Fascinatin’ Givin’

Want to mix up your donation game?  Here are some cool, weird, impactful, wonderful places to put your charitable moneys that you may not have heard of:

TOP DD: donate to support much-needed research to end mental suffering.  They run on a shoestring and produce amazing results.

Survivors Ink: helps victims of sexual trafficking overcome their experiences by transforming the tattoos with which their pimps marked them as “property”.  Cover-up tattoos are expensive and hard to do, but life-changing.

sadly, this has been pulled: Blood Sport, the video game that donates blood!  I thought this was an interesting idea, though I wouldn’t do it.  However, the project’s been taken offline.

Child’s Play: We continue to love a charity started by gamers, which gives toys to kids in hospitals around the world.  Most active around Christmas, it runs throughout the entire year.

Cat House on the Kings: a no-cage, no-kill cat shelter that lets ‘unadoptable’ or feral cats live happy, safe lives — and you can adopt the kitties that want human company!  They have wards for FIV, kittens, quarantine, indoor/outdoor, outdoor only, etc., and they really need donations right now.  They also do boarding.

The Nine Lives Foundation takes cats out of high-kill shelters and works to get them homes.  They also work on TNR programs and low-cost spay and neuters.  Help spay and neuter more cats before kitten season comes again!

Note that there’s probably a local shelter in your area that could use your help!

As you know, We need diverse books.  Be part of the solution by supporting writing workshops for people of color!

Speak your Silence:  dedicated to ending the stigma on adult survivors of sexual abuse.  A small charity that’s growing and spreading a great message of awareness, acceptance, and providing counseling.

also, why not a video?:

 

 

What did we get people this year?

Shopping for DH’s family is sooo hard!

MIL:  This year we gave up and asked MIL what she wanted.  The answer?  The same luggage she got me for Christmas last year.  Not a problem!  We added a “Grandma” luggage tag because she seems to like things labeled Grandma.

FIL:  Another giving up year, a gift certificate to Cabela’s.  (Last year was an exception–we got him something he really wanted but he didn’t want to spend the money on that he still talks about.) This is probably still a good choice because he loves shopping at Cabela’s and MIL hates the way he spends so much of their money at Cabela’s.

BIL1:  games off his amazon wishlist

SIL1:  the first two books in the finishing school series.   She had the first on her list, but I know from experience that once you read the first you end up buying the second on kindle because you can’t wait for it to come in the mail.  So we got her that too.

Cousin 1:  Kid’s fun and healthy cookbook  Also one of the pigeon books from his wishlist, which seems kind of young to me, but whatever, it was on the wishlist.  And if we hadn’t had DC2 we might have gotten the entire set without the excuse of having a younger kid… (my sister loves those and she’s 30 years old!)

Cousin 2:  Three books off her wishlist, including a couple of elephant and piggie books and a knuffle bunny.  Maybe it’s mom who has the Mo Willems thing…  We were going to send her M R Nelson’s new book, but after looking at the heavily be-princessed wishlist (including 4 princess outfits), we decided that might get misconstrued.

SIL2: Her wishlist had been decimated, with only 3 things left on it (it had a tonne of stuff the week before, but we think MIL swept in and bought up the bulk).  Two books and a wish for “iTunes gift-card.”  We got her the two books, which were both kind of boring looking things about her job, one of which she’d put on recently, and the other something rated “low” that she’d put on a couple of years ago.  Oh well.

BIL2:  Was happiest the year we got him an Amazon giftcard, so an Amazon giftcard is what we got this year too.

Cousin 3:  A busload of pigeon books (it’s been a very Mo Willems year) and a couple of smaller books of hir wishlist.  Also we’ll be donating to the 529 plan.  We would do this for cousins 1 and 2 also, but BIL has never gotten around to setting them up, even though in his state they get a 20% tax credit(!) off their state income taxes.

Grandmother-in-law:  She’s now in a nursing home with early stage Alzheimer’s.  MIL didn’t have any suggestions.  She’s crunched for space, so no knick knacks.  MIL takes care of things like linens and clothing and so on.  She’s not really able to do her hobbies anymore.  Someone has already signed her up for fruit-of-the-month.  So we looked online for suggestions for people in nursing homes and people with Alzheimer’s and decided to make picture magnets, one for each of our little families (DH and his siblings and all our kids) with names underneath each person (the names part is the part suggested for Alzheimer’s patients).  Each family is color coded with a different color for the names.  We had an extra magnet leftover on the online thing and put a picture of DH’s mom and aunts on it.

