Big change can be ok too

Recently we talked about how small change is ok.  Sometimes you can’t save the world, but you can make your small part of the world a little bit better.

Today we’re going to talk about the flip side.  Sometimes you want or need to make a big change.  And that can be scary.

If you have a lot of high-interest debt, it might be the best idea to do the unthinkable and down-size to a smaller house.  Or drop down to one car.  At least until you get your finances in order again.  That big change might eliminate years of horrible stress.  The one-time cut in lifestyle might even be better for your kids than the repeated stresses of financial difficulty.

If your career is making you miserable, it might be time to find a new one.  If you hate where you live, it might be time to leave.  Even if you’re tenured.  Even if you’ve never known or wanted anything other than academia.

Sometimes relationships just don’t work out and it’s more productive to be alone than to keep trying to stay together, especially if the relationship is in any way abusive, but even if you’ve just grown apart.  Obviously this is a very personal decision and can be a scary step to take, but cutting ties might be better than staying just for the sake of staying.  Think of the children!  Studies show that kids are much happier when their parents have a polite divorce than when they have a craptacular marriage.

One of my students recently told me that except for having children, most decisions can eventually be reversed.  That may not be completely true.  Although you can often buy a new car to replace an old one, you may not be able to do the same for the house you shouldn’t have bought in the first place.  An ex-significant-other may marry someone else or just no longer be interested (though who knows if you would have stayed together anyway).  You generally can’t get back tenure at the place you left (though, oddly, one of my recently hired colleagues used to work in my department something like 2o years ago).  But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find amazing housing.  Or a partner you love who will love and cherish you. (Or the happiness of being on your own without a partner.)  Or a job that brings you fulfillment and isn’t just golden (or brass) handcuffs.

Sometimes a big change will make a big difference.  And sometimes it’s a mistake in retrospect, but mistakes can be learned from and overcome.  Sometimes it’s better to take the chance and see what comes next than to live with the status quo.

Big changes can be ok too.

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?

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?

How do you deal with student complaints about colleagues?

Not like harassment complaints or anything (which I haven’t gotten but would personally take seriously and bump up an administrative level), just teaching kinds of complaints (which meansomething considers a litmus test).

Often my students complain about their other professors to me.  These kind of complaints tend to come in two flavors:  Ones where it’s obvious that the student doesn’t realize that the teacher is doing something for hir own good, and ones where I kind of agree with the student.

For the former, it’s easy, you just explain what the professor is getting at.  R^2 is important when you’re trying to predict Y, but it isn’t important when you’re trying to figure out what the effect of X on Y is.  Group work is unpleasant, but learning to deal with groups of people is important in many professions.  Presentation skills are important and student presentations don’t mean the professor isn’t teaching the material.  That sort of thing.  Sometimes I’ll mention to my colleague of students aren’t getting something that they need to know and then the colleague gets bonus points from the students for going over it again in class.

The latter, when I kind of agree, is a little more difficult.  I will sometimes sympathize and say something like, “I probably wouldn’t do well in that class either, but X is very good for other learning styles,” or “X does that so that you learn to learn on your own,” or even “Because X is an under-represented minority and a woman, she gets a lot more criticism for her teaching and has to keep tighter control of her class– Dr. Fullwhitemale can get away with things that she can’t, and he can get away with more than I can and I can get away with more than she can.  People automatically give him respect, and I don’t have to work as hard for respect as she does.”  Generally I try not to ever trash one of my colleagues even if I disagree with their styles.

Of course, my colleagues do take their jobs seriously.  There are valid reasons for allowing or not allowing students to do homework in groups.  There are valid reasons for different types of lecture/classwork modalities.  I don’t hear about my colleagues failing to show up for class or never getting back homework (except in rare cases in which I can say that my colleague has been having a family emergency, which is totally understandable).  I think in those cases I would probably just frown and not say anything.  Because if one can’t say anything nice, one doesn’t say anything at all.

What would make you quit a TT job mid-semester?

Just curious.

Do you know anybody who has quit a tenured or tenure-track job mid-semester.  Do you know why?  How did that work out?

Ask the grumpies: To move or not to move?

To move or not to move asks:

My husband and I have been talking about moving from the city where I did my PhD to my hometown. This move would result in us going more than halfway across the country.

We have two kids (baby and toddler).

Here are the factors we’re considering:

Jobs

-          My husband has a very well paying, fairly secure job that he enjoys for the most part.

-          I am currently on maternity leave, but the position was a contract position and it ends before my maternity leave ends.  I do not have a job to go back to, and am looking at a career change.  My latest position was not a post-doc, but it was related to my PhD field.  Unfortunately, my PhD field is one in which there are not that many obvious direct paths from academia to industry, but it’s also freeing in that there’s no just one part of the country that has all the jobs related to my PhD.

