Update on the gift card donation thing

So we asked you all for suggestions on how to get a cash-value gift card to DC2’s teachers.

Becca noted:

To actually address your preferred option-it looks like Gift Card Mall will sell you a $500 Visa card for a fee of $5.95, probably with a $2 shipping fee. It just looks like getting large denomination gift cards is getting more challenging- maybe it’s fraud related.

We had originally tried an AmEx card because I had found a code for free shipping, bringing the cost down to ~$8.  But they emailed and said it would take 1-3 days to approve and send.  When I called on day 4, they said, no, it was 1-3 business days and it would be shipped out “tomorrow”.  When I called on business day 3, they said that was a lie, it was actually 2-4 business days and it would be shipped “tomorrow”.  When I called on business day 4, they said no, day 1 didn’t count because we’d ordered after 11am, and it would be shipped “tomorrow” at which point I cancelled and said screw it, I’ll pay the additional $4 and go with Visa.  It didn’t help that when I googled AmEx gift cards there were lots and lots of complaints about people’s card-money suddenly disappearing and customer service being no help in retrieving it.

Gift card mall turned out to be extremely easy to deal with.  They gave a date that our cards would be shipped and they were indeed shipped on that day (no shipping fee) and came well within the 5-10 days they said it would take with shipping.  The other neat thing was that we were able to customize the cards by picking out teacher related card pictures, putting the teacher’s actual names on the cards, and getting greeting cards, envelopes, and a message typed out in the greeting card.  Almost worth the $11.90 we paid over the cost of the cards themselves.  Definitely less hassle than “tomorrow never comes” AmEx.

So DH dropped the cards off with DC2’s teachers’ principal.  The next day, DC2 excitedly told DH that someone had given hir teachers each a $500 giftcard for the class and they’d asked the kids what to do with them.  50 guinea pigs!  A swimming bag pool (we’re not entirely sure what that is)!

Hopefully they’ll use it for differentiation/enrichment/independent learning, though I suppose 50 guinea pigs could count as enrichment.   We will probably never know what they get spent on in the end, but we did feel a bit of a warm fuzzy knowing that the teachers had gotten them.

What would you spend a $500 giftcard on?

Lazy Link Love

Local elections are happening and where they’re not happening, they’re coming up– check out your local area– google “where to vote“.  Your local indivisible might be able to tell you about what’s on the ballot.  Or maybe your league of women voters.  Or maybe your local democratic party.

weather channel heroes

@Popehat’s identity (his name is Ken White, so not so difficult to find) sought by federal grand jury subpoena.  Because fascism?

late capitalism

Academics are engaging the public

Residency doesn’t have to be this way.  Gate-keepers are invested in keeping numbers artificially low so salaries are artificially high.

Invalid or writer?

Pinterest farmhouse ideas from mcmansion hell


Rating pasta shapes

Cat reviewer

Have you voted yet?

Ask the grumpies: What did you enjoy about boarding school?

Leah asks:

What did you enjoy about going to boarding school?

#1: what did I enjoy? boy howdy, where do I even start
it was a paradigm shift that changed everything about my life
The rules and curfews were actually more generous than my mom’s

#2:  I enjoyed being around other smart people.  I enjoyed not being bullied or maliciously teased.  I enjoyed being able to take lots and lots of math classes (though I did eventually run out and had to have CS as my math course one semester).  I enjoyed my boyfriend (now husband)!

Brag about your kids/pets/loved ones/etc. here!

It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these threads, but the internet is not always a safe place to be proud of your loved ones (that is, for anything other than sports).  We say F-that.

We love hearing about how proud you are of the people and creatures in your sphere.  This might be because we feel the same way about our own kids/kittens/partners/etc. and aren’t threatened by you being surrounded by greatness.  Or it might be something to do with fighting the patriarchy.  We’re not sure.

In any case, don’t feel silenced.  We will never get upset at you for thinking well of someone who is genuinely awesome and broadcasting those thoughts.  (We will get upset if you support say, neo-Nazis.)

One rule, don’t start with a disclaimer like, “She may not be potty-trained yet, but…” or “I usually dislike X about him, but…” and don’t end with the disclaimer, “even though zie…”  These brags should be 100% positive with no apologies included.  Own your pride.

I know this is difficult in a society that cuts down tall poppies, but we’re commanding it so you have no choice.

I’ll start:

I love the way DC2 is really getting numbers right now.  Something has clicked so that Singapore addition and regular multiplication just make sense to hir and zie is getting really good at mental arithmetic (mostly with fingers, but increasingly without!).  I love seeing hir get “aha!” moments.  It’s the BEST.

DC1 has been doing a great job of not giving up and working hard at violin even though zie [note, this is an example of an “even though zie” that is an explanation, not a disclaimer] started a year behind all the other kids.

