Ask the grumpies: Simple retirement portfolios?

30s-something-investor asks:

When investing, I know index funds are important. Is it better to do a diversity of different index funds, or is putting all your money in one fund with low fees okay? If a diversity of funds is better, how should one go about picking funds?

Disclaimer: We are not professional financial planners. Please see an actual professional and/or do your own research before making life-changing decisions.

This is a great question– first let me strongly recommend The BogleHeads Guide to Investing. (All Amazon links are affiliate, though it has been a long time since we’ve met their minimum payout amount.) It goes into great detail about your question.

The short answer is: You can just buy a Vanguard Target-Date fund with one retirement date picked and it will take care of EVERYTHING for you.  One stop shopping based on your retirement date and you never have to worry about rebalancing or dealing with changing your ratios as you get closer to retirement.  Vanguard has a very cheap Target-Date fund.  Check the fees on whatever your provider is to see how their fees compare to the fees of the component parts of the target-date fund (you should expect the fees to be a little higher because of transaction costs with rebalancing etc., but not much higher).

The slightly longer answer is: You can make yourself a cheap two fund diversified portfolio just by getting the total stock index and a broad-based bond index (Bogleheads has recommendations for the specific Vanguard funds). The bond fund will have slightly higher fees than the total stock index fund. The bonds are because they don’t co-vary with stock prices so they add more stability to your portfolio. When you’re young you can do without, but as you get older you should start adding more bonds (unless you’re so rich that it doesn’t actually matter where you put your investments because you’ll never spend it all anyway, which is equivalent to saying you could handle a 40% drop in stock prices with no problem).  The general heuristic for most (but not all people) is to have (100 – your age) in stocks and the remainder in bonds, but you will want to jiggle with that based on your risk tolerance, how much money you have, and various online calculators.

A slightly different answer is:  The Three Fund Portfolio is also popular.  This portfolio also adds an international index to give you more international exposure.  There’s disagreement about whether international exposure is necessary given how much of the world economy the US stock market is, but who knows what that the financial world will look like 50 years from now.

So– you do not need a huge amount of diversity of index funds– just a few broad-based index funds that match different markets.  Or, if you have access to a reasonably priced Target-Date fund, you just need the one and you’re set.

Are you in a state that prohibits mask mandates in public schools? You can complain!

[Update:  If you are in a school district where they are mandating masks for under 12s (or older), send a letter or email or call supporting that decision.  Because they’re hearing from crazy people right now and could use some support.  See comments for one school committee member’s plea.]

I am extremely worried about my unable-to-be-vaccinated middle-schooler going to in-person school in a few weeks.  After a couple of weeks with unusually low numbers of new cases, we’re back to creeping up from orange territory even though the college students aren’t back yet.  We’re not in red or purple yet, but we didn’t have case counts this high this time last year and they exploded deep into purple two weeks after the university started back up.

Last year the 5/6 middle-school that DC2 will be going to had low numbers of case counts with masking and social distancing in place (comparatively).  Not so all of the schools (overall 6% of students in our district were out of school for covid reasons and 17% of staff were and the other middle schools had higher numbers than ours).  And, indeed, the big difference I could see between the high school we’re zoned for which had the largest numbers of case counts compared to the other high school in our area that had much lower case counts (almost 2x, even though the student body sizes are similar), was that the principal of our high school would send out group photos of kids with most of them unmasked and the other high school’s principal didn’t.  I suspect that’s correlated with whether or not the mask mandate was actually enforced.  The circumstantial evidence suggests that masking and being careful about social distancing leads to less transmission.  And, despite what crazy anti-maskers say, that circumstantial evidence is backed up by actual science.

This year there won’t be a virtual school option.  And, because case counts at DC2’s upcoming middle-school were so low and spread out last year, we didn’t think we needed one.

But then our state government said that state-run schools (including K-12 and including the university) are not allowed to have mask mandates.

And then all the news saying kids under 12 would get a vaccine in the fall switched to saying, just kidding, approval won’t happen until winter.

Middle school is a time of strong peer pressure.  If the school can’t have a mask mandate, then people will assume they don’t need to wear masks.  If enough people don’t wear masks, then kids on the margin will stop wearing masks.  Kids who do wear masks will be made to feel uncomfortable until they, too, unmask.  Heck, I went into work this summer and wore a mask and felt uncomfortable about it AND the secretaries were kind of rude to me, and I’m an adult with a PhD. (My plan is to wear masks in hallways etc. so other people feel more comfortable doing so, and only take my mask off in rooms if I know that everyone else in the room is vaccinated.  At least until DC2 gets the vaccine.)