-          Neither of us has job prospects in hometown at the moment (though we’re always looking).

Social

-          We don’t have family or many close friends in PhD city. In hometown, we’d automatically have family (my parents, brother/his wife, aunt/uncle, cousin, grandmother) and close friends nearby – it would be an instant support system that we don’t have here.

-          Hometown is also closer to husband’s family (next state over instead of across the country) – makes for easier and less expensive visits.

Geography

-          We love our house and neighborhood in PhD city. We don’t love PhD city or the area of the country, but it’s okay. It seems to be a good place to raise a young family.

-          Hometown is an amazing city with lots to do in and nearby.

-          Weather in PhD city is better overall – milder/shorter winters, warmer/long spring/summer/falls (winters in  hometown is what bothers husband the most).

Cost of living

-          So much more reasonable in PhD city. We bought our house in PhD city for $250K, and the equivalent in an equivalent neighborhood in hometown would be about $700K-$1M.

So, my questions are:

-          How in the world do we make this decision?

-          What factors are the most important? Are we missing any?

-          If we do decide to move, what factors needs to be taken care of beforehand?

Wow, that’s a lot of discussion.  It’s hard for us to advise you on this decision because we have always moved for the job.  That’s why we’re both living in red states where we get to choose between the libertarian candidate and the tea-party Republican.  Fun times.  But most people stay close to home and family and support networks, so it’s not like you’re talking crazy talk.

Ultimately this is a very personal decision.  We’d advise you to make a list of pros and cons like you’ve done, but only you can weigh the job uncertainty vs. the desire to move back near family vs. the weather, etc.

Just straight off, it’s hard to see a good reason to move to PhD city without employment in place.  Your DH likes his job and doesn’t have a new one lined up and the new city is really expensive.  Unless you’re independently wealthy, there could be some pretty strong risks to moving without a job.  Even though it’s usually easier to find a new job in a city after you’ve moved there.  But you two should definitely both keep seeking out employment opportunities in Hometown– once there’s an actual job you’ll be able to do actual salary vs. cost of living vs. happiness calculations.  If your DH hated his job, then there would be more reason to jump ship without a backup plan in place, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.  Still, you may weigh other factors (like family) heavier in your decision and be less risk averse than we are.  Also #1 hates winters too.

#2 adds:  If you don’t hate PhDCity and are just homesick, then stay put.  If you hate PhDCity, which it doesn’t sound like you do, it might be worth moving anyway.  Really though the two of you need to do more research about job options before we can give more solid advice– the job is a big missing piece, especially if PhDCity is the cheap place to live.  You would have to get HELLA free childcare and HELLA cheaper travel to family to make up for the COL increase.

Factors:  Get jobs.  Get a decent rental you can stand.  Childcare.  Vaccinations.  Find schools.  Find a new pediatrician.  Consider your cars/pets.  Moving is the very very worst.  You may find cheaper rates in the off-season (not summer).  Moving across the country will make you nuts.

Grumpy Nation, surely you can give a better response here than we did.  Help 2mon2m out!

January Mortgage Update: And the amazingness of making more money than you ever have before

Last month (December):
Balance: $67,886.81
Years left: 5.333333333
P =$929.45, I = $284.95, Escrow = 613.58

This month (January):
Balance: $65,769.13
Years left: 5.16666667
P =$945.68, I = $268.72, Escrow = 613.58

One month’s prepayment savings: $4.64

Man, look how low that mortgage is getting.  Still 5 years out if we just pay the required amount, but if we keep up the prepayments, it’ll be half that time or less.  But we’ll see what happens.  (Especially if we keep spaying/neutering/testing/vaccinating cats at $300/pop.)

Anyhow… it is SO nice having more money than you need.  The lack of needing to think about money is just amazing.  A huge stress is gone now that DH is working again and the mental load is also gone.

There’s still a lot of stuff that we don’t do, but just knowing that we could do it is relaxing.  One of these days we’ll hire someone to mow the lawn.  We could totally hire someone to clean if we wanted to.  If things don’t work out in one way or another, we can throw money at the problems again.  Even if those problems never actually happen, the possibility of them happening is stressful when money is tight.  You can just forget about a potential problem until it happens when you have enough money to solve it.

This is not to say that you should spend your entire paycheck each month.  Our baseline expenses are still set from my paycheck alone.  We still have pretty frugal habits, even at the grocery store.  DH still has his allowance for his fun stuff.  We’re still limited by time.  We’re automatically saving as much, if not more, than ever.

