You google the questions, we provide the answers

Q:  pros and cons of having a baby while in college

A:  DON’T DO ITTE!!!!  [Exception to this advice:  You are a returning student, in which case, have kids when you’re ready.]

Q:  who are the people who best understand sunk cost

A:  Economists!

Q:  when does it make sense to max out your heloc

A:  When the interest rate is lower than your other debts and either you are unlikely to default or you don’t care if you foreclose.

Q:  why women pretend to be perfect

A:  They don’t.  They ARE perfect.

Q:  is attending my kindergartners award going to make them spoiled

A:  No.  (But you still don’t have to go if you can’t or don’t want to.  No, “it’s better for the kid” excuse needed.)

Q:  does etrade make you send in a copy social security and utilities

A:  No.  Do not get tricked by these phishing scams!

Q:  who do you choose when you have so much to choose from?

A:  Our partners!

Q:  have you ever tried to change an aspect of your personality

A:  Yup.  That’s why we’re awesome!

Q:  why is my husband such a helpless baby

A:  Either:  1.  He is a douche.  2.  He’s a nice guy but clueless and you need to have a conversation about how he needs to step up and what exactly that means (including mental load noticing things) or 3.  He has tried to help in the past but didn’t come up to your standards and got discouraged and thus never got a chance to practice more.    In the case of 1 we recommend divorce, in the case of 2, we recommend having that conversation, in the case of 3 we recommend a conversation and encouragement/letting go.

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More on jealousy

#1 : I think imma have to stop reading Suzie’s blog for a bit. Her son is finishing his PhD and getting tons of offers from great schools in gorgeous locations. Must…. quench…. jealousy… of petroleum engineers….

#2:  you wouldn’t want to be a petroleum engineer
#1: no
#2:  and they have to work, with like, oil companies.
#1 : he was like, Oh mom, what should I do, I have so many places wanting to hire me… I was like, I smash you.
#1: he has an offer at [school in Awesome Wet City]

#2 : don’t be jealous

 #1: why not?
#2: you don’t want to be a petroleum engineer

#1: it’s like, I know exactly why it’s bad to be jealous, and how unfounded it is, and how everyone has problems, yadda yadda, but thinking I shouldn’t be jealous doesn’t stop it.

#2: yeah, but in this specific case
  you don’t actually want to be a petroleum engineer
  you wouldn’t actually trade with this person
 #1: I don’t. But I might want a job offer at [Awesome School].
#2: but not a petroleum engineering job.
I’m afraid you probably wouldn’t get tenure at [Awesome School] in petroleum engineering.  You’d have to do petroleum engineering theory or something (does that exist?)  You would have to be really good at faking it.
  “This theory is so brilliant no one can understand it!”
#1: hahaha
 no, not in petroleum engineering. No petroleum engineering for me.
#2: You have my permission to be jealous of the profs [in your field] at Stanford. That at least makes sense.  While you’re at it, stick to being jealous of the tenured ones
#1: arrrrghgghghghghhhhh
  stanford won’t hire meeeeeeeeeee
#2: no, but at least you want that job more than one in a petroleum engineering dept…
 #1: true
#2: or maybe it’s easier thinking about being jealous of the petroleum engineering department in [Awesome Wet City] because deep down you don’t really want to be a petroleum engineer in [Awesome Wet City]
 #1: true
#2: because if that’s been your goal all along, you’ve made a few really odd choices
 #1: hahaha
Grumpeteers, do you indulge in jealousy?  Do you prefer more realistic targets or less?  Do you feel like you’re being jealous of the right people?  (Or should you aim higher or lower?)  Is there anything that stops it???

Adventures in Elimination Communication

Have you noticed that we’re kind of hippy-dippy parents?  We are.  (We do vaccinate on schedule… we’re hippy-dippy parents with PhDs.)

Anyhow, we started gentle potty training with DC1 around 15 months, even though we really should have started at 12 months when ze didn’t want to poo in hir diaper anymore.

It was so much fun, that we vowed to start with any future DC2s once the poo became more solid.  DC2’s poo is now more solid.

DC2 also hates wet diapers with a violent passion.

