Ask the grumpies: Which fictional figure would you meet?

Leah asks:

if you could meet any fictional figure, who and why?

#1:  I want to meet one of those brilliant super-heroes who always manages to do something brilliant to save the day.  Like Jeeves but on a bigger scale.  Like the top bureaucrat from Yes Minister.  Or Kyoya from Ouren High school Host Club.  Or the team from Leverage.  I want him or her or them to tell me how to fix the problem our country is currently in with a brilliant plan for which he or she has forseen all possible complications that I can implement.  So that the day can be saved.

#2:  I really want to meet scifi animals.  There’s a species of treecats in the Honor Harrington Universe, and a species called norbears in the Liaden books.  Both species are sentient but lack a shared language with humans…. both seem super cute



  • I knew John Green had terrible taste in literature (as evidenced by his deep abiding love for the required HS whiny privileged male protagonist canon), but I didn’t realize it wasn’t just that he liked terrible books in addition to good books.  He has read one Terry Pratchett.  (A Discworld too, and not one of Pratchett’s early meh children’s books.)  I can’t even.  How is that even possible?  None, All, or “I’m in the middle of the series” all make sense, but one is beyond the bounds of belief.
  • I guess I like some of the “privileged people create their own problems” literature, but generally the ones I read allow the reader in on the joke.  Like if Gatsby had Jeeves working for him.  Emma is a warning about what happens when an intelligent woman has too much time on her hands, not whatever deep lessons it is that people get from Holden Caulfield’s incessant whining.  Though I guess they both would have been better off with meaningful occupation.  We chuckle at Emma but nobody identifies with her.  Maybe because of male privilege– men want to identify with privileged losers but that’s a luxury women don’t have.  To get as whiny and indolent as Holden Caulfield as a woman, you end up being a side character put in the story merely for comic relief.
  • Note to self:  If I ever become a YA writer, try writing a story where Caulfield is a minor character played for laughs from the perspective of a female protagonist.
  • I am glad that if I wrote an “unvarnished truth” style memoir, it would be pretty boring.  Or, as our tag says, “probably boring if you’re not us
  • It is annoying that some of the jargon in my field is non-pc.  I am currently going through a paper doing a find/replace to change all the bad jargon into less obnoxious words.  I know I could probably get this published with the jargon still in place, but non-pc terms can hurt marginalized people and we don’t have to do that.  Still, because it is the jargon in my field, my early drafts always use the shorthand.  Just 42 instances more to go…
  • The times in my life when I’ve been least happy have been times when I have had less agency and the times when I’ve been most happy, I’ve been the one deciding what to do with my life.  I suspect this is healthy.
  • I keep getting upper respiratory infections. (I suspect this is not  healthy.) I do not like it.
  • It feels amazing to not be sick after being sick.
  • It is amazing to have DH back after him being gone for over a week.
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DH’s company is back in business

But it will be a while before he gets paid…

As regular readers know, the company for which DH telecommutes has been having cash flow problems and they had to shut down for a couple of months.  They were supposed to get back to work in July, but the contract that was supposed to put them back in business for the next 2 years (give or take) kept not getting signed.  Finally it did get signed!

DH and I were able to save up enough to not worry about his lost income and DH’s direct boss is in a similar situation.  It’s been a bit tougher for a couple of the other employees, but it seems like they’ve stuck around.  Anybody who was going to leave left when the company started showing signs of trouble.

Sadly, even though the grant has been signed, it’s going to take 20 days from the first pay request for the grant to start paying out, so that will mean a month and a half without pay even after people have started back to work.  Again, not a huge problem for us since we saved for this, but I feel bad for a few of DH’s colleagues.

Also, annoyingly, they’re keeping the 10% paycuts for now (and any retirement matching) which is irritating, but I don’t think we’ll complain about it until things settle down a bit and the boss is able to pay back some of the debt he’s taken on keeping the company’s health insurance paid.

So what does that mean for us financially?  Well, we’ll be back to being upper-middle class again, but I’m not sure that I’ll feel quite so much like throwing money around like water.  So we probably won’t redo the kitchen and we’ll probably stick with a Prius or something when my car finally bites the dust.  And I won’t be signing up for silly overpriced subscription services (#notallsubscriptionservices) even if they look fun and so on.  I think some of the worry about our income will be sticking.  Though it took a while to start feeling free with money the first time around too.  We will still continue to give money to charity and politics at higher levels.