My parents: I wanted to get them an air conditioner.  The two wall units they have are literally from the 1980s, inefficient, and ran out of freon before I left for college.  Every summer there’s a heatwave I worry about them dying like all those people in Chicago back when I was a kid.  Also I have to listen to my mom complain about how difficult it is to sleep in the heat.  Home Depot has a thing where they will install the a/c and take an old one away, so that’s what I want to do.  After much back and forth we decided to send them a giftcard to Home Depot for the amount we would have spent on a window unit, and they will replace one of their wall units in the summer.

My sister:  Well, for various reasons, I wanted to buy her that $369 automatic litter box, but the conversation kept going like, Her: “Why don’t you buy me a new washing machine for $369 instead?” Me:  “Because I don’t feel guilty about anything involving a washing machine.” “How about a stand mixer, I’d really like one of those fancy stand mixers”  “Would you ever USE a stand mixer?  Plus, I don’t feel guilty about anything involving a stand mixer!”  (Note:  earlier that evening she’d suggested we get her a vitamix, and I was like we got you an Oster hand blender a few years ago, and she was all, “You did?  Huh, I’ll have to check.  I know you got me that food processor that one year that I’ve never taken out of the box.  And that crockpot I never use.”  Note she’d asked for said food processor and crockpot.  She always wants cooking implements when she’s saving up money for something, but never actually uses them.)  So what did I get her instead?  $85 worth of cat toys and feliway.

DH’s relative with all the kids:  probably  money.  Daughter #2 is pregnant again…

As always, Target gift cards for teachers.

#2 says:  I have no income.  I am spending out of savings for Christmas, combined with not traveling, and not getting people extravagant gifts.   I’m buying used for people who are ok with that and looking for Kindle sales.  I also used the cashback on my Discover card to buy gifts.  I got my grandmother a box of pears.  There’s a group gift for the other grandmother, who doesn’t want a lot of Stuff.  But I’m trying to write her more letters and let her know I’m thinking of her.

I’m going in with my siblings on a lot of things.  Joint large gifts for mom, dad, stepmom (split between me and sis and our partners).  My brothers got stuff off their wishlists.  Stuff for my sister?  Well, I won’t say it here in case she ever finds this blog!

Did you get anything good or fun or interesting for folks on your holiday list this year?

Holiday gifts for teachers

Ah yes, the holidays.  And gifts for teachers.

#2 recently sent me a link with ideas for gifts for teachers. “Comments actually useful here!” she said.

Silly #2… obviously she has not spent as much time on mommy forums and blogs as I have.

Anyhow, from my reading of the forums (etc.) all teachers want are gift cards to Target. Gift cards to Starbucks are ok. Gift cards to the Body Shop are not ok.

They don’t want your cookies. They don’t want your mugs.  They have mixed, mostly negative, feelings about chocolates.

(They might want booze! #2 suggests. And while that might be true, you should probably not bring booze to a K-12 school or preschool. If you’re gonna go that route, try giving a gift certificate to a specialty shop that sells both booze and food.)

They also enjoy, for real, feeling appreciated. They love heart-felt notes from students and parents. They want that even more than gift cards, if the teaching mommies on fora are to be believed.  Teachers are mixed on whether or not they want heart-felt homemade gifts from the students.  They appreciate the thought.

(Coffee! #2 suggests. Sure, coffee. If you know what kind they drink and they’re not just getting it for free from the teacher’s lounge. Perhaps that’s why they like the Starbucks gift cards, though not as much as the same value Target cards.)

Also note that you can make a directed donation for stuff to the teacher through the school and it will be tax deductible so long as the school is government or non-profit. Be careful though that they don’t just subtract money that they would have been giving to the teacher anyway. If you’re worried they might do that, then gift carts to Half-Price books or Walmart or Target or the teacher supply store will be a better option. Teachers do tend to spend a lot of money out of pocket on supplies for kids, which is ridiculous. As a society we should be better than that.

And no, not all students’ families give gifts.  And no, you do not have to give gifts.  Depending on where you live, most parents don’t.  And yes, a card or a note at the holidays is a great idea even if you’re not planning on giving a gift.

What do we do?  $20-$25 gift card to Target to each teacher DC1 comes into contact with (and DC1 writes a thank-you note for each teacher with the card).  Then a $50 card to half-price books “For the classroom.”  This year though we may consider giving a directed donation that’s larger because the teacher has been buying sets of books for the class out of pocket (Charlotte’s Web, Dear Mr. Henshaw, etc.).  We’re not really sure.  When we asked her at the beginning of the semester, she said she’d let us know if she needed a directed donation, but she never has.  We probably should have just written a check right then and there when we were prepared to do so (we’d brought the checkbook and everything).  We also give a much larger figure to the school’s annual giving campaign.  If we went to public school instead of private I’d feel a bit different about giving a gift-card, but public school teachers on fora say they’re totally ok and appreciated.  (And in this at-will no-union state, teachers make so little, that a $25 gift card might actually matter.)

