Ask the grumpies: Vaccine delayers… do they deserve our contempt (spoiler: yes, but not as much as deniers)

Jenny F. Scientist asks:

How to be less contemptuous of, say, vaccine delayers, or do they deserve it.

Vaccine delayers are an interesting group. They tend to argue that vaccines are given too early because doctors want to make sure kids get vaccines so they give them at the first chance or on rigid schedules that coincide with things like daycare or elementary school requirements.  The argument is that some vaccination is better than no vaccination, so doctors give them too early.  A conscientious parent who believes in vaccines and has the means to get them done will get them done but “optimally”.  Now… why is delaying optimal?  One (refuted) argument (made by a son of the original Dr. Sears who has since been censured –– the original Dr. Sears was very much in favor of the regular vaccination schedule) is that too many vaccines at once overtax a child’s system, which is silly because the vaccines don’t work that way and even if they did, kids are exposed to more taxing things just crawling around the house.  Similarly there’s an argument about metals, but most vaccines don’t have the metals/chemicals that parents are afraid of anymore, and the metals they do have are in low amounts (one study says babies get more aluminum from breastmilk than from a vaccine).  Then there’s the argument that babies do sometimes get reactions to vaccines, things like allergic reactions or swelling and redness around the injection site, and an older child might be better able to tolerate the side effects.  (Moms who subscribed to this philosophy just wanted to delay vaccines, not spread them out.)

Another argument is that some moms just want to feel special and working out a special snowflake schedule for their kid helps.  This argument is unlikely to make you feel less contemptuous.

A more likely argument is that a lot of white dude MD doctors are exploiting women’s fears for their children in order to sell them products.  There’s a lot of evidence for this latter argument.  When white dudes with medical degrees are pushing something and they’re put on talk shows, how is a parent without a science (or other advanced) degree supposed to know if she should listen to him or to her own pediatrician?  You know and I know how to read articles in PubMed and how to evaluate evidence and when correlation is not causation… but most people don’t.  I have graduate students I teach this stuff to.  Instead of feeling contemptuous of the vaccine delayer women, perhaps the contempt should be saved for the men who are exploiting them and their children to sell their stuff.

When I was on a mommy forum vaccine delayers tended to be less stupid (…and less narcissistic) than deniers– one was even a microbiology PhD student.  She would try to talk deniers into getting vaccines later.  I think it worked on some of the mommies, though I think she also convinced some mommies who would have gotten vaccines on schedule to delay, so I’m not sure that there was a net positive.

Usually delaying isn’t going to be a problem.  Except when it is.

What, of course, worked to get more moms on that forum to vaccinate on time was a measles outbreak nearby.  Terrifying!

In an ideal world, enough people would vaccinate their kids on schedule that people who didn’t get vaccinated would have herd immunity.  In an ideal world, many of these diseases would be completely eradicated.  But we don’t live in an ideal world, so delaying vaccines carries risks that it shouldn’t.  It’s still safest to vaccinate your kids on schedule unless there is evidence of a known allergy.

What are we getting people for Christmas this year?

This year all sets of in-laws have provided updated and lengthy Amazon wishlists (note:  all amazon links in our posts are sponsored).  Yay DH’s family!!  Amazon wishlists decrease DH’s holiday-related stress so much.

MIL:  Last time we were at the in-laws, we made a cake for a child’s birthday and discovered that MIL has sub-par dry cup measures.  We are rectifying that this year.  From hir amazon wishlist, we bought a cell phone holder that goes in a cup holder, an onion chopper, a Grandma I love you book that we will encourage the grandkids to fill out on Christmas morning, a doormat with her favorite football team’s logo, and a keychain that says grandma.

The kids are making a lighthouse (not sponsored) and a mini-helmet for her favorite football team using DH’s new 3D printer.

FIL:  A gift certificate to Cabela’s

BIL1:  Divinity Original Sin 2 and some other cooperative games from steam games.

SIL1: Arkham Horror the Card Game, The Circle Undone Expansion

Nephew 1:  Apparently nephew 1 is really into Shiba Inu dogs this year?  So, this bathmat and this backpack.

Niece 1:  We again renewed her subscription to the Braille of the Month book club.  Even though she’s older now, she’s still really been enjoying it.  (The nonprofit provides the books at less than cost, so we also gave them a donation– what a great program.)

