Semi-annual (Biannual? Bienniel?) reminder: Just ask!

Our auto insurance went up $200 to around $1600 this year.  Even though our cars are a year older and more time has passed since our last accident and we’re a year older and so on.

So DH (my hero) called up the auto company and asked what happened.  After some lengthy conversation about how medical claims going up can’t possibly be the reason for vehicular damage costs going up, the person on the other end asked if we wanted to do a 20 min survey to get some underwriting done.  (She didn’t put it quite like that.)

DH said sure, because he called at 7pm and the kids were watching a show.

Less than 20 min later, he’d cut the bill by $600 (to just under $1000).

20 min = $600.  That’s a better hourly rate than Mr. Money Moustache’s latest post about the benefits of credit card churning.

If it’s been a while since you asked your regular providers for a discount… give them a call today!  You might be surprised at what they have to offer.

Do it!  And report back to us.  :)

How do you handle the mental load of partnered life?

For those of you with partners, of course.  Unless you have a personal assistant!

In married life, especially when you have kids, there are often things that you have to do or get done.  Appointments to manage.  Places to be.  Things to sign up for.  If it were just you, you’d take care of all of those things (assuming you’re not in the “personal assistant” bracket).

Once you’re married you have to coordinate things and someone has to remember things.  But it doesn’t have to be you.  In “traditional” marriages, the wife takes care of these things.  She even takes care of the husband’s social engagements.  She keeps track of everything, makes all appointments, and is responsible if something is forgotten or missed.

That type of arrangement makes economic sense on the whole.  It makes sense to have one person taking care of everything so the other person is free to think about other stuff.  It’s a division of labor and one person specializes in appointments and filing paperwork and so on.  There’s no accidental double-booking unless the person in charge does that double-booking, and presumably that person will notice.  It doesn’t have to be the wife, but it makes sense to have one person in charge.  That person doesn’t have to be in charge of everything– it might make sense for one parent to take care of all the adult stuff and another all the kid’s stuff, or one person the house stuff and another the school stuff.  There’s lots of different ways to arrange it that are both egalitarian and efficient.

We don’t do that.  We are both in charge of almost everything.  We have little black books that we coordinate.  We have a list on the refrigerator for groceries.  I do take care of all the bills (even DH’s credit cards, though he is responsible for reviewing it each month for fraudulent charges) and DH is mostly in charge of the cars (even mine, though since I’m the one driving it I’m more likely to notice when the sticker says I should get another oil change), but for the most part, and especially for the kids part, we both take care of everything.

I noticed this lately when I emailed one of my colleagues about a play-date.  Our kids go to the same school and are friends and I know him but I don’t know his wife.  He forwarded to his wife and she emailed back.  Similarly, we got a birthday party invitation for another child who is DC2’s age from another colleague’s wife, not from him.  Usually the invitations for things go to me via email or to our joint junk mail account, but to DH by text because I never have my phone with me.  With DC1’s best friend whose mother is super-mom, and often on-call, we’re equally likely to get a text playdate from the dad or the mom (and occasionally the college-age uncle who babysits for them)!  Generally we email the dad, but just because that’s the email address that pops up first (alphabetical order).

There’s drawbacks to our non-method.  We have to consult each other.  We have to make sure our books are synched.  (Yes, we could have a calendar in the kitchen near the grocery list like my family did growing up, but that would be an additional thing to update!  Once DC1 is old enough do start doing hir own social calendar, we may switch to that.)  It’s extra effort, extra time, and extra mental load that only one person could have.

But there’s also benefits.  The biggest benefit is that when we forget to do something or forget to go somewhere, it’s both of our faults.  It’s hard to be mad at someone for forgetting when you forgot too!  Also with both of us needing to remember and both of us checking our planners and our shared junk email account, there’s a bit of overlap and perhaps a greater possibility that one of us will remember or notice even if the other doesn’t.  I’m not sure if that works, but we’re both so busy I bet either one of us would forget just as much if it was just on us all the time.