I am really worried.  Yes, I know my kid is 9 and probably won’t get major complications.  But I also didn’t eat cold coldcuts during pregnancy.  Some 9 year olds are going to get major complications.  Masking seems to be the same kind of cost-benefit analysis as microwaving my coldcuts, and if we’re looking at this from an epidemiological viewpoint it will *save lives*, not just of infected under-12s but also all the people they come into contact with.  And if you don’t care about the lives of the unvaccinated, masking in schools will also lower morbidity of the vaccinated who still catch covid.

On top of that, kids are growing and losing a sense of taste seems like it could have overall effects on say, growth.

We don’t have to be silent about these worries.  We don’t have to take them as given.  We can complain.  There’s still time for a last minute exemption.  Once one ultra-conservative governor flips, the rest will too (especially if the FL governor makes a switch) because they’re all idiot copy-cats.  Worried “soccer moms” (or just parents in general) are still considered to be a voting bloc.

Who do you call?  You can find your elected officials here.  If you have state legislators or state representatives, that’s a great place to start.  You can also call your state governor, especially if he’s eliminated the ability for K-12 schools to have mask mandates by fiat/executive order rather than it going through the legislative process.

If you’re brave, call during business hours.  If you’re like me, call after hours or in the wee hours of the morning and leave a message.

It doesn’t really matter if you ramble or if you have a perfectly crafted statement that you read out.  I tend to do both– I need the statement to start with because I’m so bad on the phone.

My script:
Hello, my name is [Firstname, Husband’s last name]. I’m calling from [City, Zipcode] where I am a constituent. I’m calling to request that school districts be allowed autonomy regarding mask mandates, particularly for schools that have kids under 12 who cannot be vaccinated. I have a [9] year old who is unable to be vaccinated and I am incredibly worried. Last year with masking and social distancing, 6% of the student body and 17% of staff got covid. Without masks, those numbers will be much higher for the unvaccinated population, which includes my [daughter/son]. I am very worried about her/him catching covid, especially with this new Delta variant which is more contagious. Even if (s)he doesn’t get very sick, (s)he could still lose his/her sense of smell which might affect her/his growth. Also, last year, because of masking, the school was able to not quarantine entire classes if someone got sick. Now the choice is either to let covid run rampant or to quarantine the class every time a kid gets sick, which will be very disruptive to their learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics [and just now the CDC] just came out with a statement recommending masking in K-12 schools and the FDA just said kids under 12 won’t be able to be vaccinated until winter. Please remove the order prohibiting schools from requiring masks so that school districts can make decisions based on the covid numbers in their area and healthcare recommendations. Again, I’m calling from [City, Zipcode].

After that I had some worried rambling. Because I am extremely worried.

If you don’t want to call, it is better to email than to do nothing.

If you’re super awesome, write a letter to the editor of your local paper about the problem.  I’m not that awesome, but I did call.

You can also call or email your school super-independent to ask what they intend to do and encourage them to lobby the department of education to lobby the state government.  I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, but I am sure that being able to say that they have frantic/worried parents of kids under 12 can only help these decisions.  DH has that on his list to do this coming week because he’s a hero.  (He also called our elected officials last week.)

https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/jul/18/rise-in-cases-gives-parents-pause/

https://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2021/07/23/texas-students-wont-be-required-to-wear-masks-what-does-that-mean-as-a-new-covid-strain-spreads/

 

Are you worried about school starting in your area?  What’s your state’s situation in terms of masking in public schools? Do you also feel like nobody cares about or even remembers kids under age 12?

DH’s Delta Trainer Review

DH decided it was time to start working out again.  He’s done a number of different things, but they’ve all had drawbacks that keep him from continuing.  Often he’ll just get bored and stop doing it.  We’d often talked about him getting a real in-person trainer, but then the pandemic happened and an in-person personal trainer did not.

He was making noise wondering what he should try next when I watched this WheezyWaiter video:

Basically it’s a sponsored ad for an online app called Delta Trainer.  (This blogpost is not a sponsored ad– Delta Trainer has no idea who I am and I don’t want to deal with an affiliate link.  I guess you can use WheezyWaiters’ link?)

