Is it ok for personal finance bloggers to be balanced?

Or should they be held to a higher standard?  If they’re preaching, do they have to be angels?

Do you HAVE to make your own laundry detergent and rinse out ziploc bags.

Do you HAVE to call all of your spending “sinful” and admit guilt and swear to do better any time you stray?

Do you HAVE to save up your money for travel just because the research says you’ll enjoy travel more than Stuff?

Do you HAVE to be constantly decluttering and keep your personal possessions to a minimum?

Must you set challenges and report your progress on achievement?

Can you just be a normal happy person who has found balance and doesn’t feel the need to be constantly improving one aspect or another of financial life?  Or if you are, do you have no business proselytizing?

Loving us some links

Oh man, (some) Duke undergrads are DUMB!  This week’s salacious tidbit comes from Squirrelers.  I have a feeling that said undergrad will probably land on her feet.  But HAHAHAHA.

GRS often has posts that we like but figure you all have read.  This week we’re pointing out that this post on salary negotiation mentions a great book that everyone should read.

Did you just collect midterms?  Here are the five stages you are probably going through right now.

We were included in this week’s carnival of personal finance. Ohhhh Canadaaaa….

I don’t think I’d do this, but it’s a very clever idea for linking your kids’ allowances to dividends.   I think we’ll follow the stock market separately from allowance money.

Our new total obsession: I Love Charts

Did money affect your marriage decision?

Anyone get this last panel and think it’s hilarious besides me?

Birthday presents

Every year for our birthdays, instead of presents, the love of my life and I bake each other cakes.  DH always does something lavish and elaborate with minimal input from me (except maybe “chocolate” or “fruit”), and I generally make what he picks out (frequently pineapple upside down cake, occasionally a pie).  Neither of us is very artistic, but we’re both excellent bakers.



I love this family tradition much more than any expenditure you could think of.  Some years it can get a little pricey– DH ordered special chocolates when he made the cover recipe from The Cake Bible.  But the time and the thought, not to mention the super yummy cake, mean the world to me.


We’ve included our kid on this tradition.  The first request (when he was old enough to be making requests) was strawberry cake.  I think we did a pretty good job.

Don’t worry– he still gets plenty of toys and other presents, mostly from his overly-generous grandparents.

What special birthday traditions do you have?  Is there anything special you remember from your childhood?

p.s.  See Everyday Tips for a related post on her frugal but fun birthday tradition.

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another rant…

The same guy keeps coming to my office outside of office hours.  Always when I’m busy (but generally doing something like writing). We even discussed in class why it is important to come during office hours and not outside of office hours.  (Note:  lest you think I’m a horrible selfish person, this is a BIG required core course.  If I let everyone who has just one quick question interrupt me, I would never get tenure.  There is a reason I have office hours, and generous ones.  There’s also a TA for the course they could ask.)

Today I said…
“Have we had this discussion before?”
“… Yes…”
“Is it office hours?”
“… No…”
“What are you supposed to do if you have a question outside of office hours?”
“Ask it on Blackboard”
“So, can I ask you a question now?”
Then my phone rang.  Otherwise I would have asked him why he has to know the answer *right now* but it is never important enough for him to put the effort to ask it on Blackboard.  Or important enough to ask during office hours.
It’s like… his time is way more valuable than mine.
Anyhoo… I know I should be all sweet and stuff and say oh, no unfortunately I’m really busy right now, but if you come back during office hours yadda yadda… but man, it gets on my nerves.

Update:  I was teaching my seminar class with the door open (it gets stuffy and claustrophobic without) and the same kid stuck his head in the door and asked if I could help him with his homework from a class I don’t even teach!  During a class discussion that this kid was not in.  Luckily his friend was there and said something to the effect of, “Dude, that’s a class.  She’s in the middle of teaching.”  After my class was over he caught me again, and boy did I chew him out.  His friend (also in my class) helped.  I told him in no uncertain terms that I did not want to see him anywhere near 2pm on Tuesday (his favorite time) this coming week.  (Wed, Thurs, Friday all have office hours and the TA does too.)