#2 doesn’t have kids, so this is much easier.  We delegate, and we talk.  For example, we just moved to another state.  This requires SO MUCH COMMUNICATION, folks.  I mostly coordinated that, since I have the time, but he has most of the money.  Every day we would say, what do you need me to do for this move?  Did you hear back from the movers?  Did you pay the security deposit or shall I?  We have a joint savings account, and we need to talk to each other about planned transactions because of Regulation D.  We share spreadsheets and lists in Google Docs (drive).  Sometimes we IM each other during the day, and then we each have a chatlog of what we talked about.  It can certainly get tedious having this conversation every day — there was a point during the moving process where I lost my shiz because he asked me about tasks one too many times — but mostly it’s been working for us.  We’ve also found in other areas (e.g., kitchen) that it’s helpful to put one person explicitly in charge– doesn’t matter who– and that person directs and delegates to the other.


For those of you with partners, how do you divvy up the mental load of planning and deciding and answering and filing?  For those of you without, what methods do you use to keep track of everything that needs to be done?

How often do you get your flexible savings account moneys?

Every month $555.55 is taken directly from my paycheck and put into a dependent daycare account.

Every month I write a check to the daycare for $630.

I do not, however, request a reimbursement every month from the DDA.

Instead I tend to let the months build up and then sometime during breaks (usually Winter, Spring Break, and Summer) process the DDA paperwork, get the required signatures, and fax the signed papers to the DDA folks.

Then a few days later, I get a lump sum deposited to my savings account.

Why don’t I just request the money every month?  Two reasons.

1.  Effort.  It takes a lot of mental load to remember to process the paperwork AND take the forms to daycare AND pick them back up again AND fax them in.

2.  $555.55 is a lot less than $630.  If I let a few months build up, then I don’t have to deal with claim denials followed by the additional $74.45 a month later followed by some smaller number than $555.55 etc.  (It used to be I’d have to redo the denied part if I over-requested, but now they send it automatically when the coffer gets refilled, which is nice.  Also the direct deposit is much nicer than the checks they used to send.)  I have a much better idea of how much is left when I do it in lumps and keep all but the last reimbursement under the amount actually in my account.

Another reason that might make sense if we were tighter on money (and therefore the effort cost might be worth it) is that this DDA can serve as an additional emergency fund– additional savings not in the checking account that could be tapped into in case of emergency.  We used to treat credit card savings like that, but these days the amount of credit card rewards isn’t the difference between us being able to buy groceries or not that week.  $555.55 isn’t chump change, but our emergency fund these days is large enough to cover most such emergencies, even including things like unexpectedly large tax bills or months late travel reimbursements.  Yes, rationally it still makes more sense to keep such money in an interest-bearing account, but not being able to see it still has psychological advantages when it comes to budgeting when you don’t have a lot of slack to play with.  (And #2 adds that interest-bearing accounts don’t pay bupkis these days.)

I do process travel reimbursements and rebates right away, but that’s mainly because if I don’t, I’ll lose the receipts or forget about processing them at all.  Plus, there’s also no advantage to putting it off– the same number of steps need to be taken no matter when I do the reimbursements– I can’t just do all of my travel for the year at once in one step.  With the DDA, I could, in theory, put it off until we’ve spent $4999.95 or whatever I’ve put away for the year on daycare and I’d only have to get one signature and do one fax.  I don’t do that either– usually I request 3x/year.

Do you request flexible spending account money and credit card rewards as soon as you can or do you let them build?  Why or why not?

Academic side hustles

#1 occasionally picks up $100 or $500 here and there to review a paper or a grant or a book.  She will also do these things for free, but is perfectly happy to accept money for the opportunity when it’s offered.

Sometimes she’ll do free-lance writing for a policy brief or a news article or encyclopedia article, though she doesn’t seek these out and hasn’t actually done one in several years.

Her colleagues moonlight as expert witnesses or do big consulting contracts for various state governments.  But she hasn’t been offered such things and doesn’t seek them out.  She does seek out grants, but those aren’t really side hustles, as they fit under her regular job heading.

#2 has reviewed textbooks and is supplementing her unemployment spell with small bouts of copy-editing for academics.  She’s also hiring herself out as an experimental subject, for Science.

In grad school we picked up side work as advisers, research assistants, and experimental subjects.

How do you get money outside of your regular 9 month contract?  If you’re not an academic, what kind of side hustles do you have?  Any ideas for #2?

Ask the grumpies: Umbrella Insurance

SP asks:

 What is your opinion on umbrella insurance.  I saw in one comment (I did search your blog) that at least one of you has it.  My current quote [in CA] is $184/yr for $1M of coverage (deductible not clear right now).

