Soliciting more Ask the Grumpies!

Ask the grumpies is a feature we run almost every Friday (sometimes we post 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.

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.


34 Responses to “Soliciting more Ask the Grumpies!”

  1. Solitary Diner Says:

    Working in an inner-city clinic, I think a lot about the political and economic systems that contribute to the poverty and marginalization of my patients. What do you think can/should be done to make the world’s systems more fair to everyone?

  2. Crone Says:

    opinion on privatizing our nation’s air controllers. I oppose but was told the whole system should be moved to computer based GPS system and then Highways in the Sky for planes could be free form making flights faster and private industry can do this more rapidly than government. (I was in social situation so could not say I have never known a single computer system that did not ‘go down’ or ‘have ‘undocumented features ‘ so how would that work…) The topic of pipelines that ‘will not fail but ALL LEAK at some time’ had already come up.~~ I had been assured I was wrong on that point and ignorantly female. SO, back to air controllers: If this would be profitable for private companies to do why isn’t it done profitably or better by public government?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:


      Well, it’s only the WORST IDEA if you think that airplane passengers are more important than prisoners. If you think prisoners are people too and should have rights, then privatizing prisons is actually the worst idea and this is only second worst. I guess there’s also privatizing foster care systems… if you think all people are equal then that might be slightly above air traffic control but still below prisons in potential harm done by privatization. (Foster care systems empirically aren’t as bad as prison systems, even though the potential is there to be as bad. This has to do with better state oversight.)

      I had a section on privatizing public systems in one of my classes last semester and students brought in stuff– if I’d known it would come up as an ask the grumpies I’d have taken a picture of the whiteboard commonalities of when it works and doesn’t that we came up with. It can be ok, but it depends on a lot of stuff and it really shouldn’t be something where you know, people could die.

      Ugh, so no, not you being ignorantly female. There’s a reason there’s a role for government for various systems.

      Sorry, I’ll try to keep the answers to the actual ask the grumpies posts. I’ll have more to say there.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      note to self: natural monopoly, experience, switching costs, benefits from competition, why air traffic control is not construction, oversight etc.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      note to self: example of website providers for large cities (in house) vs. small cities (consulting company)

  3. The frugal ecologist Says:

    Curious (read nosy) about your kiddo #1 switch to public school. Why did you decide to switch? What do you miss about private? What are you happy about with public (I remember you already mentioned aftercare / exteacurriculars being much more extensive).

    You did a toddler app post I think, but any other apps that your little one is into? Thinking for the 3-5 set….

    Our LO is in Montessori but started early so she will do the 3 years before she’d be eligible for K. (3rd year Montessori is K). I’m intrigued about having her skip a grade and start in 1st at 5. What are factors to look for about being ready to skip, any particular grade better to skip or not, etc etc?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      These are all great and fun questions for us to answer! Thanks!

      We could also use more app recs for older little kids…

      There’s research on the skipping question and a test (Iowa acceleration scale?) you can purchase (or check out of your local university library…) and take that can help inform your thinking on the topic.

  4. chacha1 Says:

    Well, I am deep in the throes of remodeling angst so this is a house-and-home but also finance-related topic that people might like to discuss:

    What do people think was the BEST money they spent on home improvement, and what do they wish they had left alone?

    This is partially a cost/benefit question, because a lot of people think of owning a home as an investment (I think of it as a forced savings plan with really high barriers to entry), but also a Greatest Domestic Happiness question. e.g. I read anecdotally that people love the idea of a huge multi-stage bathroom (separate tub & shower, toilet in a little room with door, double sinks) but personally I see that as a gigantic waste of space. And from a ROI perspective it is also, not anecdotally, a waste of money. So has anyone done such a thing, are they happy about it a few years down the line, etc.

    Note, as renters we are not considering any such thing. For us it’s more “do we get the entry door with sidelight that requires reframing or do we choose a standard door with half glass which would mean we can replace BOTH entry doors.” (You can probably guess which way I’m leaning.) :-)

  5. Crone Says:

    Since you mention Foster Care, of which I am sadly terribly knowledgeable, and yes it is in terrible and uneven and appallingly different manifestations across this nation ~ How about writing about the economics that encourages NYC to maintain children for life in foster homes and not complete a TPR trial in timely fashion, or why in the Southern most tip of Texas travel rules are so VERY different for foster families than in Iowa (not national borders crossings but counties and states), why foster family babysitters face different vetting requirements in CA versus TN …. etc endlessly. Not mention why a child is forced to visit their abuser in prison in some states…. Why stipends for fostering families are so extremely varied and in some places minimal clothing allowances exist and in others not, why some states cover summer programs and other states do not. SO, yes please, discuss the financial variations in foster care that are not relevant to child needs.
    And, heaven help us, include the TX reduction in funds to help disabled children achieve milestone development goals…. and then there the evil witch Sect’y of Education who shall not be mentioned by name like Voldem..*

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Unfortunately I really don’t know the answers to those other than, you know, state politics… and I’m guessing probably the % of kids in foster care who are white vs. non-white, since state governments hate spending money on minority children.

      TX is an interesting case all by itself since they’re better in some respects with child law in terms of doing what’s best with the child but they’re worse in many other respects in terms of thinking of the child as property of the parents. I don’t understand it at all.