What do you do when someone trespasses on your time?

Books we wanted to love (but couldn’t)

This post isn’t about books that were flat-out bad. This post is about books that should’ve been great, that we should have gone SQUEE over, and that just weren’t all that, in defiance of all prediction.

Fly By Night:  This was so close. It should’ve been a big hit. And indeed, it was ok. Why did I not love it? I just don’t know. Partly I didn’t like one of the characters… maybe it was the writing… I did like it, but am somewhat lukewarm.

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke. This book had every element that I should have loved. But it went on waaaaayyyy too long and I hated most of the people in it, and it wasn’t cheerful, and I wanted the plot to go a different way, and all the events were unrelentingly dismal like the characters, and it needed tightening.

The Good Fairies of New York, by Martin Millar. How can something blurbed by Neil Gaiman be unenrapturing? Too many info-dumps, that’s how. Yes, you did your research about Scottish music! Great! Now shut up!

We had some discussion about The Magicians and Mrs. Quent and this list.  In the end we decided it was too much of a miss to be a near miss.  The nicest thing we can say about it is that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies steals less material from P&P and is more open about the theft.  The people who loved the book had obviously not read any of the classics it stole entire characters and plots from without so much as a wink or nudge.  They were great literature the first 20 times we read them, you know, in Jane Eyre?  And not so in need of editing. (For how to do a GOOD job of stealing from the classics, we recommend Deanna Raybourn’s The Dead Travel Fast, which we loved.)

#2 adds:  Can I mention the last 3 Harry Potter books, or is that heresy?

Have you had any near-misses?

How much to pay for graduate school

Now on to the how much to pay for graduate school question:

If we’re talking PhD… the answer is you don’t pay.  You do not pay anything for graduate school unless you are independently wealthy and you’re doing grad school as a leisure activity rather than as a way to increase earnings potential or get a specific job.  There is a strong correlation between you getting a stipend, or at least someone paying your tuition and your ability to get a job using the PhD afterward.  High quality students get money.  Fields in demand give money.  If you’re not offered money then either you’re not one of the top students or you’re in a field with a lot of competition (and you’re not one of the top students).  Take another year to figure out if this is really what you want to do and improve your CV while you’re at it.

Professional schools.  These are a bit different.  These actually do increase your earning potential OR they’re necessary for a specific but often low-paid job (like social work) that public service oriented people sacrifice themselves for because they’re good people.  The heuristic I like best for this is from Liz Pulliam Weston– borrow no more than the one year average salary of a graduate from the program you are considering.  I’m fairly sure she includes the zeroes of people who don’t get jobs in that average salary.  Now, if this is something you really want to do and you’re already good at managing money, maybe you can go into a little more debt, but in general it’s a good heuristic.

And really that’s it.  I had stipends 4 years of graduate school and a TA-ship the remainder.  I didn’t make much, but it paid the rent and barely covered other expenses.

Anything to add, #2?

Yes:  don’t pay for a Ph.D.  You have to pay for other things such as a master’s degree or professional degree.  But that seems… hard.  I don’t have a lot of experience here; my PhD was funded.

#1:  You don’t always have to pay for a master’s.  It may be worth it to pay for the master’s, but sometimes you can get funding through teaching and/or scholarships.  Companies will also occasionally pay for MA courses and there’s the night course option if you don’t mind taking a while to get your professional degree.  These degrees will be of varying quality, but if your company is paying they may value those skills and certifications.  But still, it might be worth taking out loans for depending on the situation.

Of course, I’m not going to touch the MFA with a 10 foot pole.

Did you pay for graduate school?  Was it worth it?

The whether or not to follow your dreams post

…As if most 18-22 year olds have a real dream that doesn’t involve playing for the NBA.  But let’s settle for various shades of liking different majors different amounts.  Never mind that how much you like a major is only part how much you like the subject material and a much larger part how good the faculty is at teaching it.