The first step of elimination communication is un-diaper-training your baby.  The baby has to realize that ze is peeing.  With DC1 this was easy– ze could stand so we let hir take showers and pointed out peeing when ze showered.  Ze had a hilarious expression the first time it happened, sort of a “what is this?”  DC2 isn’t stable enough to stand in the shower and probably won’t be any time soon.

So, for us, Step one was pulling out the incontinence pads we’d gotten for DC1’s night training and putting DC2 on top of them with shiny new-to-hir toys to keep hir occupied.  Then we kept watch for sudden wetness.  (This part was a little weird.)

When the wetness occurred, we would move on to Step 2:  cueing the baby.  Most folks cue the baby with a “pssss” or “tsss” or “peeeee” sound.  My family apparently has a song they sing to the tune of “Twinkle twinkle little star” (“Tinkle, tinkle…”) that I thought I made up with DC1, but it turns out is something my grandma used to sing to my mom and her siblings and my mom must have sung to me and my sister even though I don’t remember it.

We repeated this for 2 days whenever we thought of it, probably 20 min a try, a few tries a day.  Day 3 we decided to Step 3:  introduce the potty.  Sadly our tiny little potty got a crack in the bottom while stored in the attic which makes it useless as a potty.  (But it’s recyclable!)  And it has been discontinued.  Fortunately DC2 is bigger than DC1 was, so can use the next size up Baby Bjorn potties, of which we have two.

DC1 always peed after waking up, so we figured to try that with DC2 as well.  It worked.  We caught a pee almost immediately.  I tried later in the day with the cuing song and also caught a pee.  The next day I caught another one and thought, “There is no way this can be so easy.”

So of course the next time I tried, baby didn’t pee when cued, and the time after that ze stood up and peed all over me instead of in the potty.  (That has happened a couple times since then as well, but we stay upbeat about it.)  But we’ve been catching a lot of pees, especially right after sleeping in the morning and right after naps.  It’s pretty amazing.

One time half-naked DC2 even walked over to the potty hirself (with parental assistance), but then got distracted by the bathtub and peed on it instead.  Oops!

The true joy of this method has been the poos we’ve caught.  It is just so much less icky to dump poo in the toilet and then rinse out the potty than it is to deal with a poo covered rear end.  I understand that many folks who do EC are better at catching poos than pees because their babies give more signs they’re about to poo, but apparently DC2 is a stealth pooper.  (DC1 used to do an adorable wiggle-dance.  DC2 just explodes without warning, usually while on hir tummy.)

The end goal, of course, is to be able to figure out when the baby is about to pee and for the baby to start to hold pees for the opportunity to go.  DC2 does seem to have bigger pees the more we do this, but we’re still clueless about the communication part.  Maybe we’ll figure it out or maybe it’ll all work out when ze starts talking to us.

Also:  we’re only doing occasional elimination communication.  Ze’s still mostly in diapers and the mother’s helpers all use diapers.  (One of them thinks we’re weird beyond belief, another thinks we’re really cool, and the remaining two haven’t been around for a post-nap pee yet.)  The Diaper Free Baby swears that occasional and part-time (that’s a step up from what we’re doing) elimination communication are fine, so we’re trusting them on that.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  And so far, other than DC2 maybe fighting a little more about getting that diaper back on, there doesn’t seem to be any harm done.

So anyway, Elimination Communication:  messy but WAAAAAY easier than potty training later.  Surprisingly so.  And much easier than we ever thought it would be.  (Also, kind of fun!)

February Mortgage Update and a Minty Fresh February Challenge: Is it worthwhile?

Last month (January):

Balance: $85,701.59
Years left: 6.916666667
P = $869.10, I =$345.30, Escrow = 621.66

This month (February):

Balance: $84,162.48
Years left: 6.833333333
P = $875.17, I = $339.24, Escrow = 621.66

One month savings:  $2.62

As we’ve talked about previously, DH is leaving his position in May at the end of the semester.  That means no more money from his salary.

Our current spending equals almost exactly our future take-home pay from my salary once we stop hyper-saving for retirement and pre-paying the mortgage (though I did get some grant money this summer, which will provide a bit of a buffer).

