Soliciting more ask the grumpies

Turns out when you run ask the grumpies almost every week instead of every other week, you run out of them a lot faster!

Ask the grumpies is a feature we run every Friday or every other Friday depending (sometimes it alternates with the less-popular but still fascinating google questions).  You ask, we answer, or we punt and ask the grumpy nation to answer.  In any case, you get the benefit of not only our wisdom but the collective wisdom of the far wiser grumpy nation.

Any lurkers have questions they’ve been wanting to get answered?  How about our regulars?

What questions do you have for us?  What can we bring clarity or further confusion to?  What can the grumpy nation ponder and discuss on your behalf?  Ask in the comments below or email us at grumpyrumblings at gmail dot com.

56 Responses to “Soliciting more ask the grumpies”

  1. jjiraffe Says:

    I have a question: I have 3 401ks accounts – one in another country. What are good rules of thumb for when to roll over accounts – and when not to?

  2. Linda Says:

    Yes! I have a question/conundrum to explore. So many times I read/hear about “greedy corporations” doing bad things, but then I start to think about the following.

    Public companies (which are mostly what people mean when they call out corporate greed) are owned by shareholders. The executives of those companies have a responsibility to earn money for those shareholders, which is why so many of these “greedy things” happen: execs make decisions based on the bottom line. (Yeah, those execs are also earning money (a LOT of money) for themselves, as well. They are hired to make money for the company (a.ka. the shareholders) and if they meet the goals/targets for sales, etc. they get lots of money and bonuses. But that’s a sideline here.)

    However, just who are these shareholders who are ultimately behind this drive for making profits and increasing the value of their shares? Why…it’s us! We’re the ones putting money in our 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and/or state and private pension funds, which are comprised of shares in these “greedy corporations.” Right?

    And if I’m not misunderstanding it…holy hell, isn’t this a moral dilemma for people who care about values and issues, such as the environment, human rights, and social justice? How many of us who say (for example) we abhor Walmart’s employment practices and/or boycott shopping there, are actually shareholders in Walmart? Or if we hate frakking, yet are also shareholders in companies that do so?

    Ethical investing is HARD when you have a limited set of funds to choose from. I’ve poured over the prospectuses of my Vanguard 401(k) funds and shut that information away in my brain so I can pretend I don’t know what’s in those funds and that life is all sunshine, blue skies, kittens, and puppies.

    Am I totally misunderstanding how my 401(k) works? Or is there really a utopia of steady investment growth for a comfortable retirement (one where I don’t have to live in a box and eat cat food) that doesn’t exploit others?

  3. Sapience Says:

    Do you have any thoughts or recommendations for dealing with intra-family mortgages? I’m up for an academic job at a relatively stable school in a part of the country where I could afford to borrow the entire cost of a (very modest) house from my parents. My parents have offered to the possibility of doing an intrafamily mortgage so I don’t have to worry about as big of a down payment (probably what would happen is I wouldn’t do any down payment, but would use some of the money I would have spent on the down payment on renovations, furnishings that I don’t really have right now, etc.). I know it has to be registered and that there’s the minimum interest rate required in order for it to be taxes as a mortgage, but are there any other benefits or pitfalls that I should be aware of if we go this route?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m gonna give a really brief answer to this right now (fuller answer in a few weeks)– if you don’t have a 20% downpayment, don’t buy a house. Period. Don’t borrow for furnishings. Include the cost of renovations in the cost of the house when you’re doing your budgeting (meaning you need more money rather than less money to get 20% down).

      • Sapience Says:

        Yeah, that was my original thought, too. I’ve got the 20% for a downpayment, but was planning on putting off any renovation until I had more cash. My parents were the ones saying that instead of delaying renovations till I have the additional money saved up I should just do it all at once before I actually move in. Sounds like I should just reject that idea.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yeah. It’s very nice of them, but I’ve been seeing so many people (online mostly) with really good incomes hurt by not doing the recommended thing when it comes to housebuying and renovating.

        There are definitely benefits to doing renovations right when you move in (see: living with carpet in the kids’ bathroom for 10 years), but that would argue for putting off buying until you can afford them rather than having too much debt servicing during home-ownership. Because home ownership really does bring in a lot of additional required spending over renting that people just don’t expect. A little more hassle from renovating later (if you buy) is better than having to worry about your cashflow on a regular basis, just in terms of stress levels.