Usually we give $20/teacher to the daycare too, including all the teachers DC2 has come in contact with.  This year it’s a bit tricky.  In the 6 mo period we’ve been at this daycare by winter break, DC2 will have only been in the new room a month.  The previous room was terrible, we hate the directors, but we loved the teachers in the 18 month room.  There are 4 teachers in each classroom (2 morning, 2 afternoon), for 12 teachers total.  And we’re leaving for the new daycare in January (though we usually give good-bye gifts when we leave a daycare, but we’ve never left acrimoniously before).  We’d like to give cards to the 18 mo teachers and the new teachers, but we can’t really leave out the last room if we do that.  And DH wonders if we should really be giving giftcards when the new teachers barely know DC2 (though by the time this post posts, they’ll have known her longer!).  We may end up not doing anything.  I mean, we’re already “those parents” at that school.  But I will feel guilty, you know?  (Probably we’ll end up giving $10 gift cards to everyone at daycare or something.  Split the difference.)

What do you think about holiday gifts to teachers?

Ask the grumpies: Emergency fund placement

Debbie M. asks:

Where are you keeping your emergency fund these days?

#1:  I’m keeping mine in a savings account for maximum liquidity.  Having just quit my job and moved to a different state, I am living off my savings and my partner’s salary these days, and my savings aren’t so big that I could usefully make a short-term investment.

#2:  Also savings.  We have too much in there right now for no good reason [well, now we’re saving up for a year of leave…].  Term shares (CDs) aren’t paying enough to make it worth my time to move into ladders.  I do have a secondary emergency fund that I keep in taxable index funds on etrade.  (Some day we will move everything to Vanguard, but etrade is currently our legacy investment place.)  And, of course, in a true emergency we could tap our home equity either by taking out a home equity loan or by recasting our mortgage.  Similarly we could take the money we contributed to our ROTH IRAs out (and allow the earnings to continue to grow).

Where are you all keeping your emergency funds?

December Mortgage Update: And money and school zones

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

This month (December):
Balance:$34,190.77
Years left: 2.5
P =$1,066.94, I =$147.47, Escrow =$788.73

One month’s prepayment savings: $7.90

DC1 currently goes to private school.  Ze goes to private school because ze needed to start K early and the public schools wouldn’t talk to us about that.

The public schools have now changed their tune.  They have a district webpage on how to start K early, how to skip individual classes, and how to skip grades.  They note that enough people have taken these options that they now offer 7th grade algebra and 8th grade geometry at the middle schools.

At the same time, while we’ve been living in this transition neighborhood (the last frontier not changed into student housing, though I’m fairly sure there’s a houseful on our block), our school zones have changed twice.  And each time they’ve gotten worse.  We are now in the worst elementary school zone, and the “athletic” middle school.  Note that neither of these schools are the closest to our house… no, we’re the “rich” neighborhood that gets moved every 5 years to even out the “poor” districts, instead of the actually rich neighborhoods that never get touched.

If DC2 doesn’t need acceleration, then we have a chance at lotterying into a bilingual program at one of the better elementary schools.  That still wouldn’t have been enough for DC1 (and hasn’t been enough acceleration for some of our collegues’ kids, though it did work out until said kids became fluent in Spanish, at which point the lessons became much too slow).  Of course, DC2 has been, if anything, hitting milestones earlier.  Hir birthdate means that maybe only one year of acceleration would be needed instead of two (ze just makes rather than misses a cutoff), but that’s still one year too many to be eligible for the bilingual program even if ze did get in.

So that leaves us with choices.  1.  We could move before DC2 needs to start kindergarten, which could happen sooner than we think.  If we’re going to do this, it might make sense to sell the house before sabbatical/unpaid leave so we don’t have to deal with renters, just storage.  (Untold moving costs, though we’d probably buy a smaller house if we bought again, but I’d probably also get a longer commute which would suck.)  2.  We could send DC2 to the same private school that DC1 goes to ($9K/year).  3.  We could not try to accelerate and see what happens with the bilingual program lottery.  (Free, except in potential future therapy bills)  4.  We could accelerate as fast as possible through the elementary school and just cope and deal. (Free, except in time spent in conferences with the school.)  We could also rent an apartment in a better school zone, but the quality differential isn’t enough for that to be a feasible option like it might be in a large city– none of the elementary schools are all that great.

And who knows, the school zones might change again.