What intrigued me was that WheezyWaiter (or should I call him Craig?  I don’t think we’re on a first-name basis, so maybe not) talked about exactly the things DH was complaining about.  DH doesn’t like to have to think about what exercises to do or remember where he is in some list (like the ladders), and he doesn’t like to have to keep track of how many of something he’s doing.  Remembering and counting are boring.

So, he looked into this.  And he looked into the Peloton app that lots of women talk about a lot.  And he decided this was better for what he wanted, even though it’s a bit more expensive (~$60/month give or take).  He’s not that interested in live classes, which seems to be the main benefit of the Peloton app if you don’t have their bicycle.

On top of that, with Delta Trainer, there’s someone, an actual real person, who is expecting him to do these exercises.  She provides him feedback after each session and there’s a little back and forth.  That’s an accountability partner right there.  He says that usually with exercise, if he misses a class or stops doing regular exercise, he tends not to come back until he gets the exercise bug again months later.

When you sign up, you get a two week free trial which starts after you first meeting (facetime) with the trainer.  When you sign up, you either tell them that you have an apple watch, or they will send you a refurbished older model apple watch.  You also pick a trainer from three people that they suggest. DH took the one who was interested in health (Kris) and avoided the one who said he was all about weight-loss.  The third looked fine.  In his meeting, they talked about his goals for Delta trainer, and he said he just wanted to be healthy but wouldn’t mind a bit more muscle, but was mainly interested in cardio, flexibility, and strength combined so that he would feel well-rounded. She asked about any injuries or things he was worried about and he mentioned RSI, and that hasn’t been an issue.  (With pandemic yoga, RSI sometimes became an issue.)  He initially said he wanted to work out 5 days a week but she suggested starting at 3 and said he could add more later on.  They’re flexible on the scheduling.  Three days seems to have been the right choice to start with– initially he was kind of sore the next day, but after a few weeks that stopped and he’s no longer sore after exercising and is thinking of adding a weekend day going forward.

Every Sunday the app populates with the exercises for the entire week so he can see what days they’re on and what exercises they are, what equipment is needed, and how much weight and time and how many reps etc.  (Some things are time-based and some are repetition based).  Initially they were all calisthenics, but after he got weights, she added weights to the routine and he’s also got jump-rope exercises now.  There’s also instructions from the trainer about how to do things, why things are being done, and so on.  He can click on each exercise and it will show a little repeating video of someone doing the exercise so he knows what it is supposed to look like.  If he’s not sure, he can also talk with the trainer and she’ll send her own instruction video.  The app has a chat with video built in which is really useful.

When it’s time to do the exercises, he opens the app on his watch, taps on the workout and hits start.  On his iphone he tends to listen to audible which is fantastic because he doesn’t have to think!  Previously he’s tried watching shows while exercising but he couldn’t either exercise well or watch the show well, but audio works.  Because it’s on the phone, it quiets when the delta trainer app talks so he can hear instructions.

Then he does the workout and if it’s too hard, he modifies it himself and then at the end tells the trainer that he modified it so she can adjust the next workout accordingly.  There’s a rating page after where he can provide feedback about the specific workout and the app and can type in comments.  He usually uses the chat to talk with the trainer separately.  The app also has some other things like calories burned and his heartrate overtime and so on.  The heartrate graph also includes the exercise you were doing at each point.

He says it’s nice for him to just have someone who knows what they’re doing to talk with about these things.  He wouldn’t have bought weights and would never be doing any of the weight exercises because he’s just not familiar with them.  But after talking with the trainer and getting instructions from her, he feels comfortable with them now and it’s something he’ll be able to continue doing in the future, even though he never would have started without her.

He was also worried about overdoing certain exercises and hurting a specific part of his body, like straining his lower back, because he’s done that in the past.  But he’s actually been doing more work and harder work than he would have set for himself, but it’s been feeling good, not stressful.  His back feels healthier and stronger. The trainer really does seem to know what she’s doing.

After a month the app suggested he have a video check-in with the trainer and he hasn’t, but it is nice that they do that.

Some frustrations:  Sometimes the app doesn’t track when it should, and it will not realize he’s started or it will think he’s stopped when he hasn’t and then it will just go onto the next set.  He hates that.  Sometimes the app will tell him to go higher or lower, but he’s already as high or low as he can go.  Basically, the apple watch doesn’t always track perfectly.