      • Rosa Says:

        there are also downsides to doing all the renovations up front. You might not like them as much, since you haven’t actually lived with the space to see the real deficiencies. You will probably still need to redo them in 10 or 15 years. And you may find other priorities that you didn’t see before you moved in, but have already spent your reno budget.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Also great point. If we’d had infinite money we would have changed the countertops on our kitchen before moving in without realizing that the triangle was bad. (Of course, then we would have had nice countertops for 10 years instead of a bad triangle *and* crappy countertops.)

  4. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    #1: These are really great questions so far– but only for 3 weeks. Any more? If we don’t get many we’re going to have to start running google questions more often. They don’t have to be hard finance questions!

    #2: Maybe everyone is watching the puppy bowl?

    #1: Or maybe it’s the limited internet challenge that a lot of people are doing.

    Maybe it’s just the lack of Debbie M, who always asks such fun questions.

  5. Leah Says:

    – Ice cream: vanilla or chocolate base? Lots of stuff added or little? Any additions you hate?

    – Why is your favorite cheese the best cheese? My favorite cheese is brie because it is delightfully creamy and decadent. A little goes a long way. Sharp cheddar is my runner up.

    – What is your preferred cracker with cheese? I only like certain crackers and will shun my non-preferred brand; are you similar?

    – Why is it so darn hard to stop worrying about what other people do? At work, I can’t control what others do. Their choices do affect me, somewhat. But I can’t control it. How do I learn to stop fretting about this?

    – When can you start using a 401(k)? On a smaller salary, isn’t it better to save liquid cash or in another vehicle? When is it possible to save TOO much for retirement?

    – What was your favorite class outside of your major and why?

    – You both seem to be cat people. Are there any dogs in your lives that you love/have loved?

    – What is the best sing-along song ever?

    okay, some goofy/fun ones, but I’m in that kind of mood. Looking forward to seeing your answers. Thinking about answering some myself. Hoping Miser Mom comes in with more good ones too — she always gives nice food for thought.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Wonderful! Thanks!

      (Also: St. Andre. Because it’s like the best of brie and boursin all in one wonderful cheese.)

    • chacha1 Says:

      Extra-sharp, preferably white, cheddar is the cheese I always have on hand, because I love it and it keeps forever, but champignon brie is the Scheduled Cheese.

      • Linda Says:

        Humboldt Fog is the best cheese, because it has several textures all in one slice: the rind and creaminess of brie, the crumbliness of chevre, and the barely perceptible grit of the ash layer. Plus, it is made with goat milk, which gives it a nice tang and means it can be enjoyed by the many people who have unpleasant side effects from cow milk products. :-)

    • jlp Says:

      Clearly y’all have never had Prima Donna aged (with the red rind): . When I read headlines about cheese being addicting, I thought, Oh, that makes sense – Prima Donna.

      (Though I do like St. Andre as well! And, as a total side note, I once took a giant pie-shaped wedge of baked brie at a wedding when I mistook it for a custard pie. That was a surprising first bite.)

  6. chacha1 Says:

    OK, I’ll bite. Here is a serious question for the economists. If you were the supercommittee, with actual governmental superpowers, where would you start with reducing the federal government’s budget so that we could actually start reducing the national debt without condemning the nation’s poor to starvation, homelessness, and/or death from preventable illnesses and workplace injuries?

    I know what *I* would do if I were Imperatrix, but am interested in what *you* would do. :-)

  7. CG Says:

    A question for you and your readers: What did you do differently after tenure to make your job better/more fun and renew yourself for the next several years, in terms of research, teaching, and/or service? Asking for a friend. :)

  8. Chelsea Says:

    I was wondering when you began to notice DC #1 struggling with perfectionism – like how old ze was and how it manifested. I have a bright 3 year old who gets so incredibly upset if any little thing is not “right” – food, toys, clothes, the order things are done in, etc. But maybe that’s totally normal 3-year-old “threenager” behavior…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Quick answer: It is normal 3 year old behavior.

      Also perfectionism has waxed and waned– a lot seems to have to do with specific teachers at preschool and school, but we’re not sure what they’re doing wrong or right. DC1 has always been pretty perfectionist and DC2 was always really growth mindsetty, even as infants, but DC2 (age 3.5) has been very perfectionisty lately using some seriously irritating tricks that DC1 didn’t do until age 4. Some of that is being 3, but a lot of that seems to be linked to one of the teachers at daycare.

      More detailed answer in the coming weeks.

  9. First Gen American Says:

    My latest interest is around how to grow jobs in an area and general entrepreneurship. Anything around that topic would be interesting.