I think I will probably start putting more money away in stocks so it’s out of sight, even though I don’t know when the market is going to crash.  Or I might keep it in cash in case we need to flee to Canada.  I don’t know.  It really sucks to live in interesting times.  But it’s nice worrying about what to do with extra money.  And we’ll have quite a bit of time to decide– I don’t get paid until October so we’re still spending down our savings and if and when DH’s paycheck starts up it will only be covering expenses.

I definitely see an allure of being truly financially free– instead of thinking, well DH can just not work for 3 years and we won’t be putting a crimp in our lifestyle, how nice would it be to say he never has to find a job unless he wants to?  Don’t get me wrong, he likes work, but it would also be nice to have more options.  Or if we could afford to move to Paradise without anything lined up if we got too fed up with our state government.  But again, even at an upper-middle-class salary, it would take a long time to build up that kind of savings.  So are they worth sacrificing for now?  Probably not.  But I could do a better job of feeling artificial scarcity so our lifestyle doesn’t inflate too much.  Or maybe I should just embrace the benefits that having so much income brings.

In any case, this is something I can worry about after school starts.  Until then, I’ll be spending down our savings account on things like daycare (technically we just gave them the last check), insurance, and groceries.  Mark in your calendars that our money posts will probably start getting obnoxious again sometime in November.  ;)

Link love for a long week

This week was really pushing it on the “I hate white men” front #notallwhitemen.  I’m tired of sexism, I’m tired of mansplaining, and I’m especially tired of so-called liberal men who do nothing but tell women that they’re doing it wrong.  F@#$23ing put forth some effort yourself, jackasses.  Instead of telling the woman she should be doing something different than what she’s doing (ESPECIALLY if what you think she’s wasting her time on involves her advocating for abortion rights or police not killing black people or any of those other things so-called socialist white men deem as unimportant, you racist misogynist prick), why don’t you @#$23ing take up the torch and do the thing you’re telling her to do instead.  Instead of just writing posts or complaining in the hallway at work about how wimmen are doing it wrong and wasting their time, do what you think should be done instead yourself.  As much as you want it to be true, women are not your lackeys (yet).  I know the Republican party is working its best to have a desperate subservient woman in every home, but they’re not there yet.  Don’t help them get there.

Shout out to other Gen Xers (and boomers) who are having childhood flashbacks of learning to duck-and-cover in the event of a nuclear bomb.

BTW, if you or someone you love in the US is under 40, you can buy FDA approved Potassium Iodide from Amazon for use in a nuclear emergency (note affiliate link).  Remembering Katrina, I don’t really trust that the US will have their supply chains ready for this kind of emergency.  A package is $14.  Here’s the CDC’s instructions on how to use it.

This is truly terrifying thread.  Here’s an addendum.

Well, obviously

Even if you already know all there is to know about the prisoner’s dilemma, this link is really amazing and well worth the (15-30 min) it takes to play through it.  If I were teaching micro instead of methods, I would definitely add it as a class assignment for discussion.

Creating a hostile work environment seems to be reason enough to fire someone.  Here’s some more reasons.  Here’s a thread on “debate” that really isn’t debate.

Speaking of hostile work environments, in 1998, Milton Friedman said that the pendulum had tipped too far in gender equity in economics and now men were being discriminated against.  AND that statement was published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives (a top journal in our field).  I Can’t Even.

Seems legit and well-argued.