How about you and yours?  Add a little brightness to our day!

Another real vacation for the family (that I won’t be going on)

DH’s grandmother died earlier this year and she left a small inheritance to her daughters.  DH’s mother has decided to put that money into a “Disney World” savings account and take all 6 grandkids and their parents to Disney World.  She wants to go in June.

This is very Midwestern.  Growing up I think I was the only kid who had never been to Disney World (I had been to Disney Land as a child with an after-school field trip when we lived in California– mostly notable because they lost me in the gift shop and I spent a good portion of the time in the room of lost kids coloring in already colored coloring books and eating lolly pops).  My sister has never been to either Disney.  That money went into our college fund instead.  (DC1 has been to Disneyland and to all the stuff in San Diego in conjunction with work trips for me– we paid for DH’s mom to fly out and take him places while DH took care of baby DC2 and I conferenced.)

I hate theme parks with a violent passion that’s mostly to do with my undiagnosed ocholophobia (well, not precisely undiagnosed– it showed up on the initial anxiety screen when I did CBT but I declined to get it fixed because I can easily avoid the kind of large crowds that freak me out now that I’m no longer forced to go to school dances or 6 Flags trips), and partly to do with the ease with which I get overheated in the sun.  So I won’t be going.  DH will have to go because there are 6 kids going and we have to send at least one adult to corral our two kids.

While I know that MIL will be paying for DH’s sister’s family (they combine a small-town teacher salary with a factory worker salary) and will probably be subsidizing DH’s brother’s family (union engineer + SAHM), we should probably pay our way.  If we book now, it looks like flights will be ~$1,500 for DH and the two kids, and hotel will be another $500, assuming they stay outside of Disney which I assume will be the plan [update:  our house rental will be $500-$1K, and I have to admit, some of these Kissamee houses are nice enough that I’m tempted to go and just work by the pool all day while everyone else goes to Disney/Universal].  Disney and Universal tickets look like they’ll be another $1,500 which seems pretty crazy to me.  So $3,500, not counting food or ground transportation, for a trip that the kids will probably enjoy but DH will find exhausting.  By me not going they’ll be saving ~$1,000, so that’s something, right?  (Of course, I will probably soon start spending similar amounts on academic summer camps for DC1 without blinking an eye, but those are at least more enjoyable for the parents!)

My well-off colleagues seem to be going to Caribbean destinations more and more.  Sitting on a beach has always sounded boring to me in the past (I can read a book just as easily inside without worrying about sunburn!), but given how hectic life has been lately, I’m kind of wondering if maybe they have a good idea.  Though that’s not cheap either.  Staying at home is cheap!  And I can get more work done.

What kind of vacation do I like?  The kind where a conference is paying for most of it, where there’s really amazing and different food to explore, and where there’s history and/or nature and not too much sun.  Sadly I haven’t been going to too many of those recently– all my conferences are either in Boston or Palo Alto/Berkeley these days.  And while those places are lovely, we’ve been so often that I can’t get DH and the kids to tag along with me (plus that whole public school thing puts a crimp in taking the whole family during the school year thing).  So… no vacations for me, and another week to myself next summer.

Have you done Disney?  Which one?  How do you feel about theme parks?  What’s your ideal vacation?  Have any good vacation travel coming up?

Link Love

Housing, mobility, opportunity

Zika is back.

Everything that is Hillary Clinton’s fault because everything is (note:  it isn’t really– this is satire)

Dads Dollars Debts talks about his frightening sudden evacuation from the CA forest fires and suggestions on how to prepare for an emergency.

A good student dress code

Career lessons for women in tech

a $60 tshirt purchas

bathroom repairs

Gorey ttf

Goth girls

bookish hedgehogs



Ask the grumpies: How do you reduce your taxable income if you’re high income?

Michelle asks:

What if you make more than 186K jointly and want an option for reducing your taxable income? Can you still invest in an IRA?

Standard disclaimer:  We are not professionals.  Consult a professional with fiduciary responsibility and/or do your own research before making important monetary decisions.

In 2017, if you make more than $133,000 you can purchase a traditional IRA but doing so will provide no tax benefit (more than 118K, and you only get a partial tax benefit).  You can roll that traditional IRA over into a Roth IRA, but Roth IRAs do not reduce your taxable income this year.  Roth IRAs decrease your taxes on earnings in the future when you start living off those retirement assets.  (That 186K number is the beginning limit for the Roth IRA.)

What can you do to reduce your taxable income?