And at some point with additional spending, it isn’t the additional lattes that get you (DH is thinking of re-upping his TONX subscription rather than continuing to roast his own from Sweet Maria’s).  It’s the big stuff.  The housing.  Replacing fancy cars.  My colleagues have traded up their “starter house” for enormous mansions or estates, sometimes building it themselves.  Then they complain about money being tight and have to take on more consulting.  It takes more lattes than a person can drink to make up for an additional 200K or 300K in debt on a house.

We have no intention of buying a fancier bigger house, and hopefully our cars still have a lot of wear in them.  And when we do replace them it’ll be with something at the level of a Civic Hybrid at the fanciest.  No BMW in this family.  So another $300 to neuter, vaccinate, and deworm yet another kitty isn’t worth thinking about.  We can spay/neuter several kitties a month and still be ok now that DH is working again, even if it means slower mortgage payoff or less money to a different charity.

Don’t worry, by next month we’ll probably be used to earning this amount, even though we never did get used to living on only half this amount, and we’ll stop talking about it.  It’s a lot easier to get used to having too much money than it is to get used to having just enough.  And, of course, one never gets used to having not enough.

Do the holidays stress you out?

I have a confession to make.  They totally don’t stress me out.  I find them to be totally relaxing.  Holidays are awesome.

And yes, I’m the one with kids.  And yes, we celebrate Christmas.

Now, the end of the semester is a bit stressful.  Finishing up classes, then the final exam, then grading.  Also the OMG everybody is about to disappear we must have these last 50 faculty meetings to discuss urgent business.  Oh, and the 20 referee reports that are due right in the beginning of December.  And the 30 letters of recommendation.  That part is kind of stressful.  When all of that is over and the students are gone, it’s hugely peaceful.  So our Christmas season doesn’t really start until classes end (sometime in the late teens or early 20s of December, depending on the year).  The kids don’t seem to mind an abbreviated season at home even if school and stores start at Thanksgiving.

Do we make Christmas cookies?  Sometimes.  If we feel like it.  Ditto Christmas breads.  I like buying a little live rosemary tree a week or so before Christmas and we decorate that.  Christmas shopping mostly happens online.  Stocking stuffers (the only thing “Santa” brings) get bought at Target when we pick up gift cards for the teachers.  We’ve taken the oldest to see the Nutcracker.

Having the kids home 24/7 can be a little stressful, whether it’s Christmas or not.  (At least until DC2 learns to read like DC1.)  We try to arrange family visits so they overlap at least a little with kids’ vacation so that they can burn some of their energy off on the relatives.  Spread it out, so to speak.  We definitely use daycare as much as it’s open, and DC1 goes to daycamp for one of the weeks that ze is off (same place ze goes in the summer).

This time of year articles start popping up about the Elf on the Shelf and all sorts of crafty etc. time-consuming holiday traditions that moms can do to make things magical.  And that’s great for the parents who get utility out of doing stuff like that.  We love that DC1′s best friend’s mom is doing another gingerbread house party this year.

But what about people who feel compelled to do all the Christmas stuff even though they hate it?  The folks who are totally stressed out because they have to remember to move the elf every night, or they would rather watch a movie than make cookies, or they have a racist uncle Mike that they hate seeing every year at Christmas dinner?

Think about your sources of holiday stress (if any).

What happens if you:

1.  Don’t do them?  Would the world end if you just didn’t visit your racist relatives and stayed at home with the family you chose and you love instead?  If you don’t do outdoor lights?  Will the children be scarred for life if the elf moves to another house and never returns?

2.  Pay someone else to do them instead?  I learned this year that I will never adopt a family and go shopping for them again– instead I’ll just give money for someone else to shop with.

3.  Get someone else in the family to do them?  Why is it always mom’s job to bring holiday cheer?  Maybe another family member can step in and take the kids to see the lights or bake cookies and clean up the kitchen etc.

4.  Change them so they’re less stressful?  Maybe instead of getting a big cut tree you can get something that’s more manageable.  Maybe you can change a tradition so it’s more chill.  Instead of 12 different batches of cookies, maybe one or two.  Maybe it’s time for Santa to drop off the packages early and to leave them with some assembly required after they’re unwrapped.

5.  Reframe them so they’re not as stressful?  Sometimes you can just will yourself to enjoy a long drive (in the snow) to see the grandparents.  It’s an adventure instead of a chore.  Sometimes that’s not possible, but if you can’t get out of doing something, might as well make the best of it.

Do you have holiday stress?  What tips do you have for avoiding holiday stress?  What have you tried that’s worked for you?