      I do think that currently a lot of these red states do not care one whit about anybody other than the wealthy and they certainly don’t care about economics or spillovers to improve the nation’s productivity long-term. They also seem to want to bully people in ways that hurt them economically, like all the bathroom laws which have zero benefits unless your objective function is to be a bully. My only guess is that there’s some really rich guy or set of rich guys out there funding this evil legislation and given this is reality we don’t have James Bond or Superman or even Batman to stop it. I don’t know, and it makes me feel helpless and sad.

      I got out of teaching public finance next year because I just can’t handle politics right now.

  6. Leah Says:

    Some ideas:
    – as kids, what were your career aspirations and why?
    – what did you enjoy about going to boarding school?
    – what did you miss about going to boarding school?
    – is it better to fund an HSA fully and put a bit less in 403(b) or maximize 403(b)? I can’t afford to fully fund both (nor fully fund the 403(b) period).
    – at which point, financially, should one switch from fully funding the Roth IRA to shoveling that money into a 403(b) instead?
    – what music do you enjoy listening to? Do you like going to concerts?
    – what is your favorite constellation?
    – what are your opinions on baths versus showers?
    – what is your favorite family ritual or holiday from growing up?
    – what is your favorite family ritual or holiday from now?
    – if you could meet any historical figure, who and why?
    – if you could meet any fictional figure, who and why?
    – what are some of your favorite memes? I’m personally a fan of ceiling cat and science nerd jokes, like

    I am a curious cat.

    • Leah Says:

      I meant to ask “what did you miss while at boarding school?” As in, what was sad/hard about attending? But the above question works too. Hope these help you for a few weeks! Feel free to space out — none are urgent, especially since I’m about $250 away from fully funding my HSA :-p

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I was hoping you’d stop by. You always have such great questions.

  7. Sandy L Says:

    How to teach a kid to code when you don’t know how? (And I don’t live in a big city and I also don’t want to spend $1000 on coding camp. There has got to be a better way.)

    What non team sports do you think are useful to learn for a kid (swimming, biking, etc)

    What’s on your kid bucket list and why.

    I still sometimes feel guilt that I haven’t forced my kids to learn an instrument or even the 2nd language I speak with my mommy. They know some but are not fluent. What are your feelings on that? Do you force your kids to do things they hate?

    Opinion. Pros and cons of saving concurrently vs consecutively for big financial goals.

    Summer homes. Do they ever make financial sense?

    How to find news that’s not about trump.

    Nutrition advice. What is real. I find it hilarious that eggs and coconut oil were such villains in the 90s and now they are “the perfect food”. I bought an old cookbook a few months back and it was talking about avoiding coconut oil. It made me laugh.
    Now fat is okay but sugar is bad.

    Things to do when you are 5 years from retirement. 10 years, etc.

    If a kid has his heart set on a college, what things could help them get in besides academics. For example, MIT has these science camps for kids that are expensive but could they also help with admissions later on?

    Cost benefit of public vs private college. What is the value of the network, etc.

  8. Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial Says:

    I have a long-time friend/acquaintance with a lot of social anxiety. Sometimes it comes out in small ways like saying of herself “I’m so stupid”, constantly seeking affirmation, projecting her desires onto me because she is feeling insecure about them. Sometimes it comes out in big ways like breaking down randomly in the middle of a conversation because she’s feeling socially isolated.

    I am fine comforting her once and a while, but I don’t want to be her counselor. And sometimes I just don’t have the spoons to decode what she is saying vs. meaning, even in casual conversation. Is there a tactful way to signal I don’t want to be a pillar of emotional support? Or that I need a break without further exasperating her anxiety?

  9. Azma Says:

    I’m curious to know what you’d do in my situation. I live in the outer boroughs of NYC in a diverse, urban neighborhood with decent (but not great) public schools. My 5 year old got a spot in a dual language program (Spanish/ English) at our zoned school. He also tested very highly on the city gifted and talented test with minimal prep and got into an excellent program several neighborhoods away (he’d take a school bus to get there). There’s been a huge push in our neighborhood to convince educated, middle class families (like us) to keep their kids in the neighborhood schools. Many have historically sent their kids to charters, g&t programs, or private schools. We love the g&t program our kid has a spot in, but we also love our neighborhood and worry that we’re contributing to NYC’s problematic school segregation problems. What would you do in our place?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Right or wrong, I always put my kids ahead of general social spillovers. I also donate a lot of money to education-related charities. (Donors Choose is a big favorite of mine. I can also pick districts that have greater needs than the one we’re zoned in.) You can support your neighborhood school without sending a child there (I supported local schools a lot more back before I had kids because I had more time to volunteer!)

      In terms of giftedness– it isn’t always clear that keeping a gifted kid in a non-gifted school is actually better for the school. Gifted kids are special needs and as such tend to draw resources, act up if their intellectual needs aren’t being met, etc. The same isn’t true of kids who are high achieving but not gifted– they are more likely to provide positive spillovers. If you love the G/T school I would be very tempted to stay with it.

      But I’ll have a longer response later. Possibly this week if I’ve got time (sorry, Frugal Ecologist if you get bumped!)

  10. Sandy L Says:

    One more. Things you should have in place in case you die or are incapacitated. (Like tell your spouse where the passwords and wills are, important paperwork in one place, etc)

    What things do you wish you asked a dead loved one before they died?

    Younger People keep dying on me. Thankfully no one in the immediate family yet but it makes me think about this stuff more and more.

  11. Sandy L Says:

    What has changed with healthcare that has made costs spiral out of control in the IS? Why was healthcare more affordable just a decade ago? Two decades ago it was even cheaper. I am just glad I had my kids then.

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