Scalzi talks about when he realized GLBTQ people are people.  I don’t remember ever not knowing that, something I attribute (after considerable introspection) to having lived in SF as a small child and having parents who were from the Bay Area and had partnered friends.  Where it’s safer to be out, a wider spectrum of people will be out.  (Also one of my great-aunts was most likely in a long-term lesbian relationship.)  I’m not saying I was perfect– I’ve said cringeworthy things as a teen (telling someone when I was 15 that he couldn’t possibly know he was homosexual because he was only 13 and shouldn’t be interested in anybody yet, for example), but that I’m grateful to have had a wider and more varied experience than a lot of people did back in the 1980s– not just the “they’re all promiscuous dudes dying of AIDS” narrative the media was selling at the time.  So I saw that stereotype and similar from Tales of the City, and saw gay best friends and effeminate males in movies, but also had known adults in more pedestrian relationships and as soon as I got to boarding school met lots of boys and girls with all kinds of different personalities discovering and living their sexuality (including every letter of GLBTQ!).  College brought me in contact with both stereotypical and not-stereotypical gay guys and I had a bunch of friends who came out as lesbian and bisexual in college (a few of whom dated the same terrible emotionally destructive girlfriend, something that showed me that some homosexual partners can be just as bad news as heterosexual ones!)  One of the things I love right now is that really amazing self-publishing authors are starting to tell the stories of same-sex relationships without the standard tropes of tragedy striking half the couple (Deanna Raybourn– you could have done better).  We have a future Wednesday post that talks more about our thoughts on culture normalizing GLBTQ– We’ve been pushing it off a bit after the Trump Transgender ban hit because it seemed to strike too much of an optimistic note given current events.  Keep making those phone calls about protecting Transgender rights . It’s likely there’s also state and local things going on– rights are expanding in some states and are under attack in others. I’m not sure how to figure out what’s going on in your particular state, but maybe your local Indivisible group can help?

Iowa dems win special election in Trump +22 district

5calls is soliciting donations

One author on this paper is a bit of a known racist/misogynist, so it isn’t surprising that he buried the lede (check out the last sentence).  The summary of the paper in the NBER reporter has a very different spin on the same findings:  Over the first 20 years in the U.S., the average adult refugee pays taxes that exceed relocation costs and social benefits. 

Taxes, Behavior, and Regressive Incentives  One of the things I’ve been noticing on the PF blogosphere is an increased tipping towards go @#$3 the poor, I want what’s mine.  We’ll be trying to push back on that a bit in posts and comments as we go forward on the internet.  I hope you all do the same.  Because I really do believe that most people are good deep down, but culture can tip notions of fairness.  Right now there are a lot of Russian bots and US oligarchs that want us to become a more fascist union with even greater income inequality.  But the future of our nation depends on how we treat our children and the opportunities adults have to get out of poverty.  And in a rich nation, we can do far better with how we treat the worst off.  Life does not need to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”– after all this isn’t 1651 anymore.  Let’s tip towards reminding folks that kindness should be our first response.  (I agree with this article #2 sent me that notes the same thing about tipping towards lack of empathy, BUT I disagree that we cannot change culture.  We ARE culture.  Debating may not work, but reminding, telling people’s stories, telling our own stories, shutting people down when they show lack of empathy towards others… these are things that actually work.  I’ve seen them work on fora.  But there need to be enough empathetic voices to change the tide.  Maybe we need pay-it-forward bots to combat the screw-everybody-who-isn’t-me bots)

Not just Russian bots are spreading propaganda for personal gain.  There’s also US bots.

This Scalzi short story has new meaning

My grandma is in here.  (My parents have a hardcopy of this book, complete with pictures.  It’s pretty amazing.)

Well read black girl

A few personal finance sites have been making arguments that you MUST have a pre-nup and if it’s too late for a pre-nup, then you need to go out and get yourself a post-nup immediately no matter what your circumstances.  This well-reasoned article does a much better job of talking about the pros and cons of when you should have a pre-nup or post-nup.

If you live in Canada, don’t save for your children’s education using a group RESP!

Everyone is sorry.

Huh, it really is a mallow from the marsh.  Who knew.  (Besides #2, of course.  She seems to known all sorts of random trivia.)

Ice Cream, America, and War

Do you have any suggestions for how to break into tech?

Jordan the cat’s library card


a woo hoo

Boy that was a chatty link love this week.  Maybe we should have turned some of those paragraphs into posts.  Let us know in the comments!


Ask the Grumpies: Roll over 403(b) to new employer or not?

Amanda asks:

We moved [to a new job in a new state].  Although I continue to have access to TIAA-CREF in my new job and matching contributions that are comparable, the fund selections aren’t identical.  For instance, I have access to a small cap index fund with a slightly (.06% vs .05%) lower fee structure at my prior job (and with similar 5-10 year returns). Obviously new contributions have to follow my new employers plan. But what about the previous contributions? Should I roll over and combine funds, even though the fund isn’t QUITE AS good as before (but very close)? Or not? Why or why not?