    How to identify unmet needs
    How to make a business plan
    How to decide what to do
    How to do the quick back of the envelope calculation on roi. (I’d have to sell how many ice cream cones to just cover rent!?)
    How to take a risk without putting it all on the line and if that is even possible. (Many of my customers emptied their retirement savings to start their businesses. It was rough going for a while for many of them and I am only talking to the ones who made it.)
    How to determine if a market is saturated. (I.e. Microbreweries)
    Where to find businesses for sale.
    How to assess the numbers and make sure they are real and not just lipstick on a pig.
    Places to find resources for research. Like tax incentives for a region or female owned businesses, grants, etc.

    Since my company, one of the major employers, is leaving the area, I also would like to focus on non service type ventures. (I.e. Jobs that don’t rely on the health of the local economy….a product that can be shipped outside of the region.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      These are really out of our wheelhouse. Also, man, your company is leaving? What are you going to do?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yeah, neither one of us has ever started or run a business. It seems hard! I hope you can make something work!

      • First Gen American Says:

        I am home based so not impacted by the HQ move. (Which was by design. I knew they would eventually leave, just not this soon. I think the oil prices made things go quicker).

        It does impact the community in a large way though. They were the largest contributor to united way in the region for example. In addition, They also give away six figures of grants a year for community projects and since it’s a HQ location, there are a lot of very high paid people there. Again, our former ceo would single handedly give six figures to charity every year. And the executive staff gave a lot too. Real estate is also taking a nosedive and already one restaurant (of a chain of 3) decided to close the one in our area. So since I won’t be doing volunteer stuff for my company anymore, I want to divert efforts to job creation in the area.

    • Leah Says:

      Have you ever looked at Yes & Yes? She has a normal blog and then a business blog about how she runs her own small business. It’s pretty fascinating and would be a good place to start.

  10. Susan Says:

    I have one! Since I got on top of my finances (I wrote to you before about this), we got married, and now I’m the finance person. My husband has similar values as me (spend < earn, save) which is good. He also believes in 'put it in index funds' – also good, but that's where his thoughts stop. So he had all his 401k money in vanguard s&p500; no bonds. I need to have a conversation with him about asset allocation, ie, a choice of some percent of bonds. I plan to show him a morningstar chart of total market and total bond plotted over 20 years, and point him towards the bogleheads wiki. What other resources or reasoning can you suggest for him, and others who need to learn a bit more here? Preferably more concise than not, as I know the longer the page, the less likely he'll actually read it.

    • Susan Says:

      (I know about target date funds, but we’re past that already for several reasons, including a sizeable taxable acct, and a sucky choice of funds in his 401k where the only reasonable choice is the 500 fund; my 403b is great, so that’s where most of bonds are)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Quick answer– unless you are close to retirement, I wouldn’t sweat your husband’s asset allocation preference. If he has more stomach for risk, it is valid. (Plus, my DH’s 401k is entirely in the s&p 500 index because it is a terrible high fee plan and the s&p 500 is the cheapest fund– we diversify elsewhere.)

        Longer answer in a few weeks!

    • Leigh Says:

      That sounds similar to my boyfriend’s financial thoughts. I convinced him to read a Mike Piper book while we were on vacation a few years ago. It was either “Oblivious Investing” or “Investing Made Simple”. They told him things that I already had been telling him in a different way and that was really helpful. He simply wasn’t going to read the Bogleheads wiki, but the ~100 page book was great for his limited financial attention span.

  11. monsterzero Says:

    Best practices for cleaning your glasses/keeping your glasses clean?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m totally going to let my DH answer this one. He has serious preferences about micro-fiber cloths.

      • monsterzero Says:

        I wash microfiber cloths on delicate and they *look* clean, but then they don’t get my glasses clean anymore. :(

    • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

      Don’t use fabric softener on cloth for cleaning glasses—fabric softener adds a film bound to the cloth that then streaks the glasses. I find that washing glasses with soap and water, then drying them with a soft towel works well.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Never ever use fabric softener on towels, either. It makes them attract dirt and not get you as dry, as well as making them kind of slimy. Down with fabric softener! You can put white vinegar in there if you want.

      • Leah Says:

        Never use fabric softener period! I’m not sure what the appeal is. I never have, and I’ve never missed it. $ in the bank! I don’t use dryer sheets either.

        I also hang-dry all our quick-dry and hiking clothes. Helps with humidity and keeps them looking nice.

