Ask the grumpies: What the heck happened to Toys R Us?

Leah asks:

Trying to understand leveraged buyouts: why are they done, and why, legally, can it happen even if the people in the company don’t want it to happen? One of my friends was making noise about how Toys R Us didn’t go under due to a bad business model. He said it was due to a leveraged buy out and the company being saddled with debt. How does that even work?

We don’t really know.   Which isn’t to say that people don’t know, I mean, there’s definitely some knowledge that Mitt Romney’s company killed it by doing a leveraged buyout in 2005, but we don’t really understand the whole leveraged buyout thing and why it’s allowed given that it can destroy companies at minimal risk to the hedge fund doing the destruction.  Seems like something government should be regulating better, but isn’t.

Here’s a brief explanation on why Toys R Us went under from CNN Money.

Here’s bloomberg with a longer explanation.

Here’s NBC News.

More detailed info on how leveraged buyouts are supposed to work and that it didn’t in this case.

The Atlantic also explains at length.

Advertisements

Do you want to read about a buff male nanny?

I didn’t think I wanted to read this book.  I almost never read contemporary hetero romances.  But I found this author’s twitter and the book seemed delightful.

Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny, by Rebekah Weatherspoon (from The Ripped Bodice bookstore!)

It also gave me the chance to try out our library’s new way they’re doing ILL.  Hence, this chat log:

Me: much as I feel silly about the title… I really do recommend RAFE: A buff male nanny. One thing I like about it is that neither of the main characters is hiding a deep dark secret that could change everything if only they knew . . .

#2: The employer-employee thing isn’t squicky?

Me: I didn’t find it squicky but YMMV.  One reason it wasn’t squicky was cuz they put it out there before he got hired. Like he said, “I’m really attracted to you, but I promise I will never let it affect how I care for your children. Knowing that, do you still want to hire me?”

#2: That’s better than her saying that.

Me: Yes. In fact she didn’t admit she was attracted to him for a little while after (although she was!). *And* he never did let it get in the way of loving those little kids.

The next one she’s writing is the best friend’s story, which we just get a hint of at the end of this one. I really want that one.
Like one of the last lines in the book, after it’s all happily ever after, 2 years later, is the best friend sending a text to the heroine.
The other characters show up in other books of hers, as romance series tend to go. But I want to read Xenia’s story next.  The author’s note at the end says that the others will eventually get their happy-ever-afters, too.

#2: Nice

Me: It was remarkably un-angtsy, all things considered. Like when the woman gets angsty, she texts her friend, who cheers her up.

#2: Yay

Me: also they both have good relationships with their parents. Their family relationships aren’t simple, but these days they’re pretty good!
There is an awful ex. Don’t worry about him too much though.

SO…. give it a shot. Has anyone else here read this book or this author?

DH researches cooktops

Here is his final report:

TL;DR: gas cooktop, Samsung NA30N7755TG @ ~$1400.

Note that reviews do not seem very useful. Professional review websites do not review all the options, e.g., only reviewing 36″ cooktops, not 30″ cooktops, or they tend to parrot back Consumer Reports, or they have a clear bias without seeming to cover all aspects (e.g., everyone should go induction). Reviews on online stores (e.g., AJ Madison, appliancesconnection.com, amazon, and Home Depot) are not in high numbers, tend to be copied from each other, often are acquired through promotions, do not go into great detail, and are either 1-star due to failure or 5-star because there’s no failure. All cooktops seem to have failure issues…sometimes broken out of the box, other times completely failing after months or 1-2 years, but it looks like gas cooktops have fewer quality control complaints than induction cooktops.
I mostly used the above-mentioned four websites to shop around.

I would rather go with my gas cooktop top pick over my induction top pick, but the electrical engineer in me wishes that wasn’t the case. If we decided to re-wire that outlet for a 40 or 50 Amp circuit (it is currently 30Amps), then I would want induction instead.

The deciding reason between my two top picks is that the gas cooktop’s layout is just so much better, with a good burner in the front-right (the big burner is in the very center so I’m not as worried about scorching the wall). In comparison, the induction cooktop’s two front hobs are each only 6″ diameter, and our normal pans are 8″. So with the induction cooktop we would end up cooking on the large back hob 90% of the time. I am pretty sure I will find it very annoying to have to reach back to do stir-frying, flip pancakes, etc. I do wish the gas cooktop was only 4 burners, instead of 5, but I guess if they’re going to put the big burner right in the center then they may as well put burners in each of the corners.