  1.  Contribute the maximum to a traditional 401(k)/403(b)/457 through your work if that’s available– if you have Roth versions that these won’t decrease your AGI (taxable income) this year, just at some point in the future.  If you have both a 403(b) and a 457, you are allowed to contribute to the max for each (but you can only contribute a total of 18K to all your 401(k) options, although if your company offers a mega backdoor roth option, that’s a way to shelter future income by putting away up to 36K this year)
  2. Contribute to an HSA (health savings account) through your work if that’s available.
  3. Pay a lot of interest on a mortgage (not the best idea for your finances overall, but it may decrease your AGI depending on where it hits compared to the standard deduction).
  4. Sell stocks or other investments at a loss.  If the loss is big enough you may be able to carry those losses over to future years.  Again, it’s nicer to get profits than to get losses, but there’s a little benefit in terms of decreasing your AGI.
  5. Donate a bunch to charity, or start a donor-advised fund to donate a bunch of charity in the future and to get the tax break now (you won’t get the tax break later when you actually give the money away though).  Again, be aware of standard deductions and alternative minimum taxes.
  6. Something I don’t understand called a “bond fund swap” which sounds a bit sketchy, but a lot of tax dodging saving stuff is sketchy.
  7. Have a baby or adopt a kid (again, not an overall money saving strategy, but it will help your AGI).
  8. Pay a lot in state taxes possibly by moving to a place (for work!) that has higher taxes.  (See above about not overall money-saving.)
  9. Those moving expenses that aren’t reimbursed may also be tax deductible.
  10. Have a bunch of job-related expenses.
  11. Plan when you pay your home-owners taxes so that they make the most tax sense, which may mean doubling your payment one year and not paying it the next (this will depend on your other deductions and the standard deduction).
  12. Keep all your receipts for itemized deductions, even little things like $5 donations.
  13. Marry someone who makes a lot less than you do.  (Or divorce someone who makes close to what you make.)
  14. Pay alimony.
  15. Put off taking retirement income until you have to.
  16. If you have high medical expenses (>10% of your AGI), bundle them as much as you can into one year.
  17. If you have self-employment income, look into the SEP and Solo 401(k).  Also make sure you’ve accounted for all business expenses and maybe make some business expenses.  You may also be able to do some dodgy things about paying your kids as employees.
  18. If you have a rental property, make sure you document your costs.
  19. You can deduct some money for qualifying education expenses.

Grumpy Nation, what other suggestions do you have to lower Adjusted Gross Income?

Random comment on a small-penis-man #notallsmallpenismen from like 6 years ago

So about 6 years ago, this douche named Ed Rybicki wrote a really sexist short story that inexcusably and inexplicably got published in Nature, because the board of Nature was (is?) full of sexist asshats.  We talk about it some in this post from November of 2011.

In that post, we’re making note of the fact that tiny-penised* Rybicki kept harassing women who called him out, but completely shied away from giving men who called him out the same treatment.  We assumed he was going to wander into our comments as well because he seemed to enjoy googling himself and going into the comments of women (and only women) to generally be a clueless asshat.  Oddly, even though we dared him to, he didn’t show up in our junk mail filter (or it’s possible he did later and we didn’t notice, in any case, he didn’t do it right away).

We didn’t know if we’d scared him off or if he’d just missed our blog or if someone close to him had finally hit him with a clue stick and told him to get a life.

Well, the other day, for a completely unrelated post, I was wondering why we were getting so many hits from twitter.  Unlike my usual situation, I was on my cell rather than on the computer, and it turns out that searching twitter on the iphone gives a LOT more hits than does searching on the computer (which seems to just limit to major twitter feeds like @DLFreedman), and curious, I followed our twitter cites to nicoleandmaggie back to 2011.

In the middle of years of praise (thanks grumpy tweeters!), I found this little gem:


Well, we did get tenure.  And we’re still not on twitter.  And it took us 6 years to see your passive-aggressive whatever that was.  But thanks for playing.  Really hope in the intervening 6 years you’ve become less of a sexist asshat!  No, really!  (But it’s likely we’ll never know.)

*#notalltinypenisedmen — penis size actually isn’t that important, but misogynists tend to think it is

Should you ever fill a non-tax-advantaged IRA (answer: maybe): An obnoxious post from having upper-middle class income

Now that DH’s income is back and I’ve GOTTEN PAID(!) for the first time this school year, it’s time to start up our obnoxious money posts again.  (Maybe you’ve noticed the new tag?)

This time we turn to planning for college.  If I’d known where we were going to be today I’d have planned things differently back when DC1 was born and opened up 457 plans earlier instead of saving in 529s or prepaying the mortgage.  Sunk cost!

People with upper-middle class income who plan to send their children someplace that isn’t a state school have an incentive to do some creative things with money before their children hit their junior year of high school.  The reason for this is that they’re on the margin of financial aid for some pretty expensive places.  Forbes has a bunch of articles about our “predicament”.  Check out the colorful charts in this one.  In it, you’ll note that AGI of 125K to 275K are eligible for some financial aid at various 4 year colleges if they play their cards right.