SIL2:  SIL is a teacher and fills her list with things for her classroom, so it’s really a pleasure to shop her wishlist– it feels a lot like donating to education!  Someone swooped in and got the stuff our kids have tested out in the past (except 1 thing), but there was still plenty of you know, cardstock.  We also got paint brushes, magnetic letters, and these phonics rods that DC1 loved as a toddler.

BIL2:  We never know what to get for him, so we generally just give an amazon gift card.  This year is no exception.

Nephew 2:  I was so excited when I saw his wishlist this year because it was full of books that DC2 loved… but then someone swooped in and got them all (except 1) before Thanksgiving.  But there were still interesting things on there.  Apparently the book of facts we got last year was a hit because there were several more books of facts on hir list, including 5000 Awesome facts 3 and the big book of why (that both our kids loved).  We also got the National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia and a crystal growing kit.

Niece 2:  The pre-Thanksgiving swooper left a bunch of cool stuff so we got Llama llama jingle bells, If you give a cat a cupcake, some highly rated super cute socks, and a toy doctors kit.

My mom:  Barnes and Noble gift card.  The B&N in her town went out of business, followed by the local bookstore, but there’s a B&N in a 30 min drive.

My sister:  She’s started cooking more on a somewhat regular basis, particularly for her subordinates (she got promoted after an impressive feat of engineering and is now managing a group and has decided to lean in a bit to the understanding maternal boss stereotype–I don’t cook for my students, but I think we both have iron fist/velvet glove management styles modeled after some of the nuns at the high school our mom went to).  Anyway, as she’s been doing this cooking it’s become abundantly clear that she is missing tools.  So we got her a set of nice Pyrex measuring cups , a tube cake pan, and some pyrex 6oz custard cups.  One of the cats we foisted on her has a peeing problem that multiple trips to the vet hasn’t fixed (also she can’t get Prozac into him via pill or gel or hidden treat), so some Angry Orange that was the only thing that has been able to get out the smell from when his sister peed on our couch 3+ years ago.  The Angry Orange is a bonus.

The kids are making her a couple of small ballet tchotchkes with DH’s new 3D printer.

DC1:  That lockpick training kit set I linked to earlier (technically this will be a birthday present).  A theremin arduino kit (including separately purchased arduino, because obviously two raspberry pis are not enough).  We opted to wait on a unicycle or new bike until zie has grown a bit more.  Currently zie is my height and using my bike when kicked out of the house to exercise.

DC2:  DC2 had a long list of small not-that-expensive items (Calpurnia Tate books, Gotham Academy books, Garfield comics, rain jacket, swimsuit).  The swooper (who I suspect is my MIL given the amount purchased, but it could be multiple people working separately) made a really large dent in that list.  I added some calligraphy pens as that’s an art area zie doesn’t have any supplies for (yet).  Zie will be getting a full-sized bookcase from us to replace the overfull half-size which will return to a hallway, but we’ll also need to get something for hir stocking.  I suppose we could always get a second arduino so DC1’s doesn’t feel outnumbered by pis!  (Kidding!)


Are you getting anything interesting for folks this year?

What is the right level of spending when you’ve met your goals and still have some leftover?

Putting away $36K into DC1’s 529 account (and lowering our emergency fund to less than half of what we need in there before I stop getting paid for the summer) has had the intended effect of making me feel artificially less wealthy.  I’m no longer mentally thinking about things to buy (ex. expensive electronics) other than things we’d be buying anyway on a smaller income (ex.  summer camps that aren’t Interlochen or Concordia).  I’m still doing just-got-paid and making-me-feel-better charitable contributions, but they’re (combined) more in the hundreds/month than the low thousands unlike my first paycheck of the year donating.

I don’t think this money move has got us donating less, but I do suspect it’s got me spending less because I’m back to the default of “if we don’t need it, don’t buy it” rather than an underlying “looking for places to send money to”.  When I see an amount in my savings account that I can’t really comprehend and I don’t know where to put it… it makes sense that when all else fails I might want to spend it.  To be honest– I feel a lot less guilty when I see a reasonable amount in savings that I can understand.  Or when I do have excess money in cash, it is earmarked for something like an upcoming sabbatical.