Overall:  DH says he would recommend Delta Trainer.  He’s doing exercises he wouldn’t have done otherwise and he’s glad for it.  He’s kept up with it for a longer stretch than almost any other exercise stretch and he says that he just feels better.  He loves not having to think about it and how flexible it is in terms of when and where to do it. If you have an extra $60/month to spend on exercise, this seems like a good choice.

Link love

Minecraft storytelling camp at NIU was awesome.  STEM through the arts was not– the guy did maybe an hour of class each day and cancelled the second session much of the time.  Ocean Commotion at the Minnesota zoo was also great– much better than the previous Zoo Careers camp, partly because the subject matter was more interesting, but also a lot because the person in charge was way more animated.  Sadly Backyard Nature Explorer at NIU was cancelled from lack of interest.  I suspect STEAM City will also be cancelled (if you have a 5th-9th grader, the signup is here).  After that there’s a museum camp from the city close to us (they sent out their package today!) and then school starts.  I am so terrified about school for DC2 (more on the state government’s prohibition of mask mandates in K-12 schools this coming week).

AAP recommends mask mandates at schools.

And yet, read this thread that captures my feelings.

Digital addiction is real and it’s an actual addiction.

Which of these are you missing?  (After reading this I had a huge craving for Singapore noodles and had to get some take-out.)

A case study of how market timing doesn’t work

Ask the grumpies: Has applying for colleges changed in the past 20+ years?

First Generation American asks:

How has searching and applying for colleges changed since we went? I am realizing my experience may not be relevant anymore and I don’t even know what the metrics are. Like this whole new trend of many kids not being accepted into their “safe” schools.

So, for us, we were right on the cusp of the common application revolutionizing college applications and early decision/early action were just starting out as things at top schools.  Weighted GPAs and more credit for AP and honors classes were also starting to catch on.  If you’re just a little bit older than us, then YES, the application process has changed a LOT.  If you’re our age or younger, then it’s like what you went through, just more so.

So what does that mean?

1.  If your kids are aiming for a top state school, look at your state laws/rules to see if they have a top X% rule.  IIRC University of Michigan got sued for affirmative action policies and that spurred some states to try automatic acceptance for people who are in the top % (initially top 10%, but that number has dropped in many states for their flagship universities) of their high school graduating class.  This change has caused some parents to move their (privileged, white) kids to lower income districts for high school or the last few years of high school in order to maximize the chance that they’re in that top X%.  I’m not sure if that’s overall a good thing or not.  Class rank is thus more important for getting into a top flagship school than it used to be.  Currently because that X has been dropped at most schools you can still get in if you’re cool in other ways, but when it was a binding constraint, flagships could only let in people who met that criteria because they took all available slots.

2.  Early decision/Early action is very important for selective schools.  This has basically moved when kids apply for colleges much earlier than it used to be.  (At the same time, a lot of lower ranked schools have been struggling and have rolling admissions, so you may be able to wait until May if you just want to go to any college.)

3.  If you’re aiming for selective schools, you’re going to want to apply to LOTS of colleges if the early decision thing doesn’t work out.  (And you may be applying to lots of colleges early action.)

4.  There are still some selective schools that require you to do their special application, but many let you just do the common app.  That makes it easier to apply to many schools, but also you get judged more on a single essay rather than having the chance to answer different questions and maybe have one of those stick.  Still, many selective schools now have add-ons to the common app.

5.  If you’re in a school district with weighted GPAs, you have to be careful about what classes your kid takes in order to keep their GPA up.  For DC1, it would have been GPA optimal to do marching band instead of orchestra because the first two years of both are 4.0, but marching band *also* counts as the PE requirement, whereas DC1 has to take another 4.0 PE semester which will drag hir GPA down even if zie gets 100% in it.  (The guidance counselor told DC1 to take a study hall instead of another PE so as not to hurt hir GPA further.)

6.  All the other stuff about having to be excellent at extra-curriculars and competitions, sports being helpful, being famous for something, your parents donating a building, etc.  All those things still help just like they did before.  I haven’t heard about students not getting into their safety schools, unless that means they’re not getting into the flagship state school because they’re ranked 10th percentile at a super fancy public school in a state where only the top 6 or 8% of each public school get in.  There are cases in the past where people have gotten into Harvard but not into Berkeley.  But maybe they’re misjudging what a safety school is (not uncommon in the past either!)