Partial-retirement/self-employment experiment over

As of today I am no longer the breadwinner.  DH’s new salary is more than twice his old salary (and is more than mine).  If all things stay the same in 2014, we’ll have jumped up two marginal tax brackets for that tax period.  I guess it’s true what they say about the private sector!

This will be his first time working for a real company.  He was given a choice of start dates and he picked the earliest one.  He was eager to get back to work.

I don’t think either of us is cut out for the Mustashian lifestyle.  Maybe if we were living in California it would be more fun to have more free time, I don’t know.  We both like working, that’s all there is to it.  DH was happiest during this self-employment stint when I needed his help with a knotty programming problem.  He got very little done on the large set of home-improvement tasks we listed (though he did do a lot of yard work and did some pretty elaborate cooking experiments).  That’s just not what makes him happy.

Does that make us haters?  No!  (Though we’re fairly sure MMM would say it does because anyone who doesn’t want to be him is a hater.) It just means that different people have different preferences.  Some of us prefer desk jobs that use thinking and computer skills over manual labor, no matter how creative that manual labor can be.  DH’s father likes doing home improvement as a hobby… it’s pretty clear that DH doesn’t.  Or at least only in moderation.

DH said he could never be quite at ease during this self-employment stint.  Of course, he loved the year he spent working on a start-up with his friends (one of whom he’s working with again), even though he brought in very little money that year.  But maybe the difference was that he had interesting projects to work on even if they weren’t lucrative.  And we’d saved a set amount for that year to spend down and didn’t really have to worry about economizing.

Turns out we prefer working and making money to not working and spending time having to think about money.  Even though I love money!  I’d rather have a wide margin of more than enough from earnings than from spending time doing things to save more money.  Given our already reasonable levels of spending (particularly if you subtract out non-negotiable private schooling), the bang for the time buck is a lot bigger for us with earnings than it is with savings.

And spending time on earning activities a lot more fun for us– DH would rather create a computer program that makes lives better for people than replace the bathroom carpeting with tile himself (something that will eventually have to be done because small children are gross).  I’d rather determine whether a program does what policy makers want it to do than get rashes (from severe allergies) doing yard-work.  Not only do we have comparative (and absolute) advantage in these activities, but we also get utility rather than disutility from them.  We can’t help it, it’s the shape of our utility functions and our budget constraints.

And, of course, we all have our own utility functions and budget constraints, so what makes us happy isn’t what makes all other folks happy.  What we are good at doing isn’t what all other folks are good at doing.  And that’s a good thing– when different people do different things, the economy has a better chance at working.  If everybody had identical preferences and abilities, everybody would be miserable because the people following their passions would be getting minimum wage at most, and the people making money would hate their jobs.  (California would also sink into the ocean from everyone trying to live there.)

Variety is the spice of life.  And I’m glad now that we can afford buy cardamom even if it’s crazy expensive.

Where are you on the work for pay/work for savings continuum?

Overstimulated October

I can handle two children (or maybe it’s just DC2– DC1 is pretty chill) or I can handle students being around, but not both.

I’m not used to this.

I’m not used to needing the door closed.  To need silence without background noise.

Every day is exhausting.  I come home, play a bit with the children, help DC1 with hir chores, and then I feel like crawling under a desk.  Please everybody just leave me alone.

When DC1 was this age, I could still get work done if I wasn’t actively doing chores or taking care of the toddler.  When DC2 was younger and napped once in the evenings I didn’t feel so incredibly overwhelmed.  When school was out of session for the summer I was mostly ok.

It’s not that there’s too much work to do.  It’s not even that my brain has gotten too much work (although that happens sometimes).  Heck, I’m not even as sleep deprived or as frequently sick as I was when DC1 was a toddler.  I’m just completely overstimulated.

Some of it is introversion, and I seem to have become more introverted.  But it’s not just introversion.  I need silence.  I even asked DH to turn off Netflix the other night because I couldn’t handle the noise.  Because he’s a darling he’s taken to listening with headphones.

I wonder if this is going to go away or if I’m going to need to make a big change to my life.  It’s limiting not wanting to see so many people, to avoid talking to people.  I dread most social engagements and have been saying no to a lot of work activities just because I don’t want to be around people.  I want to be alone.  Someplace quiet.

I do love my family very much… but these days I love them most in small doses or when they’re sweetly sleeping.

(#2 says: I call that “October”.  It is officially Exploding Head Syndrome Month and begins Sept 17th.  I relate to Milburn.  Why do you think I put that ear-protection headgear on my wishlist?  It’s so I don’t have to hear things.)

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