Umbrella insurance is something you get if you have substantial assets someone could potentially take from you if they pursued a frivolous lawsuit against you (or even a not so frivolous lawsuit!  but we assume our readers will only be pursued by frivolous suits).  It also fills in some of the gaps from your other insurances, but in our opinion the lawsuit thing is the big thing.  $184/year for $1M seems reasonable.

The insurance is nice because you won’t go broke if you lose one of these suits and because the insurance company has skin in the game, they will often go to bat for you and help you out with the lawsuit itself (so I’ve heard, anyway).

If you are the type who thinks that a potential lawsuit may not be a random act of chance, then be sure to read the fine print on your policy.  Many things that could be your fault are excluded from the insurance plan, and if one of those is your particular vice, the umbrella policy isn’t going to help you if you get sued.  You also may be excluded if you run a home daycare, and I’m sure there are other exclusions for other higher risk (of lawsuit) occupations.

We got ours at the point that we had “real” assets that we were willing to pay something under $200/year to insure that we didn’t lose them.  We also thought at that point our assets might be attractive enough for someone to bother going through a lawsuit to get them if given the opportunity.  We bought umbrella about 3 years after getting real jobs, but I don’t know what our net worth was at the time, just that it was high enough that $200/year seemed worth it to our loss averse selves.

So that’s our thoughts on umbrella insurance.   Grumpy readers, what are your thoughts on umbrella insurance?  Do you have it (and why or why not)?  When did you get it?

October Mortgage Update and Window Treatments

Last month (September):
Years left: 3.25
P =$1,030.84, I =$183.56, Escrow =$788.73

This month (October):
Years left: 3
P =$1,042.82, I =$171.58, Escrow =$788.73

One month’s prepayment savings: $7.90

Recall some of our windows.  We have two sets of these.:

So the first thing we wanted to do is get some of that professional reflective stuff put on on the outside.  One of the rooms gets really hot and no amount of crepe myrtle outside seems to be able to block the heat in the middle of the day.  Of course, that requires actually contacting someone and we’re still waiting for our bathroom flooring to show up. [update: they came, see last Monday's post]  Redoing the indoors doesn’t require talking to anybody or waiting for anything, so that’s what we started with instead.

We tried going without anything on the top half circles for a few days.  It was hot and occasionally blinding.  Other viable options we explored were Faux stained glass film and plantation shutters.  We’ve looked into less expensive options like paper fans and turning regular paper blinds into half circle blinds… but none of them seemed worth it to us.  (The more crafty among you may disagree!)   Here’s a pinterest page with all sorts of stuff.

In the end, we chose Bali half circle faux wood blinds in coconut, with matching 2 in horizontal blinds.  Cost:  $108 for each small half circle and $160 for each small one.  Total cost:  $752.  Then there was a 20% discount (down to $602) and tax and stuff.  The blinds were:  $67 each for the 4 little ones and $96 for the 2 big ones, $460 total.  DH decided he liked the smooth finish better than the fake wood-grain finish.  I’m good with that.  Total cost including everything:  $1050.

After: 019_crop

So a lot less expensive than roman blinds would have been, and I think roman blinds are kinda going out of style, so dodged that bullet.  Laziness for the win!

We still have the great room, and for that I really want to do something I recently saw at an upscale hotel, but I haven’t been able to find pictures of what I’m thinking of– perhaps it isn’t trendy enough yet.  Basically they had a rich grey thick outer curtain, a satiny translucent inner curtain, and a third white blackout curtain.  There was a nice grey rectangular valence over the top.  All curtains were openable with their own chains.  I can’t for the life of me figure out how to go about buying that kind of set-up without hiring someone or picking and choosing the separate parts through several different stores.  That kind of set up, especially with being able to open the curtains via chain, seems not to be available as a set anywhere, even though I would like to be able to just press a “buy this look” button and put in my particulars.

I think we’ll also replace the vertical blinds in the guest bedroom with a blackout curtain one of these years.  We’ll see.  My MIL got curtains to replace the blinds, but we didn’t take the blinds down because they didn’t block enough light even if they do look nice.