7.  One really big thing that is different:  before the pandemic a lot more schools were starting to drop standardized tests like the SAT/ACT in the hopes of encouraging more diverse applicant pools.  This process accelerated during the pandemic and subject tests are disappearing/have disappeared.  I don’t know if this is going to stick or if it’s going to continue, but for someone wanting to go to a selective school, you still want to maximize those SAT/ACT scores.  You’re still going to want to try for National Merit.  (And National Merit has gotten harder to get in many states because it’s been hitting ceilings.)  But DH’s relative’s kids can get into state schools now that they were prevented from getting in before because of low standardized test scores.

Otherwise, I’m not really sure what’s different.  We will find out in a couple of years!

Grumpy Nation– do you have any better knowledge?  Have any of you recently been through this process on either side of the market? Do you have any suggestions for new books on the process? I know that we have an occasional commenter who is an admissions officer at my alma mater…

Even more books

I really enjoyed Mischief and Mistletoe by Lauren Willig.  It was probably a 4/5 star book.  The first couple and the last chapter or two are PHENOMENAL.  Boyfriend material levels of funny and clever, just packed with humor.  The rest of the book was fine.  Irritating they should have just talked third act which was out of character for the heroine.

The first three novellas in The One that Got Away were delightful surprises.  Two of them were unexpected!  And they made me want to read the books for the side male characters.  Sadly, the Eloisa James book, Much Ado about You, was a DNF– the heroine is great but the hero shows none of his promise from the novella he was in– it was like he was a different person with none of the cleverness or humor.  The library didn’t have the linked Victoria Alexander book, so I tried out a few of her others.  Same Time, Next Christmas was cute, though the hero was a bit 2-D and the heroine was … a character.  Like, not totally sensible, and not entirely likable, but she seemed consistent.  Then I tried and DNF The Importance of Being Wicked.  The heroine was awesome.  The hero was a sexist jerk.  At the point in which she changes her entire wardrobe because he says she looks like a governess (as he is trying to seduce her even though/because she’s working for him), I skipped to the last three chapters and… he never stops being a sexist jerk.  He just is like, “You’re different from other women” and she’s all happy and promises of course she would never advocate for women’s right to vote.  And when a bunch of her workers get hurt and she’s upset he immediately starts berating her for loving her dead husband (who died in the same kind of accident) more than she loves him.  It made me realize how important it is to read feminist authors when you’re trying to get a HEA.  I also don’t like how the author continually talks about being content and not arguing as if it’s a bad thing.  Like, you can have passion AND discuss things as adults without screaming.  The Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl was pleasant, but I think I’m done with Victoria Alexander, at least for now.

Tommy Cabot Was Here was an interesting post-war style novella by Cat Sebastian.

The latest Cat Sebastian, The Queer Principles of Kit Webb, was pretty good.  I think she was inspired by reading KJ Charles’ Any Old Diamonds but only by the McGuffin, not the mindflip stuff– this one is more straight-forward than the KJ Charles book.  This one also has a plot, if you didn’t like the meandering of the past couple/few Cat Sebastians.

The latest KJ Charles, Subtle Blood, the third in the Will Darling series, had a very satisfying ending!  Her books are a bargain and I love how she’s so prolific!

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron was ok.  It had a strong start and finish but the middle dragged and I skipped chunks.

I tried to read two books by Soyna Lalli, The Matchmaker’s List and Serena Singh flips the script… and they just kind of dragged.  Maybe if you’re more patient than I am.  They weren’t bad, they were just… they had long middles?  I skipped large chunks.  The Matchmaker’s List may actually be kind of bad because it uses “Heroine pretends she’s gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that) to get out of being set up on dates” trope.  The actual romance in Serena Singh seems kind of rushed if you’re looking for a romance– it’s likely better if you’re interested in a coming of age.  Like at the beginning of the book it is overabundantly clear that she’s just not that into her boyfriend or dating but is just being pressured, and also I dislike the “married people don’t pay attention to their single friends” stereotype and just generally the selfishness of people who get pissy if their friends lose touch for a while.  It probably would have been better without the slapped on romance at all!

Very much enjoyed A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder by Dianne Freeman, the third in that series because the price dropped to $1.99.  Quite fun! (and maybe it is still on sale?)

Secrets of a perfect night, a set of 3 novellas by different authors was pretty meh all around.

Her big city neighbor by Jackie Lau was fun.  The heroine is very pollyanna and the hero is broody and IIRC there’s a stupid third act (but I may not be recalling correctly).  The most memorable part of this book are the detailed descriptions of big city food.  It’s a nice snapshot of what you could get fast upscale casual in a major city a few years back.