What does playing your cards right mean?  Well, a lot of playing your cards right is moving income from places that the CSS and FAFSA consider to be available for paying for college to those that the CSS/FAFSA consider to be out of bounds.  A big portion of that is moving regular assets and investments into retirement accounts.  (Here’s an article on how much cash is excluded from FAFSA formulas.  Here’s info on how different asset types are affected.)  5.64% of your non-excludable assets are expected to be available for paying for college.  Retirement savings, even non-tax-advantaged retirement savings, are not included in any of the financial aid calculations.

And that’s where the non-tax-advantaged traditional IRA comes in.  If your (married) joint adjusted gross income is less than 186,000 (for 2017), then you can just fill up a Roth and hide money into a retirement account in a tax-advantaged way.  If you have a workplace retirement plan available, then you can only get the full tax advantage from a traditional IRA plan if you make (jointly) less than $99,000.  More rules for single parents, those without retirement accounts, etc., are available here.

So if you’re in that upper-middle-class income range, have extra money floating around in taxable string-free investments and have children likely heading to private colleges in the future, it might be a good idea to start moving those over into traditional IRAs at the rate of $11K/year for a couple.  Should you do this instead of filling up a 529 with that 11K (if you can’t afford to do both)?  I don’t know– it’s probably best to sit down and crunch the numbers yourself given your age, preferred retirement age, targeted colleges, income, expected student loan rates, and so on.

Of course, because of loopholes in the tax code, it’s possible to turn that non-tax-advantaged traditional IRA into a backdoor Roth.  Here are some pitfalls to look out for if you choose to go that route.  And don’t do it if your eldest is in college or even a junior or senior because it will show up on an aid form according to Forbes.

So where are we?  Accumulating assets while we’re both employed.  DC1 on track to go to college in ~6 years.  That leaves ~4 years to try to move money around.  The easiest way to hide money from colleges would be to move to Paradise and to buy a house there because then we’d be back in debt with all our extra cash going towards retirement and the mortgage, plus there’s no guarantee I’d be employed at all.  But it’s unlikely we’d be able to actually do that given my, you know, career and stuff.  So it probably wouldn’t hurt to start making these asset moves.  (And we should replace our cars and remodel the kitchen at some point and maybe time finally getting that donor advised fund to a year that will count for financial aid calculators.)

I already save in a 403(b) and a 457 at work plus have required retirement savings on top of that  I don’t really *want* to save another $5,500 for retirement in my name.  DH only has a 401(k) and it’s not set up properly, so he ends up getting some of the money contributed back after the company does their taxes.  Right now I think we’re probably only going to do one traditional IRA and it will be DH’s.  I believe we have about $30 in another traditional IRA (we converted all our traditional IRAs to Roths back when it was first allowed, but one of them dripped during the conversion).  So it shouldn’t cost much to do the conversion unless the stock market goes crazy between putting the $5,500 in and converting.

If we made more, it wouldn’t be worth even thinking about all this stuff.  But we’re in that range.  And I’m not crazy about our state flagship.  So, this is where we are.

Have you ever put money away for retirement without getting the tax advantage?  Are you thinking about hiding assets from college financial aid calculators?

Link Love

Man another exhausting week.  I’ve been doing a lot of work and this week was mostly service-free, so that’s good, but I am tired.  And, you know, horrible fascist US politics, especially the executive order destroying the ACA.  I don’t even know where to start with protesting that one.

Did I mention FASCISM?

women in the workplace

seems like yes, loser men are trying to harass us out of the workforce because they’re losers

The Rock test for men who don’t want to be accused of sexual harassment

red sun over the city

When I was a kid, I read books written in the 1970s where they talked about having to stay inside at recess because of air pollution.  But I was born after the first Earth Day and politicians did things to curb environmental problems even though they didn’t do enough.  And now, check out the air quality in the US.  Hank Green had been talking about having to stay indoors because of pollution too.  And of course, California is on fire.  So now we’re looking at pollution indices along with rain when making decisions about travel.  What a world.

More ashen pictures of California

Chicago does NOT have a handgun ban

Memories of Billie Jean King

New meaning to toxic masculinity (poop)


Mike Pence’s racist political stunt in Indianapolis cost tax payers over 88K.

Just stuff

The success narrative

money in your 20s vs 30s

Do you own vanguard funds?  http://www.donebyforty.com/2017/10/inside-index.html

the tree lobster is not extinct

defining nonprofit terms


The vegetarian ones look more reasonable than the meat ones in terms of time and exotic ingredients

The night before BCN