Standard disclaimer:  We are not financial advisors.  We do not have fiduciary responsibility.  Consult with a fee-only advisor or do your own research before making any major financial decisions.

You actually have three options, not two.

  1. You can keep things as they are
  2. You can rollover into your new employer’s 403(b)
  3. You can rollover into an IRA

All of these have pros and cons (but probably not major pros and cons).

Keeping things as they are (option 1) means that you’ll have more accounts, more clutter, more chances of losing paperwork or having your loved ones deal with hassle later on in your life should you cede financial decision-making prior to emptying the account.  But the fees are lower, which makes it more attractive than your new employer.  And if you make the switch now, you’re the one who will have to deal with hassle.  Make sure that they don’t have additional fees for people who are no longer working at the company– if they do, then definitely don’t choose the first option.

Rolling over into the new employer’s 403(b) (option 2):  The sole benefit to doing this is that you would have less clutter.  Everything would be in one place.  If you die suddenly, nobody has to go looking for passwords to a second account.  If you hate having multiple accounts, then go ahead and consolidate.  You’ll be paying for the privilege, but not that much.  (Less, in fact, than I pay to use Target Date funds instead of rebalancing manually.)

Rolling over to an IRA (option 3) means you could just put everything in Vanguard along with any taxable funds and IRAs/IRA-Roths you already own.  Your fees would be low.  However, having a large traditional IRA could cause complications should you ever want to convert some of your traditional IRA to a ROTH or if you want to start making contributions to a backdoor Roth.

Grumpy Nation, what would you do in Amanda’s case?

Adventures with tea

At Christmas I got an excellent teapot and DH got himself an electric kettle (for his coffee habit).

One great thing about this teapot is that it has a large mouthed bucket filter.  My previous adventures with loose-leaf tea have involved balls of various kinds and sizes which are pain to fill and a worse pain to clean.  With this teapot I just scoop out two tablespoons of tea (one for the pot and one for me), fill with hot water, and then dump out the solids into the compost when I’m done.  The dishwasher will take care of any lingering tea residue.

I don’t drink caffeine on a regular basis (because when I need it for migraines I really need it, also withdrawal is a harsh mistress), but I do like herbal tea.  It turns out a lot of loose leaf tea is better than a lot of teabags, which has given me a new appreciation for even teas that I like in bag form (for example, mint). I’m still not that crazy about roobios (I overdid it on roobios teabags when it came out and have not yet recovered) and straight ginger tea reminds me of morning sickness (since constantly drinking it was the only thing that would keep me from throwing up early on with both kids).

I went to a great cafe in The City where the nice lady at the counter recommended hibiscus mint, which mixes my two favorite teas together.  She even gave me some loose tea to take home even though they don’t sell loose tea.  On a later City trip I went to an actual tea shop and got bags of different teas, some of which I wasn’t crazy about and gave to DH and some of which I really liked.  They have a great mint, but they didn’t carry hibiscus by itself, only in mixes, so I couldn’t recreate hibiscus mint. (The lady there suggested trying the Mexican grocery chain for hibiscus, but we didn’t make it to one.)  And, sadly, their rose bud tea seems to have been contaminated with something I’m allergic to (which could be any number of things, like grass or any number of tree pollens)– I love rose, but I don’t love hives.

I tried the teashop in our town, but they only had mixes and their teas were kind of stale and unexciting.  :(  I would be surprised if they stay in business, especially with competition from several excellent boba tea places that just opened.

I ordered some hibiscus from amazon, thinking I was getting 4 oz for $10 and actually got a pound.  It’s ok, but not great– misses the tart bite I like most from hibiscus.  It makes a pretty decent iced tea though.  I gave 4 oz to one of my colleagues who makes tea in her office, but 12 oz is still a lot to go through!

On one of my recent conference trips, I stopped at Teavana and really like the box of citrus tea blends that I picked up.  They mix quite nicely with the hibiscus as well.  Generally I’ll do one steeping of just their citrus blend and add a tablespoon of hibiscus to the second steeping.

I considered going to the rishi tea site and ordering a bunch of samplers from their loose herbal teas (along with another pack of mint), but before doing that, I impulse bought a 3 month subscription to Tea Runners for DH.  It’s supposed to be 3 regular teas and 1 herbal tea, but our first packet was 4 regular teas, including a tea that combines the two things DH hates most in tea– Lavender and Bergamot (he really hates Earl Grey).  (He also dislikes chicory and believes that fruit and meat should never be combined in a savory dish, but that’s the extent of his food dislikes– he’s pretty easy-going.)  So that was a bit of a disappointment.  I may yet do a rishi order.