I’m not sure what to feel about Ridiculous! by D. L. Carter.  The heroine is an identity thief and there’s not really enough justification about why these impoverished women need servants and money more than any other impoverished people at someone else’s expense.  There’s hints, but not enough really to make it completely stick.  If you allow that conceit it is DELIGHTFUL until about 3/4 of the way through when it suddenly becomes super homophobic.  Like, why you gotta do that?  I do appreciate it not having the trope where the otherwise straight hero is attracted to the heroine when he thinks she’s male, but it goes much worse and shows both hero and heroine thinking that homosexual males are degenerate and worse than identity thiefs!  That wasn’t necessary, they could be worried about the illegality without being disgusted by the idea (even 19th century people could be not disgusted by the idea… they could be just as puzzled or mildly amused or not thinking about it as most 20th century straight people were before gay marriage became legal).  Add to that the hero changing his personality (it changes back) for the third act drama followed up by lots of unexpected (because of how the book was written up to this point) and sudden explicit sex… it’s hard to say what to feel.

Not a fan of Act Your Age Evie Brown by Talia Hibbert.  Neither main character is particularly likable, the meet cute is ridiculous (culminates in the heroine hitting the hero with her car) and I really really hate boss/employee relationship tropes.  It is very rarely done in a way that isn’t squicky (see:  Rafe a buff male nanny and A Gentleman’s Position for the only two that come to mind).

A Master of Djinn was … well, at first you could tell it was very high quality but I had such a hard time getting through the first chapter (more like a prologue) until DH reminded me I could skip it.  Once the heroine showed up it was better.  I learned a lot of new words!  It took me a while to get through the first part of the book with all the fight scenes and so on.  And then around chapter 21, something happened and everything came together and got interesting and I couldn’t put it down.  I definitely recommend it and am looking forward to getting more.  There is a short story and a novella that comes before this one I think, but this is the first novel and you don’t need to have read anything prior (although they are referenced).

Saving the best for last:  A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik was so good that I read it again the next day.  Like, read it, then read it a second time.  It is one of the three best books I’ve read in the past 12 months (the other two being Boyfriend Material and Any Old Diamonds, both of which are different genres entirely, rom com and heist, respectively).  You may remember Naomi Novik from the His Majesty’s Dragon series 15 or so years ago, which were good, but almost entirely populated with (mostly white) doods.  Not so this book– it is beautifully diverse and she does diversity right.  And it is a delight to read and the main character is so … likeable?  understandable?  easy to identify with?  … I don’t know, I can’t explain it.  And the “Harry Potter meets Hunger Games but 1000 or more times better” also isn’t a good description.  You’ll have to read it yourself!  I am greatly looking forward to the second coming out in September.

I’m running low on library books.  Hit me with your recommendations!

Dealing with saying no to getting half the childcare tax credit doled out in monthly checks

This weekend I discovered that the IRS is sending people checks for half their child tax credit monthly.  Right after I learned about it, I discovered that *we* somehow qualified by getting a check for $333 in the mail, even though our last year’s income was still upper-middle-class even with DH unemployed (we’re in the phase-out range).

I do not know why they decided they had to send us a check when they HAVE OUR DIRECT DEPOSIT information.  Maybe to make it more salient?  I don’t know.  (One of my friends thinks the check was a mistake since they were supposed to honor direct deposit preferences.)

In any case, we don’t want it!  We are in the situation in which we would likely just have to pay it back at tax time (dual earners with similar incomes => not enough taxes withheld plus dividends) and it is seriously irritating to have to remember to deposit a check every month.  Back when our reimbursements came as checks this would have been less annoying, but everything is direct deposit nowadays.

So according to the IRS page, in order to either set up direct deposit or to opt out entirely, you (AND your spouse if you’re married filing jointly) have to (each) get an ID.me account.  Which seems kind of sketchy– you have to give your social security number and everything on your drivers license or passport to a third party.  If Trump were in office I would be 100% certain that this was a scam to get our personal information.  Their terms of use say they don’t sell it and they’re only providing the info to the IRS, nobody else.  Hopefully that’s true and they don’t get hacked and the people who work there are trustworthy…

DH went through and got pictures of his drivers license, then when their software couldn’t find his face, he cropped the sides of the picture so only the license was showing.  That seemed to work.

For me, I didn’t have any problems with uploading pictures or it finding my face, but at the end they said they didn’t believe I was who I said I was and I would have to show additional documents and talk with a live person.  First it let me try again with my passport, but that still didn’t work.