Both of the below cooktops have the power I want. Neither seems to stand-out in terms of quality or brand-name. Both would fit (though we may want an extra half-inch of countertop front-to-back for the gas cooktop). Gas has open flame which I’d really rather avoid, while induction has a fan/noise which I would somewhat like to avoid. I am mostly ignoring the fact that we would need new pans for the induction cooktop, because it would be so much easier to keep clean that I would be happy to get new cookware. An unknown about induction is whether or not we would be ok with the controls (on/off/power setting etc)…I’m guessing we wouldn’t have a problem but some reviews are negative about induction cooktop controls.

Gas:

For gas, there were three main points.
First, I wanted just 4 burners. Second, I wanted a high output on at least one burner, at least 18+k BTU. These two wants are hard to find together. Nice 30″ wide cooktops (i.e., ones with a high output burner) almost invariably have 5 burners, while 4 burner systems are almost invariably low-output. I care more about the high output, so that wins out over the number of burners.

The third main point was that space/installation constraints prevented several models from working…primarily spacing constraints to the back wall, or from the top of the counter to the top of the silverware drawer under the cooktop. The top of our silverware drawer is 5″ below the top of our current counter.

It would also be nice to have dishwasher-safe grates.

My final pick was:
Samsung NA30N7755TG (black stainless steel) or NA30N7755TS (stainless steel) for ~$1400. 5 burners. 22k BTU center burner. Dishwasher-safe grates (according to Home Depot– Samsung says not so much). Explicitly requires less than 4″ from countertop down to the top of under drawer. Comes with griddle and wok grate.
Note that it requires 2&7/8″ from the back of the cutout to the back wall.
It does not state how much countertop is required from the front of the cutout to the front of the countertop…we should be fine with the current countertop size but would probably be better off with another half-inch of countertop.
Consumer Reports gave a 36″ Samsung gas cooktop its top rating…and it looks like this is the newer version of the 30″ model that corresponded to that 36″.

My runner-up was:
Cafe CGP95302MS1 for $1400. 5 burners. 20K BTU center burner. Dishwasher-safe grates. Explicitly requires less than 4″ from countertop down to the top of under drawer. Comes with griddle. This model was roughly the same price as my top pick, the same layout, and the same space constraints, but it has a bit lower output, and it requires a total of ~5.5″ of counter-top behind and in front of the cutout, which means a total countertop depth of 19.5+5.5=25″, while our current countertop is only 24.5″….that’s probably not a big deal since an extra half inch of countertop might be nice anyway.

Induction:

For induction, there are four main concerns.
I want just 4 burners or as close to that as possible.
I want a high output on at least one burner, at least 3500 kW with boost, and I wanted that burner to be 10-11″ diameter.
I want to be able to fit the silverware drawer, which is currently 5″ below the top of the countertop.
I want to keep the current 30 Amp circuit breaker, which eliminated most of the high-end (i.e., high output and large diameter burner) options. If we relax this constraint we get a lot more good cooktops to consider, but random websearching suggests that would add a few hundred dollars to installation.

Spacing from the front of the countertop, and from the countertop to the wall, can also be an issue…but it’s less of an issue than for gas cooktops.

This is a good FAQ: http://theinductionsite.com/selecting-induction.php

This website had a good collection of info
http://theinductionsite.com/buildin-residential-30-inch-induction-units.php

Induction cooktops have built-in fans that automatically turn on to keep the circuitry cool. They can also make noises due to motion and flex in the pans. They also require space for airflow in the cabinets below the cooktop…that shouldn’t be a problem for us because that volume is mostly empty and open.

My final pick was Bosch NIT5068UC for $1500.
https://www.homedepot.com/p/Bosch-500-Series-30-in-Induction-Cooktop-in-Black-with-4-SpeedBoost-Elements-including-Two-3-700-Watt-Elements-NIT5068UC/304812437

Runner-up:
-Bosch NITP068SUC for $2400, which meets all the requirements above, and has a somewhat nicer layout than the NIT8068UC…but $900 is a big price difference.

Comments, Grumpy Nation?

Link Love

Inside the federal bureau of way too many guns

Live blogging the most important address to the nation this week

So, um… check out the updates to this story about a probably fake Da Vinci painting

This old tv show trump scam artist is real.

WTF?

Kids these days… their rebellions are kind of awesome

A useless but fun perspective on money

Miser mom turns calendars into gift boxes.

Locate a local independent bookstore near you

Two of the Jayne Krentz books I’ve read recently have a main character making this

mmmmmm

 

Ask the grumpies: how to find an HSA provider

FF asks:

Do you have any thoughts/advice on choosing an HSA provider?

