Ask the grumpies: IRA with Vanguard or TIAA-CREF?

Steph asks:

I’ve managed to swing one month of actual wages this year (my salary is usually all a stipend/fellowship), which means I can put some money in an IRA! I have an existing IRA with Vanguard, but the 1 month job will also let me put money directly into an IRA at TIAA Cref. I won’t quite make enough to hit the yearly max, even pre-tax, and there’s no matching. I’m leaning Vanguard – do you have any suggestions?

Disclaimer:  We are not professional anything except academics– do your own research and/or consult actual professionals before making important monetary decisions.

You are correct to prefer Vanguard.

Vanguard has better fees for IRAs than does TIAA-Cref.  Vanguard is pretty nice to work with.  You already have an existing IRA with Vanguard, so you’ve already done the hard part of getting it set up.

The nice thing about TIAA-Cref is that they will send a person to hold your hand if you need help with something.  But this is just a basic IRA and you’ve already got one.  The TIAA-Cref option is better for people who just aren’t going to get an IRA unless they get help from someone in person.  Which isn’t you.

Finally, depending on how much money you have invested and how you have it invested (we presume low cost broad-based index funds), Vanguard has even lower fees for its admiral funds.  If putting more money in allows you to hit the threshold, then you’ll be paying an even smaller percentage in fees than you were before.

So… I don’t see any downside for keeping with Vanguard or any upside for putting an IRA into TIAA-Cref.


On Art (not ART) and creativity

(Because I have plenty of experience with ART .)

There’s been some recent twitter kerfuffles about quitting one’s day job to pursue one’s CREATIVITY.  Scalzi talks about his take on the movement in this post.

… I suspect I am not “a creative”*

I would far far rather read novels than write them. Writing a novel sounds like work.  Writing any kind of *book* sounds like a lot of work.

Also: I have no artistic talent.

So… I’m pretty happy not having some kind of creative passion that I’m supposed to be fitting into my copious free time or quitting my job to do.

Yay me?

Are you a creative?  Do you find the time to create?

*no, I don’t think this blog counts as a creative passion… I’m not sure what we could call it, but… we’re not quitting our jobs to monetize it.

Two years without a mortgage

It’s hard to say what has changed because so many other money things have changed as well.  DC2 is no longer in preschool so we’re not paying for that, and DH and I are both getting full-time salaries (and we’ve both gotten raises).

Our non-mortgage/non-daycare spending has definitely gone up.  We were in the city the other day without the kids and didn’t even blink at spending $30 at a cafe for two meals (duck confit and bean ragout for DH and blood orange beet salad for me).  We’ve been flying to DH’s family for Christmas instead of driving.  Whenever I’ve been feeling stressed, I hit up donorschoose and drop $25.  And there’s been all that political spending.  And summer camps aren’t cheap.  But, with the exception of DH’s new car (can we really make that an exception?), I don’t think this additional spending has completely caught up to the $750/month we were spending on daycare plus the $1,214.40/month that was going directly to payoff our mortgage.  (Not including property taxes and insurance, which we still have to pay and both of which have gone up quite a bit in the past two years.)

So I guess bottom line– Not having a mortgage has increased our spending, but it hasn’t been a 100% offset.  Not having a mortgage has also increased our monthly cashflow cushion.  There’s just more left over at the end of most months.  The first mortgage-free year (when DC2 was still in preschool much of the year) I was still having to dip into savings on occasion to pay the big bills like income tax or property taxes, but this year I was able to cash-flow property tax from DH’s salary (DH’s salary direct deposits into checking and mine into savings).  We’re not really living on just DH’s salary because almost all of our retirement savings and benefits spending comes out of my paycheck, but for the past year (minus the car purchase) it sure has been feeling like we don’t touch my income.

We’re also now almost getting to a point in which we have to decide what to do with the extra build-up of money since we’re maxing out our tax-advantaged retirement savings (including backdoor roths!) and have paid off all our debt.  We do have a list of important big expenses that we’ve been going through, which is why we’re now at the Kitchen Renovation bullet.  If we still had a mortgage, I don’t think we’d be there.

Has your life changed after finishing a big regular expense like daycare, a mortgage, or a car payment?

Link Love

There’s still time to get your ask the grumpies in for the next set of ask the grumpies!  (Of course, you can always ask the grumpies via email at












Another sexual assault allegation against the VA Lt Governor.








A creepy experience with rich people at a private club

Delagar describes her son’s recent visit to Planned Parenthood

What happened to the four finalists for the 2016 National Teacher of the Year?  (Also, dude, why are 3/4 of them guys … that seems bizarre given the gender balance of teachers)

Lori Lakin Hutcherson explains white privilege


Advocating for women helped optimizeyourlife’s career

STEM Role Models Posters

How to take your own passport photo (guess whose passport is about to expire…)

An experience using credit card rental car insurance

On budget constraints, endogeneity, and interconnectedness

Q&A with the costume designer for Crazy Rich Asians.  Peik Lin is my favorite.