Once I got to all that, it put me on web-hold and when I got to 1 minute it started asking me every 10 seconds if I was still there.  After me pressing that button 6 times, it took me to a video screen.  Every few seconds it would tell me that I was waiting for the conference host to join and if I was the conference host to entire my conference number.

The conference host never joined.

Eventually I went back to the previous page and reloaded and it took me to a new video screen (the old one was still going, but I muted it) and a person showed up right away.

He took my information and a bunch of webcam pictures of my documents and me and I was able to login to the IRS page to say no thank you please hold my quarter of the child credit back with DH’s quarter and the half you’re already keeping.

I get that spreading the money out now is likely good for lower income folks, but what a hassle for the people who neither need nor want it!

Would you prefer to get your tax refund doled out in advance over the year or all at once when you file?  Or are you like us and usually paying estimated taxes?

Link love

My kids did menu planning and grocery ordering this week.  What did they choose for their menu? (Amazon links are affiliate.)
Cheese pupusas from My First Cookbook (ATK)– DC2 will be making these today with a side of grocery store slaw without the dressing and I got a hankering for plantains and plan to fry some up.
Chicken Tenders (they were going to make these, but then we realized we could just buy them already made from the freezer section. I’ll probably insist on a salad underneath.)
Black olive pizza from Williams Sonoma Pizza
Spicy Chinese pork from quick and easy Korean — DC1 will be making this tomorrow
Fancy fish in foil from my first cookbook (ATK)
Baked Macaroni and Cheese from my first cookbook (because DC2 has to try every macaroni and cheese recipe ever created).
Hamburgers

A woman’s personal experience with the discriminatory nature of Voter ID laws.  Please call your senators (again)!

TERFs and racists ruin everything.

This article takes forever to get to the point, but if you remember those mysterious Chinese seeds? (If you don’t, then read the article, it recaps it at LENGTH.)  tl/dr: Everyone who the reporter contacted found a forgotten previous seed order from Amazon from months prior.  Great investigative reporting, but needed some trimming.

I want this.

Ask the grumpies: Ethics of being “our level of rich”

Cloud asks:

I struggle a bit with the difference between my wealth now and how I grew up so a post on the ethics of being our level of rich would be really interesting to me. For instance, my husband thinks we should buy a second house and rent out the one we’re in and I can see why this is a good idea but I really struggle with the fact that we could afford two houses in our expensive real estate market and whether we’d be making things worse by doing that.

I also struggle with this.  I grew up in an extremely frugal household in which our income was uncertain and every penny spent could end in screaming.  But we always had food and clothing and housing even through lengthy bouts of unemployment.  Genteel poverty.  There have been a lot of sea changes as we go through these different wealth levels.  I gain new levels of understanding of how the next chunk of income will make our lives different and how it won’t.  (Turns out, above the # mentioned in that previous post– frugality starts getting thrown out the window because it is less costly to just buy something than to think about it and I started thinking about all those things that kids I knew with high income parents got to do like fancy summer camps and travel.  Many of my colleagues have built their own 4 and 5K sq ft houses or bought vacation homes which makes them feel artificially low wealth, but we think 3K sq ft is plenty big for us and don’t want the hassle of owning more real estate when Air BNB is a thing.)  There’s less fear of bag lady syndrome.

Like I said in the comments before, as long as you actually rent out the second house, it’s likely ethical.  But you still don’t want to be a landlord because if you get unlucky it can cause no end of grief and anxiety.  There are much more peaceful ways to earn additional money.

Ethics:  Part of me feels like we should be giving half our incomes away instead of stock-piling it. We do donate strategically to a lot of causes, both activist and charity.  And we’re generous with tipping and pay people who do work for us either what they ask or more.  But it is nowhere near what would leave us with only a reasonable upper-middle class income (that is to say, once we have a few of DH’s payments under our belts again– we have been living on just my salary and unemployment for quite a few months).  We’re stockpiling for an uncertain future and because I’m worried about income inequality increasing in the US and want to make sure that our children and our children’s children (if they have them) have a safety net if the US is no longer going to be able to provide one.  I’m like, I want to take care of our own first.  And that’s selfish and money can do so much more for people who have less of it.  But… they’re my children and my potential grandchildren.  And we need structural change and I will fight for that.  I would feel much better about having less of a nest egg if I could trust our government and our society.  But I can’t.  So we need to stockpile money to stay “Haves” even if the “Have nots” need it more and I hate that.  I want everybody to be Haves.  I want all kids to have stability and opportunity.  But fear keeps me stockpiling.