I already have the ACA plan figured out. I first check whether my doctors are in-network. Next, I come up with a detailed list of what I expect to need based primarily on my expenses for the current year. I then calculate what I would pay for the entire year under each plan I’m considering, taking into account both premiums and OOP expenses (including before/after deductibles and copays). This can get very complicated. I also calculate the worst-case scenario (total premiums plus OOP max). This year, for the plans I was considering, the answer was the same for both the expected and maximum scenarios. Plus the HDHP + HSA will have further tax advantages.

What I’m concerned about now is the Health Savings Account, which is not offered via the ACA, but separately through financial institutions if you have a compatible health plan. So far, the most useful information I’ve found is from Consumer Reports: https://www.consumerreports.org/health-savings-accounts/how-to-choose-a-health-savings-account/

People who have high deductible health care plans (HDHP) are allowed to put money into a Health Savings Account (HSA) which functions basically as a super-charged IRA that can only be spent for medical purchases.  By supercharged, we mean the money isn’t taxed going in and the earnings aren’t taxed going out.  It’s pretty amazing.  (Note that these are different than Flexible Savings Plans, which are sometimes called Health Spending Accounts just to be really confusing– these have to be used up each year or the money goes back to the employer, just like a dependent daycare account.)  By IRA, we mean an individual retirement account that functions as a tax-advantaged bucket for retirement savings.  (FF already knows all this.)

Back when I last looked at HSA, there weren’t a whole lot of options– you basically went with what your employer offered you because that was what was available, and most employers offering HDHP also put money into the HSA themselves because that money came with tax benefits for them.  Having outside HSA didn’t make a lot of sense because there was no market for them.

Today there’s a market for HSA outside of individual employers, which means that there are a lot more options for HSA.  Many places that you can stash an IRA will also let you do an HSA.  What you should be looking for in an HSA is similar to what you should be looking for in an IRA provider, with a few additional wrinkles.

First off:  If your employer offers an HSA contribution, chances are that’s going to have to go into the HSA account that they have chosen.  According to that consumer reports article FF linked to, you can keep that HSA account open, let the employer money go into it, but then transfer to an outside HSA account if you want.  I have never found it easy to move money from work accounts to outside accounts, but depending on fees, this may eventually be worth it.

Second:  As the consumer reports article notes, you need to know if you’re going to need the money long-term or short term.  If you’re credit-constrained or have high medical expenses, then you will need to use the money right away.  That means you need an HSA account that has things like savings accounts or certificates of deposit for safe money.  If you’re not credit constrained, then it makes sense to just think about this as another retirement account, which means you want something that has access to low cost index funds in the stock market and maybe in the bond market too, depending on what’s available in your other retirement accounts for diversification purposes.  So, if you need short term then make sure the HSA has short term options.  If you need long term, make sure there are long term options.

Third:  Compare fees.  This part is just like with an IRA.  You want the lowest fee funds.  Watch for hidden fees.

So… that’s pretty much all of my thoughts on the topic.  The consumer reports article you linked to looks really good to me.  It’s not saying anything stupid AFAIK and covers everything I thought of.

Grumpeteers who have purchased HDHP for use with your HSA, what do you recommend?

The year of the oxygen mask

My current goal is to make 2019 the year I finally find my oxygen mask.  You know, “make sure your own mask is on first before helping others”?

Background:

In October 2016 I was having a very stressful time and then election day hit.  It did not go well for feminists.  Fortunately I had recently started therapy again and was still on one psychiatric medication, but I got an additional one at the suggestion of an excellent psychiatrist who is unfortunately hard to get hold of and who doesn’t take my insurance.  At the time I was working with a group that researched (among other things) health in Latinx communities, and I am White.  I was chicken and called in sick to work the day after election day.  Then I pulled myself together.  You know how politics has gone since then.

A week later, my beloved father-in-law died unexpectedly.  Most of 2017 was spent in mourning.  In 2017, our cat almost died several times and then did die (we have new ones now!), and my beloved grandmother died just before Christmas (she was very old, and the heart of the family), and my other grandmother’s dementia got the best of her.  Her body is still walking around, but she’s away with the fairies.  There were a few months where our apartment seemed to have contagious depression.  My sister’s husband was laid off in a really dickish way in mid-December of 2017.  Friends were sad and anxious.  Far-away family struggled with finances, finding my grandmother a nursing home that would take her (achieved in 2018!), and my beloved aunt got very very sick in early to mid-2018 and perforated her bowel from the stress of it (surgery, months with an ostomy bag, weight down to less than 90 lbs.).  My cousin almost died and had to have emergency brain surgery the night of Christmas Eve 2017, causing his father my uncle to miss his own mother’s funeral.  In 2017 and 2018, my father got diagnosed with something potentially scary (he’s fine now, but has an occasional midnight panic attack), my sister struggled with infertility, my mother-in-law and her whole family grieved and mourned, I quit my job and got another (where I have a good boss), and so did my partner.

