obvious career options outside of academia for engineers (for example, my DH is working on something very similar to his PhD work for a start-up, large scale work he couldn’t do as a TT professor because he didn’t have the funding) and economists (government, consulting etc.) and all those other disciplines that have pretty decent academic markets.  It’s true that in my grad program, our advisers were disappointed when top students chose government positions over great R1s, but for the rest of us they were happy to write non-academic job letters for government and consulting work and they provided panels of graduates to talk about what life is like in those kinds of careers.  At my current university, academic jobs (in the US) for our graduates are rare and we funnel most of our students into private-sector jobs.

But Miriam notes that there really are positions for anthropologists outside of the academic sector.  Her professors just wouldn’t hear of them.

This musing is coming on the tail end of checking out the tweets that sent people to our deliberately controversial post on the topic.  Apparently we’re neo-cons because neo-cons are the only people who ever use the word, “entitled.”  (Note:  that means a good portion of professors who teach undergrads must be neo-cons!) We’re fairly sure those folks just looked at the title of the post and didn’t actually read the post itself, since the post itself doesn’t actually say much or take a position of any kind, and the comments decry the defunding of academia.  (Duh!)

But the truth is, even if we fully funded academia, there still wouldn’t be enough jobs for a lot of humanities folks because the more attractive we make those jobs, the more people will want humanities PhDs, because the humanities PhD is essentially a fun thing to do.  We know this because even now there are people willing to starve themselves for the chance of someday becoming humanities professors.  If you make it more attractive to be a humanities prof, all that you’re going to do is drive up supply.

Underlying these complaints, we think, is that many of these people who complain about the fact that we don’t just make tenure-track jobs for everyone with a PhD is that these folks think that PhDs can’t possibly work outside academia like the rest of the hoi poloi.  They shouldn’t have to, what with their lily white hands and all.  That’s where the entitlement actually comes in.  There’s this belief that there’s something wrong, something dreadfully wrong, with leaving the ivory tower.  That’s what Miriam, above, is tapping into.

And yes, that’s easy for us to say, being tenured at all… but…

But… maybe tenure isn’t all that.

Maybe, sometimes, it’s worth grabbing that golden ring and throwing it away.

One of us lives with someone who made the jump (though before tenure), and he’s so much happier.

Academia is still just a job, and a lot of time there are better ones out there.  Nobody should have to put up with crap because of a job, especially people with enough education to escape.

So yeah, it would be lovely if, as a society, we took money from Exxon (and you know they’d take it from children’s mouths before they cut corporate welfare) and funded education again, but that won’t solve the problem of the humanities labor market, because the more attractive you make those positions, the more people will want to have them.  There will be more jobs, but there will be even more applicants for those same jobs.  Heck, even if we cut off all production of new PhDs, folks with humanities PhDs who had given up would return to academia if there were a demand for their services.

Cloud and Miriam were right when they said that learning how to do independent research is a valuable skill, even outside of academia.  Maybe we should stop pretending that there’s something dirty about using these skills outside of the ivory tower.  Maybe we should try to find value in producing things, like Miriam said, that are read by more than just other academic anthropologists.

And who cares what your out-of-touch adviser thinks.

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