Something we noted when buying– the cheapest options on almost any site have a ton of reviews but some of the reviews say things like “blinds melted after two weeks.”  The more expensive options don’t have as many reviews and some don’t have any reviews, but they often tend not to have any negative reviews if they have reviews at all.  We rely pretty heavily on online reviews, which we believe have increased our quality of life in many areas (allowing us to pay extra for quality and to avoid hassle with returns).  So even if the most expensive options might be perfect and we might be willing to pay that amount if the quality is higher, if we have no information on the quality, we’ll go with the option that has 60-odd 5 and 4 star reviews over the option with 12 (or 2) 5 star reviews.  (And we’ll pick that over the 900 reviews where 5%, all from the South and Southwest, note that the blinds melt in direct sunlight.)  One of the online places we looked at didn’t have any negative reviews for even their cheapest blinds, so we really didn’t trust them.

Boy do we hate this sort of thing.  Why can’t stuff just last forever?  Or why can’t we have someone who loves to do interior design as a hobby pick stuff out for us?  I kept going, “You know, DH, we could just hire this blinds company to pick everything out for us.”  But… we still have to *pick* a company, and if we’re going to do that, we might as well just pick the blinds instead.  So we did.

How do you figure out these kinds of large home improvement purchases?  It’s easy to compare when it’s a water heater or what have you– but these kinds of aesthetic choices are so difficult for us.  Do you use online reviews (and what do you do when there aren’t any) or hire an interior decorator (and how do you find one)?  Do you just “buy this look”?  (And from where?)

The New Flooring (and bonus toilet)

Before:  005


The vinyl is exactly as advertised.  It is not slippery and it is softer than tile.  If you can get over the dire warnings about off-gassing, sheet vinyl really is a good choice for a children’s bathroom where you care about safety a little bit more than you care about looks.  (The tile does look nicer in pictures than in reality because it’s just a picture of tile imposed on vinyl, but so long as you don’t look too closely, the illusion holds IRL too.)

Total cost: <$1500

Flooring:  ~$900

Toilet main parts: ~$300.

Toilet seat:  ~$40.  (Did you know these don’t just come with the toilet?  DH wanted a fancy one, so a fancy one he got!)

Broken Mirror:  (DH didn’t take it down, and it shattered when the contractor accidentally bumped it.) $15 if we replace it before they get rid of all the back to school stuff.  More if we have to buy it regular price.

Bathtub sealer floor trim to place between floor and bathtub:  $4

DH says that they sent one guy out to do the entire thing and he really knew what he was doing.  He stripped out the carpet and cut off carpet tacks that were embedded in the cement.  Then he added a thin layer of cement to make everything even.  Then the vinyl went in, and went in almost perfectly.  (There’s a little area behind the toilet in the corner that will need some additional caulk or grout.)

They didn’t cut off the baseboards like we thought they would, and you can see we’re going to have to repaint those.  Whoops.  Quarter round would have looked really bad, so I’m glad we noticed that they were going to put it in standard and we asked them not to do that.  The guy did a really good job getting the flooring up right against the molding so all it needs is a little caulk here and there, particularly at the corners.

They were able to do the full jack and jill as one piece with no seams, which is pretty cool.

All in all, we think it looks really nice and was probably worth the month and a half wait (when they lost the flooring and had to reorder it and it was backordered etc.).  It was definitely worth the expense to have someone who knows what they’re doing doing this.  If we were doing it, we would most likely have done it piece meal with seams and we would have been completely surprised by things like carpet tacks.  I assume we’d know to put in cement because we’d have watched the appropriate youtube videos, but it’s really nice that we didn’t have to.

Do I wish we’d done this earlier?  It’s hard to say.  See, we didn’t have so much income earlier that $1,500 would have not have made us make some kind of sacrifice, most likely to savings and peace of mind.  In addition, it was probably best to get the bulk of the potty training done on that cruddy carpet that is now gone as well as in our ex-toilet. Essentially, we lived with the carpet without major problems in the past and appreciated having that money, but it sure is nice to have it looking respectable now, and $1500 doesn’t seem like much to have it the way it is now given that we didn’t have to do that much to get it that way.

Now we can let guests use this bathroom instead of hiding it from sight and sending them to the guest bathroom instead.  Two guests could even go potty at the same time (in separate bathrooms)!  If we ever had guests…

So, I still don’t understand people who renovate perfectly nice stuff with money they don’t have when they move into a house, but I do appreciate the need and ability to renovate responsibly when stuff is past its prime.  And I do realize we probably put these things off a bit too long, but so far I think that’s ok.

Next up:  Window treatments!

What makes you decide it’s time to renovate?  Do you do it yourself or hire out?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 238 other followers