The worrisome part is that our [non-daycare] spending has been creeping up.  Some of that is more frequent emergencies… our stuff is getting older and starting to wear out.  Our Garmin broke, then broke some more, and then became unusable (we suspect planned obsolescence).  We needed to replace the tires on one of the cars.   The month before we had to call the plumber and replace our sink thingies because of a leak (after DH attempted a fix himself and broke things irrevocably– he’s great with electrical and mechanical stuff, not so much with plumbing).  And so on.  But we need to start planning for these more frequent emergencies if we want to stay within my income next year.

So we finally joined MINT.  I was going to have DH start it this summer when he has more free time, but when I looked into it, signing up was so easy that I just did it.  It downloaded 3 months of expenses from our credit cards and calculated a portion of our networth.  I haven’t put our main bank account in there because our credit union doesn’t play with mint.  One of my retirement accounts and one of DH’s retirement accounts isn’t in there because I would have to look up the passwords.  Ditto my single stock that kicks us big dividends every quarter.  But a good portion of our stuff is in there.

Mint is really neat because it automatically categorizes your credit card purchases.  It makes some mistakes and it doesn’t categorize everything, but that’s all fixable and it has the ability to learn.  (Also, sometimes it can’t download information and that’s annoying but generally it seems to figure things out within a few days.)

With this categorization, it provides an easy monthly budget that you can futz with.  You can also look at your spending in categories for each month.  I can see that we spent $567 on groceries and $610 on restaurants in November.  Of course, some of that restaurant stuff was reimbursed because it was on a business trip.  December shows $330 for restaurants.  January is close to $500, but that also includes a reimbursable business trip.  I think we’ll need several more months to see what a normal pattern is.

It’s also pretty easy to see what your net worth is on Mint, at least including the accounts you tell it about.  We’re doing much better than our age, we’re on track for families with my salary alone, and we’re a bit behind for families with our current combined salary (drat those years wasted in graduate school!)  Next year we stop our hyper-saving and drop to only putting 12% or so of my income towards retirement (well, probably a bit more than that as any extra money will first go towards IRAs… if there is extra money).

My first thought was to do a no-eating-out challenge.  But then I thought:  1.  What if we go into the city (not eating out would totally suck), and 2. Why?  Going a month without eating out when there’s no reason to seems like it will lead to unhappiness.  Cut back, sure, cut out entirely… that seems to be too much pain for too little gain.

So my second thought was to look at the whole rather than at just the restaurant part.  Can we keep credit card expenses under what we will need them to be next  year?  Sort of a mini dry run.

I did a little BOE and came up with $3000/month excluding childcare and the mortgage.  We spent more than that in November and in December according to mint, so it seemed like a good challenge.  Except the November and December spending included both business trips and multiple random emergencies or once a year expenses.  Which shouldn’t matter because almost every month has an emergency (or a one-time big expense)– if it didn’t our spending would probably be under 2K each month.  In fact, it looks like this month of January we’ll be coming under 3K without any effort on our parts [update: it did, just barely].  Heck, we’ll come in under 3K for the month including childcare if it takes a few days for our mother’s helpers to cash their checks [update: it didn’t].  So perhaps 3K is too much for a short little month like February. [I know, I know, 3K/month even if you include rent is still a lot of money!  Part of me cringes at how much we spend now, even though we’re a family of four and not two starving grad students.  A much bigger part of me never ever wants to go back.]

As I said before, with no emergencies, our regular spending should be something like 2K for food, utilities, diapers, gas, insurance, etc.  (And, indeed, if memory serves correct, the rare months without any emergencies or big spending we have spent less than 2K on the credit cards.)  Chances are there will be an emergency.  But let’s see if we can work around that and cut other spending to adjust for it.  Worst case scenario we can eat off our sizable pantry for a bit.

And that’s the challenge.  Keep non-childcare/non-mortgage spending, aka, our credit card spending, to 2K or less for the month of February.*  And this should be doable without too much sacrifice– let’s see if the little sacrifice hurts or not.  If there’s another seriously big emergency… well, hopefully we won’t have spent all our variable money on food already.  February is a short month.