Sidenote:  If you’re in the 24% tax bracket and ever want to feel artificially low income, just read the case studies in Bogleheads.  So many people with inherited wealth spitting out enormous dividends or salaries above $500K/year.  Even though that’s such a tiny proportion of the population.  If you’re in the 24% tax bracket, you’re still pretty high income.

But what is the right thing to do?  For other people, I war between “If you are meeting your financial needs/goals, do what you will with the excess” and “Nobody needs that much excess.”  I’m fine with Ariana Grande’s panegyric on spending, but not ok with people buying politicians.  And I feel sick (and like getting out pitchforks) when I see the price tags of some of the things that rich people buy and don’t even use.  There’s also the environmental waste of disposable purchases.  And yet, it isn’t my money, so “an it hurts no one, do what you will.”  And yet, I am so strongly in favor of inheritance taxes and higher marginal tax rates.

And maybe what other people should do isn’t as important as what keeps me feeling safe and not squicky.  We probably should replace broken appliances before they start giving me rashes, but there’s something to be said for repairing instead of replacing.  I don’t want stuff we don’t need.  But I don’t regret the iPad Pro purchase which has been great for editing and reviewing other people’s papers, or even the Remarkable purchase though I’ve ended up not really using it.  And I love our Honda Insight with the second level trim.  When I want it, should I got it?  Or should I exercise some self-control and put off the purchase until it’s something we really want?

The best way to curb these spending impulses is to just not have money burning a hole in my bank account.  But should we do that and continue to stockpile money for a rainy day even though we don’t think we want to retire early (still, it would be nice to retire anywhere in the country we want to, not just our current LCOL location).  There’s also the very real fact that the owner of the company where DH works is going to die one of these years (he’s in his 80s) and while we almost spend less than my take-home pay, it would be nice to not have to make any sacrifices while DH decides what to do next.  But this has become much less of a concern since my last raise– we no longer need to have, for example, a full salary’s worth of dividends spitting out each year to cover the gap.  I’m high income on my own even if we’re in a lower tax bracket without DH’s income– we move back to upper-middle-class, which isn’t really a hardship if we don’t get used to higher levels of spending.

When we’re not artificially cash-poor, these are questions we have:

  • Will we keep our ancient fridge until it completely dies?
  • When should we replace our functional computers with faster versions?
  • Should we send our kids to expensive national camps that require plane trips when there’s less-acclaimed versions we can drive to (probably not)?  What if there aren’t substitutes we can drive to (maybe?)?
  • Should we try to pay someone to take care of anything?  But what?
  • Should we eat out more?  Try a meal service?  Eat at the fancy restaurants in town when they’re not paid by my department?  Even though they’re not as good as the fancy restaurants in the city but cost about the same?
  • Should we take more real vacations that aren’t connected to conferences?  But what about the time costs?

And the big one:  Should I hide money from myself?  Or should I be fine with the additional spending that comes with having cash on hand?

If you don’t need to exercise self-control, should you?  When your needs and strongest wants are being met, how do you decide what to spend on?  How do you decide how much to spend on your wants?  How do you prioritize your wants?  What happens to your spending when you get a big income shock?  Do you hide money from yourself?

Link love

Paired action with the above story

Paired action with the above SNAP story

Hey!  Someone else realized that how you value stuff vs. experiences is dependent on how much stuff you have!   Here’s our experiences vs. stuff post from 2011(!)

I feel like this too, though I think it leads me to underspend rather than overspend.  (I still can’t handle “nice” paper, though I’ve come to terms with “nice” paper towels with the knowledge that they can be washed out and reused, though DH stopped buying them shortly after I came to that realization).

Happily ever after!

Ask the grumpies: Is chasing credit card rewards worth it?

Leah asks:

Are rewards credit cards overrated? Should I be chasing rewards, or is it not really worth my effort?

We don’t think it’s worth it for us other than the initial picking of some decent card (DH has one that gives 2% cash back and has no annual fee which seems to be as good as it gets without any hassle) to use as your primary card.

If you’re into travel, then maybe there’s some credit card rewards that are worth it– a lot of bloggers seem to believe so and post about their travel hacks.

(Of course, credit cards also pay handsomely for recommending their card to other people, so there’s an incentive for bloggers to recommend specific cards.)

But that still doesn’t mean that churning is necessarily worth your time and effort– that’s an individual decision.  It may be still in your best interest just to pick a single travel card and accumulate points on that.