Going into 2019, I have just recently, like in the past few months, started to feel like I can even take a breath.  2018 was something of a dumpster fire, but it was also the year of the gradual, eventual turnaround for people I care about.  We might be ok now; I just need like another 6 months of nobody dying and I’ll be able to brain again.  Come on, just make it six more months!

It’s been a struggle, folks.

Finally Finding the Oxygen Mask in 2019:

I’m against New Year’s resolutions.  I suck at them.  I decided to try doing small but good things for myself each month in 2019.  (I got the idea for the first one from Lifehacker.)  Doing a big thing, or even a couple medium things, is totally outside my capacity for now.  I hope that by doing these small things, I will be substantially less cranky by the end of 2019.  I will also stay on my meds and in therapy.

January:  Don’t spend money except on food (or toilet paper).  I thought this was going to be easy but it turns out I already messed up in the second week of Jan., and barely noticed!  The point of this challenge is mainly to *notice*.  I’ll keep working on it.

February:  Go on Patreon and sign up to support at least 2 creators whose work I appreciate.

March:  Eat down the pantry and freezer.  Defrost those noms.

April:  Clean up my damn room.  Put stuff away and keep it clean-ish.

May:  Information/news break.  Absolutely no clicking on twitter links or links that look like they might be irritating; use facebook only for the one (closed) group I’m in.  [#2 will keep you all in links :)]

June:  Moar blogging! [#2 WOOOOO!!!!]

July:  Eat more delicious fruit & local veg.

August:  Eat more delicious fruit & local veg.

September:  Deeply Rest.  Still figuring out what this will mean, but I came up with this phrase that sounds appealing.

October:  Focus on reading for enjoyment.

November:  Absolutely no news exposure from any source. [#2 will keep you all in links :)]

December:  Focus on reading for enjoyment.  Don’t go anywhere.

#2 notes:  Those of us with oxygen masks can help carry the load for those who are finding theirs.  There will be important actions to do in 2019!

Do you plan to improve self-care in 2019?  How?  Or do you have a routine that’s working for you?  

We were thoughtless this year

We thoughtlessly set our 2018 Christmas presents for DH’s family at $50/nibling/sibling and $100 each for Nana and Grandpa, give or take (the Braille book subscription we give a niece is actually $100 and we donated another $100 to help defray the costs).  I’m not sure why we did this, that’s just what seemed like the right amount of books when we started with the youngest cousins.  In terms of monetary expenses for us these days with both of us working and the house paid off, this is not a big deal.  Our December expenses are high, but our January expenses are usually lower than usual so it works out fine (also in the last paycheck this year we got a little boost from no longer having to pay SS tax).

But then DH’s brother’s family spent the same amount on us(!) which seems really excessive on the receiving end.  DH’s brother’s wife doesn’t have an income and both their kids are special needs.  But DH’s brother does have seniority in a union job so maybe it doesn’t put a crunch in their budget either?  They have a very nice house that is packed with toys and other stuff and an SUV and so on…  In terms of consumption, they seem to be doing well.  (They never opened up 529 plans for their kids and eventually we gave up nagging them about it, so we can’t stealth-give there.)

I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to figure this out.  Since we’ve started being able to afford stuff, most of my anxieties about gifts have just disappeared… I no longer care how much we spent or if I get crappy gifts (though I still do prefer things off my amazon wishlist).  DH’s sister’s family is much lower income than we are (though as she’s been gaining seniority and step-raises, they’re above median household income now) and I would have noticed if they’d started matching what we spend and felt bad right away, but she’s started giving etsy-level crafts (among other things, she’s got some kind of setup where she can make designs for t-shirts– one of DC2’s favorite presents last year was a shirt that you can color in with washable markers and then wash and re-color… she also made Disney-themed family vacation shirts for everyone last year) which I think makes everyone happy.

Anyhow, I told DH to bring up that they don’t need to match our spending with his brother sometime when they were alone over break and to let him know that they really don’t need to spend the same amount, or if they prefer we could cut back on them.  (The problem with that being that we actually enjoy getting stuff off their wishlists because DH wants his brother to play those games and I want SIL to read those books because she has good taste in books.) DH did and said that BIL basically brushed it off, so maybe it’s ok?

What do you do about spending on presents when there are income disparities in the family?  Do you feel like you have to match what the other person spends, or is it more about your constraints?