What to do with the money we would usually spend but won’t… well, um, that kind of balances out November and December’s awfulness.  At the end of the summer I will take stock of where we are and put money toward bulking up the emergency fund, our 2013 IRAs, and possibly pre-paying the mortgage.

Part of me thinks this is a really stupid challenge.  A month is really not the right unit for controlling overall spending.  Spending not done in February may be moved to March.  Emergencies are generally unpredictable and either we get them or we don’t.  On top of that, we have a lot of savings from all those years we were saving 40-60% of our income.  We can always re-amortize our mortgage if we need to cut our monthly expenses in the future, and DH may someday bring in money.  By the time we run out of summer funding for me, DH will likely have brought something in.  We may never need to cut back our spending.  Why make things difficult for us now when time is at a premium?

Still, it’s February and why not?  It’s only 28 days of deprivation and I might learn something.

*Also not including DH’s allowance expenditures, or “his money.”  That is separate and already apportioned out.

Grumpeteers, Do you think this is a stupid and unnecessary challenge?  Do you think it’s ridiculous that we spend so much?

link love

Not all babies are cute.  This one is.  Congrats!

Scott Edelman hates it when that happens.

NPR talks about how breast pumps will be free for people with health insurance soon.

Frugal upstate with instructions on making your own sewing kit.

Planting our pennies was a victim of unemployment fraud!

Scalzi has been having a few food posts recently.  Favorite comment of the week:  “So you’ve decided to skip diabetes and go strait to triabetes.”

We were in this week’s carnival of personal finance.

Ask the grumpies: Consulting fees

We’re bumping this week’s Google Questions for a recently emailed Ask the Grumpies.  Because we need your help to answer it.

Dr. Koshary asks:

Out of curiosity, has either of you had occasion to work out what your consulting fee would actually be?  I assume it’s nuts to throw the question over to whomever might hire me, and that I would need to have some figures and rationales worked out.  So far, all I’ve seen online about this is oriented toward sales consultants who would do that for a full-time living.  I look to you both for this sort of wisdom: how should full-time academics – and yes, I hear you, I shouldn’t re-focus my time and attention on this – calculate what their time is worth for consulting?  I have a private fantasy of saying my time is worth $1000 an hour, but I fear to tell that to almost anyone else.

This question relates to an earlier post of Dr. Koshary’s about a potential consulting situation.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a good response for Dr. Koshary.  One of us is pre-tenure and the other has only been tenured for a year, so neither has really cultivated any outside consulting opportunities.

#1 does occasionally do some side-work, but it’s always something that would look good on her cv or is doing a favor for someone who may be able to help her out later, so the money is nice but not the only reason.  She hasn’t done anything for a for-profit company.  #2 has reviewed textbooks and things like that, but she doesn’t negotiate her fee.

One important thing when determining your consulting rate is to think long and hard about what *you* think your time is worth.  In economics, we say, what is the marginal rate of your time?  That is, how much would they have to pay you to work another hour on their project.  That should be your minimum walk-away point.  (We often approximate this with a person’s hourly wage on their regular job, but that isn’t really accurate as generally regular jobs don’t let you work hourly and you have diminishing marginal utility etc.)   However, if you just give them that figure, you may be severely under-cutting yourself (as many academics seem to have a masochistic streak when it comes to how much to pay for work).

I don’t see why not to use the same methods to calculate hourly rates that you’ve been finding online that people use for their full-time jobs.  Obviously, you do not have the same kind of overhead and there will be less paperwork than someone running a consulting company.  But other than that, why would the  calculation be different?

Someone in my partner’s lab now does full-time consulting and each time he gets a new job, he asks for way more money than he did on the previous job and they always say yes without blinking.  He suspects he’s been undercharging from the get-go.  But eventually he’ll hit the right point.

In terms of numbers, doctors and lawyers will often charge in the hundreds of dollars range for an hour of billable time.  So 1K may be a bit much if you’re giving an hourly rate.  Presumably your rate is somewhere in there.

So, to summarize, we have no idea.  But perhaps the Grumpy Nation can help Dr. Koshary out.

Grumpy Nation, have you ever done consulting outside your main job?  How do you figure out how much to charge?  How do you know the value of your time?