So, I guess it’s best to figure out how much you get from signing up or whatever it is for if you see a deal.  Or maybe just read about someone’s travel hack on a blog.  Then take that number and think about how that compares to the effort of following the rules of the card to get the bonus and of remembering to cancel on the right date (and the risk and cost of forgetting to cancel or not spending enough or spending too much) and what you’re forgoing from your previous card.  Then think about the cost of looking for these kinds of deals.  Maybe that money saved/earned is worth it to you, maybe it’s not.

For me, our primary card is DH’s 2% cash back card.  He has a backup card that I think is also 2% but in points, which I find annoying since the value of points could change at any time.  My primary card is 1.5% cash back but has no foreign transaction fees.  My secondary card is 1% cash back but has 5% back on selected purchases up to $300/year (currently that’s been spent because of our kitchen renovation corresponding with 5% back from Home Depot).  None of these have annual fees.  We don’t do much vacationing (though we’ve started doing more), but with our travel plans it generally seems like paying cash six months in advance is a better deal than using points when all four of us are going somewhere (this is especially true around Christmas).  We get enough points from work travel to fly DH’s mother in whenever we need emergency childcare because we’re both out of town for work.

So… is credit card churning worth it?  That’s a personal decision that depends on how much you hate hassle and what your opportunity costs from the next best no-hassle alternative are.  For us, it’s a no-brainer.  For someone who does a personal finance blog, perhaps a no-brainer in the other direction.

So… do some chasing at the beginning to pick a good card for your needs and wants.  Maybe re-evaluate every few years to see if there’s something better out there.  But in general, unless you enjoy chasing rewards (or get rewarded for blogging about them), the potential benefits may not outweigh the hassle.

What kind of credit card rewards do you all use?  Do you find chasing rewards to be worth it?


  • DH opines on Apple Watch faces: Discoveries about what I want in a watch after a few days of an apple watch:
    • 1) Digital time, not analog. I want to know the exact minute of the current time without any mental gymnastics.
    • 2) The date, because multiple times each day I seem to need to know the date and if I’m not at a computer I would otherwise have to pull my phone out of my pocket.
    • 3) Some apps are very handy to have on my wrist (timer, stopwatch, calculator, weather, voice memos) and could be done with a non-smartwatch or a phone, but this is easier.
    • 4) “complications” that change visually (like the activity tracker’s rings filling up or the current temperature) are informative, while ones that are only a shortcut are a waste of space (the ten most-used apps are just a button press and a tap to reach anyway).
    • 5) Moving backgrounds are attractive, but the available options are really limited (e.g., why no pachinko balls just bouncing around, or the game of life?) 6) Similarly, more customization would make several of these faces more attracive. Why are the customization options so limited. I think many of the round dials look out of place on a rectangular face, then the all-one-color options look boring (but the all-one-color “low-power” mode is just a line around the border which I like a lot), and then there are the two-tone rectangular options which look good except I hate the handful of color choices.
  • The biofilm that I’m allergic to has returned and taken over the post-filter on our whole house water filter.  DH has temporarily bypassed the filter system to get disgusting but lovely-because-it’s-chlorinated water back into our house to hopefully kill all the biofilm.  And it seems to be working– not a sign of pink slime anywhere, even places I hadn’t bleached recently.  And showers aren’t itchy for me.  The problem is that DC2 is still allergic to our city’s water.  Fortunately even after we got the whole house filter, I made DH replace our shower filter and had the contractors put in an under sink filter with our new kitchen sink.  So DC2 is using our shower and only drinking from the kitchen sink filtered tap.  Man I’d forgotten how awful our local water tastes.  And after seeing the pre-filter after a month, I’m not sure I actually should be drinking it.  But I appreciate the way chlorine kills.  DH thinks we’ll get aquasauna’s UV filter next (~$600), though the big problem is that the bacteria is coming from inside the house, not outside.  My thought is that once a month we should flush out our system with unfiltered water.
  • We have had three separate incidences of (different) students advocating extremism in our (different) classes during presentations or class discussion in the past week, and those are only the ones brought to the attention of our department chair.  Have any of you been having to deal with an increase in extremism, and what do you do?  (This hasn’t happened in my stats classes, thankfully, but next semester I have an elective.)
  • I’m getting kind of tired of reading about damaged heroes who need the understanding heroine to fix them.  I think that means I need to find some more books that have plots other than just the romance.  I’m also really tired of the indication that the hero and the heroine are going to get together is that their meet cute is them insulting each other.  Moonlighting is not real.  That is not how people get together.  It’s a trope that deserves to die.  I could use some Gary Stu heroes, please!  Just like my DH.  ;)  Let me see other heroines have their Prince Charming sweep them off their feet (and then I dunno, solve a murder or something).  (Solution:  Read a bunch of m/m romances…)
  • Our junk hotmail address has gotten on some spam email list with .de addresses (I’ve tried getting hotmail to send these directly to trash, but it is sending them to junk instead).  The composition of these emails is very different than our usual porn etc. spam– it seems to be targeted at not very bright trump supporters.  We’re winning gift cards from the dollar store.  We’re learning secrets of combat training, especially shooting, and we’re being offered Trump vs. Biden t-shirts.  We’re learning how to appeal our disability claims and get speedy loans.  Tricks for diabetes destruction and compression gloves.  Savings exclusive to veterans.  For some reason, they also want us to buy Wild Alaskan seafood and CBD.  The scariest, along with the combat training, are the dire warnings that someone is going to take our guns away.
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Should I put lump sums in the 529 instead of dollar cost averaging?