Sorry.  Getting ahead of myself.

A big debate on personal finance blogs is whether someone should major in what they “love” and the money will follow, or whether they should major in something that will provide them a job when they graduate in 3-5 years.  If you do the former, you’re doomed to work at Denny’s the rest of your life.  If you do the latter, you have no soul and are doomed to a life of drudgery.

A related debate concerns the same question, but whether or not (or how much) you should go into debt for graduate school.  That will be addressed in a future post.

Turns out that the answer is not either or for either question, though which side of the rich in security vs rich in life spectrum you’re on is different for the two questions.

Let’s start with college.

Unless your dream involves becoming an engineer or nutritionist or some other major that you need the degree and training for, your major does not really matter.  And even with these specific fields, you can always take more classes after graduation and get a masters if you are willing to pay for the career change.  It is true that math majors make more than general studies majors, and that is for two reasons:  1.  math majors ON AVERAGE are smarter and more focused, so having a math major signals that your average smarts are higher than your average general studies majors and 2.  the supply/demand of how mathematicians think is less in supply/more in demand than for the way a general studies major is taught to think (do general studies majors perceive the world through specific methods?)

What a lot of the folks who tell you to “follow your dream” don’t seem to realize is that how how much you enjoy doing a specific job is only part of the utility maximization function.  Some people have things in their utility functions besides dinosaurs (assuming said person is over the age of 10) or Victorian romance novelists or whatever a person enjoyed studying most in college.  Some people like things such as… free time, job security, oh… and high salaries.  Some people like having nice things, or traveling, or taking vacations.  Sometimes, if these people take a job that they really like instead of a job that they would love if they were employed, then they get to max out on all these things in their utility functions.

Another thing that follow your dreamers often don’t seem to understand is the idea of compensating differentials.  Basically, people will pay you more to do a job that’s unpleasant for the majority of people.  People will pay you less to do a job that lots of people enjoy doing.  In economics terms, people will pay you X amount more to take on Y amount of disutility.  That’s one reason that economics jobs pay more than history jobs… it is more fun being a historian than being an economist.  (And yes, it is true that a lot of crappy jobs also don’t pay well, but they pay better than they would if they weren’t crappy… disutility is only one portion of what goes into a wage– skills, credentials, productivity, etc. these all drive wages up or down.  Being a professor is more fun than flipping burgers and pays better, but it also takes a lot more education.  If flipping burgers was fun, they’d be able to pay less to do it depending on minimum wage constraints.)

Then there’s the demand-side for passions.  A lot of people seem to have similar passions, meaning that you might not be able to get a job with your passion even were you willing to accept a lower wage for it.  And really, if I were to follow my passion, nobody would pay me for it.  There just isn’t a market for sleeping in and reading novels unless it’s combined with something distasteful like not getting to choose the novels or having to write about said novels, and even those fields are difficult to break into.  Heck, most schools you can’t major in that… maybe that’s what all those general studies majors are doing.

So should you follow your passion?  Well, weigh ALL the pros and cons.  Your work is only one part of your life (even if you’re an academic).  Think about your second choice options.  How much more do you love your passion than doing something else.  Look at employment statistics and wages and career paths for your passion compared to second choices.   Are you willing to waitress as a day job while applying for acting jobs?  Or live in a rural area not of your choice possibly adjuncting for a few years before landing a position teaching college-level English?  Weigh pros and cons and probabilities.  Think about the desirability of the back-up plans.  It isn’t an easy decision.  If you love your passion more than anything in the world and are willing to put up with hardship of one form or another to pursue it as a job instead of a hobby, then go for it.  If your passion pays well and has good employment stats and you’re good at it… well, that sounds pretty obvious.  If you’re not crazy about spending a few years in the minor leagues possibly never getting into a major, well, then maybe your back-up position in engineering that you enjoy and are relatively good at is a better idea.  You can still play amateur on weekends and after work.

Where do you fall on the following your dreams question?