It’s crazy to me that you have to be in the top 2% of household income or higher to be able to afford a high quality full-time legally documented dedicated personal assistant or housekeeper that you’re not married to ($150K/year give or take, themselves in the top 20% of income), but when you get to the top 1% of income, you can afford many such people.  That’s a huge concentration of wealth among a very small percentage of the population.  I think a lot of rich people think they’re not really rich because they can’t afford servants, especially when they remember being middle class back in the day meant having a woman come in to cook and clean and “do for you”– but back then people didn’t really think of the women who “Did” as people themselves.  I don’t want servants, except mechanical ones.  Though I do think it’s great when people have businesses that do a specific task for a large number of different households.  That seems efficient.

Which is to say:  I think hiring people is ethical, and hiring cleaning people and yard work people and so on is ethical.  But it’s not ethical to have a lowly paid personal servant (remember Alice on the Brady Bunch?)– if you want someone like that, you must pay the price for them, and at our income that is not a price we can afford.  We can afford college students or underpaid undocumented labor but the former is a crapshoot and the latter unethical, so it’s best to avail ourselves of whatever services are available.  For us that’s just yardwork because I hate the way cleaning crews cost money and get in my space and don’t clean things as well as I was brought up and grumble about how we don’t preclean before they get there.  (We’re currently not happy with our yardwork either, but have yet to find anybody who is happy with theirs– the crackdown on undocumented labor has really decreased the quality of this kind of service.)

Grumpy nation:  How do/would you deal with income and ethics?

Kahootie academic planner (for school kids) review

I got these undated academic planners from Kahootie for my kids at Target, but sadly Target seems to be out of stock.  Amazon does carry them though (affiliate link).  Kahootie doesn’t know we exist.

In any case, they are PERFECT for what my kids needed this summer and I’m hoping they will work well in the fall too (though I have some doubts about DC1 remembering to write down things like assignments).

They’re a weekly spread across two pages, which I like.  What’s even better is that they have a column for school stuff and then a column for *after school* stuff (something DC1 frequently forgets!).  And there’s a daily chores tracker on the right that they can check off.  DC2 loves the little space under the chores tracker and fills it up with pictures from books zie is reading or lists of pokemon zie caught that week etc.  Saturday and Sunday have smaller spaces, but that works too.

Week of DC2's planner with camps and chores listed.

One week of DC2’s planner.

DC2 has really gotten into hirs.  Zie updates it on Sunday or Monday morning.  Zie excitedly checks off chores.  Sometimes zie puts down weekly goals (“learn how to lightening strike a pig in educational minecraft”) and the weekends usually say what baked good DC2 is going to make that week.  More recently, zie has moved the two evening Minecraft dates and one piano lesson to the “After School” column.

DC1's much sparser planner

DC1’s planner. Pen obscures a password.

DC1 is getting less use out of hirs.  Zie actually *has* done the daily chores, zie just doesn’t check them off.  Zie doesn’t put in assignments (that blue in on Sunday is my writing…) or really use it for planning at all.  The class times are in the planner, but they’re also in Google calendar.  We’re hoping that a combination of the two systems (electronic and paper) will help DC1 remember to TURN IN COMPLETED ASSIGNMENTS and GO TO AFTER SCHOOL ACTIVITIES once school is back in session, but it’s not looking hopeful.  Maybe being a year older will be enough.

I didn’t get much use out of paper planners in middle school or high school either.  I’m not sure how I remembered to get things done in high school (in middle school I just finished all my work in class so it was irrelevant).  I guess I just had a separate notebook for each class and a binder and checked those daily.  I started using a weekly planner (similar to the small weekly Moleskines, but with nursing branding on the front) in college some time when DH gave me one that his mom didn’t want.  Then I got free branded econ ones. Then I started having to buy my own Moleskines (or rather, I started having to ask for a small Moleskine planner for Christmas, which is an excellent thing to put on the Amazon wishlist for the in-laws who aren’t sure what to get you).  Along with those small weekly planners with meetings and deadlines listed, I had lots of loose leaf to-do lists.  These Kahootie planners look like they should have enough space for middle and high school to-dos, but I guess we will find out next semester!

Did you use a planner as a kid?  (If applicable) Do your kids use planners?  Have your planning needs changed over time?