I like mixing the teas together to make new flavor combinations.

DH sometimes makes his own chai from (Penzey‘s) spices, and I’ve seen other suggestions for homemade herbal teas, but I haven’t gone that route yet.

So:  Tea, when you need something warmer or less fizzy than La Croix.

Do you drink tea?  What kind do you like?  Where do you get it?

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There really is a big difference between comfortable middle class income and upper middle class income

One of the things that annoyed me about some advice for working women is the insistence that if you were making more than 100K you should just buy all the things that make life easier, with an underlying current of it being ridiculous if you didn’t.  The person giving this advice, of course, has a husband who makes substantially more than 100K on top of her own 100K+ income.

During our brief time when DH and I were both employed full-time and we were making upper-middle-class $$ (remember all those irritating posts on “what should we do with this extra money now that we’ve maxed out our 401K” etc.), it became really easy to see why when you’re making that much it is easy to believe that just spending money is the solution.  When you’re making upper-middle-class incomes for long enough (and don’t go crazy with spending on really big ticket items) you really can just say yes to everything.  You don’t have to worry about having a large precautionary cushion because in the case of an emergency, next month’s income will refill the gap, or maybe the month after that.  The answer is always, “yes, we can afford that — even if the roof falls in tomorrow, we’ll be fine.”

But now we’re back to having a comfortably middle-class income on my income alone.  Technically we’re in the long unpaid summer, so we have 0 income, but even with DH employed I saved up for the unpaid summer in case he lost his job (and in this case we saved a bit more than that because we knew there was going to be a layoff… and we, you know, had extra money after maxing out retirement).  And now if we want to spend randomly large amounts of money on something, we have to think about it.  We can have some of the things but not all the things.

So… we could get a new car, that’s in our emergency fund (recall mine is 12 years old and has been having regular issues, DH’s is 11 years old but seems fine), but we couldn’t do that and renovate the kitchen, unless we wanted to sell stocks, at which point we’d be depleting our secondary emergency fund.  So, technically, we could have both, but potentially sacrificing our future security for wants.  And since we spend close to my take-home pay when I have income, it would take a while to replenish our emergency funds without cutting back.  We could buy a refrigerator even though the old one isn’t broken and/or I could see a dermatologist to get skin-tags removed and/or hire a personal trainer and/or have someone else fix our sprinkler system and/or eat out every day and etc. etc. etc. on top of all the things we already spend money on but we can’t do all of those things without dipping into savings or cutting down on our tax-advantaged savings.  We have to make choices that involve money, not just time or desire.

We have to think about where on the need/want spectrum something is.  And thinking about that takes effort.  It’s easiest to default to “no” unless something is important or the cost truly is low.  And yes, sometimes it is worth it to pay for help– DC2 is still in daycare even with DH laid off.  But that doesn’t mean that decisions are obvious and easy.

This is true even if we’re still spending a little bit under what we earn, because we can’t predict emergency expenses in the future.  When the gap between earnings and spending is really large, the emergencies aren’t that important.  When the gap is small, those emergencies could set you back, so ironically, you need a larger emergency fund when you earn less than when you earn more (assuming similar spending).  And it’s harder to refill that emergency fund with a smaller gap, meaning you have to cut back more on spending when you’ve got an emergency.  But most likely, the spending that you’re cutting back on is stuff you wanted less than any new thing or service that you think you might want but haven’t purchased yet.

So no, I’m not saying that people making 100K shouldn’t buy things that make their lives easier.  Just that when you’re making 2 or more times 100K, it’s nothing to say “are you crazy, why wouldn’t you buy that?” Purchasing “that” is a bagatelle in comparison to income.  But when you make less, you have to prioritize and not just on really expensive luxuries.

I’m also not saying that 100K is nothing!  It’s a comfortable income in most of the country (yes, you probably do need a bit more to comfortably support a family in some coastal cities, though probably not as much as most people who complain will tell you) that pays for all of your needs, lots of retirement savings, and lots of wants.  But not all the wants.