Name a cockroach after your ex and then feed it to meerkats.

Just a reminder

Kittens and books




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.

February Challenge: The Fitness Ladder

Whenever my DH starts feeling out of shape, he digs out a “fitness ladder” that he got from some engineer on the internet and starts doing calisthenics.

The idea behind this ladder is that exercise shouldn’t be painful and shouldn’t suck.  If you will recall my February challenge a few years back with the 7 min workout, I hated that with a violent passion.  It worked, but it sucked.  So I stopped.

The fitness ladder basically says:  start at the first rung of the introductory ladder.

Introductory Ladder

Rung Bend Sit up Leg lift Push up Steps Count

1 2 3 4 2 105 1 30
2 3 4 5 3 140 1 65
3 4 6 6 3 170 2 20
4 6 7 8 4 200 2 50
5 7 9 9 5 225 3 0
6 8 10 10 6 255 3 30
7 10 11 12 7 280 3 55
8 12 13 14 8 305 4 5
9 14 15 16 9 325 4 25
10 16 16 18 11 350 4 50
11 18 18 20 12 370 4 70
12 20 20 22 13 390 5 15
13 23 21 25 15 405 5 30
14 25 23 27 16 425 5 50
15 28 25 30 18 440 5 65

What the numbers mean here, is, using rung 1 as an example, that you touch your toes twice.  Then you do 3 situps.  Then you do 4 leg lifts.  Then you do 2 pushups.  Then you run in place for 75 thingies (every time your left foot touches the ground, that’s one thingy), then you do 7 jumping jacks, and then you run in place for another 30 thingies.  When a rung feels easy, move to the next rung.  After the introductory ladder, there’s an advanced ladder with slightly different exercises.

Feb 1st, I did the first rung and everything was easy except running in place.  Feb 2nd I came down with a virus from DC2 (headache, tummy ache– vomiting in hir case, other stomach problems in my case), but was able to get through everything but the running and jumping jacks from rung 1 after sleeping most of the day.  (The bouncing was not a great idea for my stomach and I had to have seltzer).  Feb 3rd I was recovered and did the first rung with little effort so Feb 4th I moved to the second rung where I stayed feb 5th (almost forgot yesterday and ended up exercising right before bed.)

cheer me on, grumpy nation!  What’s your latest fitness thing?

Dispatches from the Year of the Oxygen Mask: January

I talked about my 2019 hopes/goals in a previous post.

Except for that one slip-up I noted early on, I have done a good job of noticing my spending and of not spending money on anything except food and mental health.  I should have said “(and mental health)” in my original post but I forgot to spell it out.  Of course I’m not going to *not* pay my therapist or psychiatrist.

So now I’m getting new meds (again).  I have been on almost every kind!  This one’s new.  I’m looking forward to finding out what fun side effects it will have!  (Narrator:  She was not looking forward to it.)  Currently I am in a 3-way fight with the insurance company and the pharmacy (and the shrink) to try and authorize the drug so that they’ll pay for it so that the pharmacy will fill it.  I cannot project-manage this situation and my job at the same time, so I’m sucking at both.  #SinglePayerNow

My lovely MIL continues to have Teh Sad.  She too has a therapist and medication, and she also has various bereavement groups.  Have I mentioned that my dad and all 4 of his kids are on psychiatric meds of various sorts?  (Some of us off-and-on.)  We’re doing better, though!  My family is looking forward to positive changes this year.

I almost went through all of January without spending money to fill my car’s gas tank.  I didn’t quite make it, but it was pretty close.  I think that’s pretty good!

Also, I spent like 85 minutes on the phone with TIAA-CREF yesterday and the upshot is that I need my husband to sign some forms in front of a notary.  Because my previous job set up their retirement accounts in a dumb way that means my spouse has first claim on what I do with my money, somehow.  So in order to move the money into an account that he doesn’t have to approve every transaction on, he has to sign some forms saying it’s ok for me to close my accounts with my money in them.  You can possibly imagine my reaction upon learning this on the phone: “That is some bullshit.  Get rid of that!”

I never thought the uni where I had my crappy tenured job would be good for much, but their retirement accounts are actually set up way better, so I’m consolidating everything I can into that one.  Like we effin’ have time to go to a notary during business hours, goddamn.

As a reminder, in February, I will go on Patreon and sign up to support at least 2 creators whose work I appreciate.

What giveth and/or taketh away your oxygen recently, Grumpeteers?

Wednesday we’ll talk about #2’s February challenge!