One of the reasons this blog seems to have become a spendapalooza is that there’s really not any obvious place for extra money to go.

But there actually is one place for extra money to go– the kids’ 529 plans.  (A 529 plan is an awesome way to save for college or vocational school such that the earnings are tax-free.  But, it’s a good idea to max out your retirement before setting money aside in 529 plans because retirement accounts aren’t included in college financial aid calculations and you can take out loans for college but you can’t for retirement.)

In the past, I’ve always said, “and the kids’ 529s are on track to pay for the school of their choice [by the time the graduate college].”  What I mean by that is that we’ve been putting away $750/month in the accounts, even in the summers when I don’t get paid.  (It used to be $500/month, but we increased it when we paid off the mortgage and stopped paying for daycare.)  But we haven’t *actually* put enough money to be able to cash flow the remainder of the cost of (a four-year private) college yet.  We’re just on track to.

Over the next 4 years before DC1 starts college, $750/mo works out to $36,000 (actually a little less than that since it’s November, but it’s an estimate).  Over the next 8 years before DC1 ends college, it would be $72,000.  (That’s a LOT of money!)

We could just put in $36K (instead of $9,000) over the course of this year and then either start contributing again once we know where DC1 is going to college or not based on the cost of hir chosen school.  (Given hir struggles in English, it is likely that HMC is out, but also out with HMC is its insanely high $72K/year tuition.  I told DC1 we could get hir a unicycle anyway.)

Doing it this way loses some dollar-cost averaging benefits, but it gains the benefits of a longer period of untaxed earnings.

There are some wrinkles to doing BIG 529 account transfers.

The first is that even though the account is a custody account and doesn’t actually belong to the child, it still is subject to the annual gift tax.  For 2019, the amount that can be given annually without tax is $15,000.  Each parent can give that amount, so a married couple can give $30,000 in one year.  $36K is more than $30K, but there’s a loophole with the 529.

This wrinkle has its own wrinkle:  An individual or couple can give a larger lump sum, so long as the total given in that five year period is still less than 5 times the annual exclusion.  So DH and I *could* give $150K this year so long as we didn’t contribute again for another 5 years.  (Of course, that’s a moot point because we don’t actually *have* $150K to give, but you get the idea.)  That means when DC1 actually gets into college, we should be able to continue to contribute to hir 529 without penalty.

So our plan is to do a lump sum of $36K this month to DC1’s account (this gets rid of all our excess cash and digs pretty deep into our emergency fund, but the emergency fund doesn’t actually have to be full until May since we can cash flow most emergencies when we’re both being paid).  Then we will stop contributions to hir account entirely.  We will continue as normal with DC2’s account (contributing $750/month) until we build up excess cash and I start to feel like forcing DH to buy all the Apple products again.  At that point we will re-evaluate and decide whether we want to do a lump sum to DC2’s account or if we just want to increase the monthly contribution.  I’m sure I will post about what we end up doing.

In ~4 years when we know where DC1 is going to college, then we’ll decide whether or not to start contributing to that 529 plan again, and we will have a better idea about how much DC2’s account can bear without going over.

Grumpy Nation, I don’t have a good question for this post.