  12. Katherine Says:

    A question about moving for a job, with a spouse:

    I am about to finish my phd, and I’ve been interviewing for jobs all over the country. My husband and I currently live in his home state (where we met, but I have no ties to this place other than I love his family who mostly live in state), and if I wasn’t in the picture he would want to stay here (in this state) for the rest of his life. He hates our current city and doesn’t have good job prospects here anyway. We’re both really excited about moving away from here, but I’m feeling increasingly guilty about being the reason he’s going to move across the country to a place he’s never been – and nervous myself about moving to a place I will have probably only visited for 30 hours, tops. How did you and your partners handle the emotional aspects of moving for academic jobs?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Short answer: Don’t feel guilty! This is a fun new adventure for both of you! Going to a new place that you’ve never been before and living there is a wonderful thing to do– you become more cultured and a better person. Like that wear sunscreen graduation speech goes (“Live in NYC but not so long that it makes you hard, live in LA but not so long as it makes you soft”). And if it doesn’t work out, you can do like #2 did and move again.

      We’ll have a longer answer in a few weeks. But it sounds like you need a little pep talk now.

  13. Amin Says:

    My husband and I own a house in a city with a very high cost of living and expensive real estate. We bought the house at a very good price because while it was structurally sound it needed (still does) some aesthetic renovations. We currently have a lot of money saved up, and we’re debating what to do with it. My question is basically: are we naive to think that putting in new windows, finishing our basement, and upgrading some insulation would be good investments? We put money into TIAA-CREF every month and our universities match our contributions, but we’re hoping that in 20 years we could sell our home, buy something smaller or outside the city, and use our profit for retirement. Do you think real estate is a reliable investment? Homes in our neighborhood are currently in high demand and often sell within a few weeks (sometimes with cash offers!), but I worry that the real estate market is too fickle and unreliable for retirement plans. Any advice?

  14. Alma Says:

    Do you think real estate in a high cost of living/ expensive property are is a reliable investment for retirement? We’re hoping we can sell our home for a profit once we retire in about 20 years, but sometimes I wonder whether this is a naive plan.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I’m not one of the grumpies, but speaking for the grumpy nation, please do not fall for the propaganda about how real estate is an “investment.” It isn’t, if an investment is meant to be a place for your money to grow. At best – historically speaking – real estate that you live in will hold its value and you will get out of it without having to pay for the privilege.

      Treating your home as an investment for retirement requires you to sell the home in order to free the money to live on for your retirement. Would selling the home provide ALL of the money that you would need to live on – including purchasing or renting a new residence? Likely not. Getting a reverse mortgage works great if you can live at home till the day you die. That is not the case for most Americans.

  15. Alyssa Says:

    Clearly, I’m not the first with a question, but I have one too!

    When is it age-appropriate to put children into music lessons (piano/guitar at this point)? Son is 5 and a bit, and he says he’s interested, but not sure if we should wait a bit more?

  16. zenmoo Says:

    Here’s one: any ideas on how to manage an obsessive reader? My just 6 year olds reading ability has exploded over our long holidays. This is great but she gets very caught up new stories to the extent of finding it hard to sleep… I was am obsessive reader at her age too (still am) but it never stopped me sleeping!!

  17. Leah Says:

    How did you deal with teething? Was it horrible for your kids? Will I survive this?

  18. Meaghan Says:

    Not sure if this qualifies for “ask the grumpies,” but I’m a relatively new reader, since after the New Year, I think. I followed some comment links, ended up here and immediately added it to my feedly. I like your blog – the insight into academia has been eye-opening as I have no real-life experience there, and I just think your examination of other minutiae, your common sense approach to most dilemmas, your steady publishing schedule and the really active commenters make for such a nice place to come!

    But, I’m totally confused about the backstory here. Who is #1 and who is #2? I can never keep track of who is speaking. (I read the “blogging of one mind” thing, but can’t wrap my head around it.) Why the use of zie and ze? Is one of you German? What are your academic specialties? Are you both couples? How many kids are there? And where is paradise? I love the bits I’ve read about moving there for a short period of time and how to approach it. Is it warm? Is it Europe? So many places are paradise in my mind.

    I am not looking to invade privacy at all, and I realize that I’m not entitled to any of this information. I just feel unsettled (and slightly grumpy) when I read some posts. And you asked for questions. Often I start reading blogs for backstory when I find a new one, but I haven’t been able to invest the time, especially because I don’t feel like I’m getting much clarity – I’m just getting myself more lost here as more posts pop up in my reader. Maybe some of this was covered in an earlier post and I’m sure long-time readers have a better picture of it all, but if you are up for sharing, I’d love to hear more.

    Other questions – Who writes the link posts? (That story about the PTA was nuts!) Favorite podcasts?

  19. Ask the grumpies: Intra-family mortgage or wait to buy? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] as Rosa notes:  “there are also downsides to doing all the renovations up front. You might not like […]

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