I’m guessing we’ll probably just stick with the same private school if it’s still in business.  Who knows.

Why is this all so hard?

On judging how poor people spend their money

DH has some extended family whose spending choices compared to their lack of income drives me nuts.  They’re always spending money on luxuries when they have the money (often on luxuries for other people) and then have no money when a small emergency strikes or their taxes were higher than expected or another debt comes due or what have you.  At Christmas we always feel like we have to send money to help out with the latest emergency, though we resist during the rest of the year when there isn’t a good excuse to give.

And it’s really easy for us to judge.  Back when we made little money, back when we had debt, we were frugal to the bone.  We got out of debt by spending money on no luxuries and sending every penny to the debt.  Then we built an emergency fund.  Then we started saving for retirement.  Only then did we loosen up and spend on things we didn’t need.  (Though to be honest, we started eating meat again after the debt was gone.)  I wanted us to be secure before we bought anything we’d wish we hadn’t in an emergency.

But honestly, these days, who are we to judge?  We spend a ton of money on luxuries, just different ones.  We have different priorities.

I think nothing of spending $200 on our annual umbrella insurance, who am I to judge a $200 game console purchase?  How can we judge a $1K granite-topped bar (relatives bought after a windfall) when DH has a $1K ergonomic chair (that he saved his allowance to get)?

The thing is, with us, our money is ours to keep and shelter.  We have no family to impress with conspicuous consumption.  They know we’re doing just fine and they live far away.  We have no childhood of deprivation to try to make up for (though neither of us had much stuff because our parents were often low income, we always had security, we never felt deprived).  We don’t have relatives telling us that we need to give any savings to even more impoverished family.  We’re not caught in the trap of having to spend the money now or give it away.

Possibly most importantly, even when we were living on low incomes with high basic expenses, we knew that situation was only temporary.  We could always and can always tell ourselves that we will have things in the future, when we are out of school and have real jobs, and it’s true and we’ll believe it.  It’s harder to think that way and stay deprived when you haven’t graduated high school and keep failing the GED.  Or when you’re a grandfather in your 30s.  If you don’t buy that  luxury now, you may never get it.  You may never have happiness or an item to show off.

Why can’t people just set up automated savings accounts that put the money away so relatives don’t know about it and people don’t feel the need to spend it?  Because when you’re low income, savings accounts can be dangerous.  Even the most basic bank accounts are expensive when you hit an overdraft fee that you can’t cover or bounce a check or make a mathematical error.  And sometimes you need to draw on that money and everything is empty and instead of just having no money, you have fees and more debt.

And yes, we think we would be perfect and save our way out of poverty, but it’s hard to say what we would really do in those kinds of situations.  We don’t have the pressure.  It’s easy for us to say we’d never be in that situation or we’d get ourselves out as soon as possible, but what would we really do?  People behave remarkably similarly when they’re deprived in experimental settings.  I’m not sure that my willpower is enough to dig out of that big a hole, especially if I didn’t have hope to go with it.

Is yours?

My New Mantra

There are many reasons why I quit my previous job.  Among them: teaching was eating at my soul.  Eventually, the job made me physically sick and I hated it, and it made me be a mean person.  Even now I am still purging toxicity from my soul and come off as angry when I talk about that place.  (gotta work on that!)

There was nothing wrong with GrumpyMe 1.0, but it’s time for patches and upgrades.  One reason that I put off leaving for so long was that there are things I love about academia and didn’t want to give up.  My wonderful partner, though, pointed out that I could actually improve on the job situation by finding a job with more of the things I like and less of the stuff I don’t like.  He pointed out that, instead of giving up my academic identity, I could actually become the thing that is now my new mantra:

A BETTER VERSION OF MY WORKING SELF.

Some of the ideas about how to be a better working Me come from when I thought about my ideal workday.  (Awesome side note: in that post I said that at last year’s conference I had met a new friend/collaborator and talked with her about what we could do together.  At this year’s conference, we presented that research!  Our paper is under review.  Hurrah.)

I don’t know yet what kind of bug patches and upgrades I will eventually find.  (I do know that it involves never ever teaching ever again.)  I do know the things that give me energy, those that make me lose track of time (learning something new!  reading books!).  I know that I can’t stand cubicles.  I have optimism about finding something decent.

In working towards a new, research-based career, I have been networking pretty hard.  Recently I had the pleasant surprise that, when asked to list up to 5 references in a web application, I found myself with 9 or 10 people I could list as references who would all say excitedly good things about me, and I could choose among them.  Go me.  Only … uh… 9 years post-PhD and I’m getting good at my career!

Do you have a work-related mantra?

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