Ask the grumpies: getting out of unproductive funks

First Gen American asks:

How do you suck yourself out of an unproductive funk. Do you find that allowing yourself to wallow in it for awhile is actually is more helpful than beating yourself up about being unproductive.

Yes, with the caveat that beating oneself up about being unproductive can sometimes be an important component of wallowing in it.  To get the full wallow a little self-hatred is necessary.

To get out:  Just Do IT.  Sometimes I will ask #2 to remind me about vans by rivers and request a kick in the posterior.

#2 says:  I think the how getting-out part for me has involved meeting people at coffee shops.  I haven’t done much of that recently.  Hard deadlines also make me ridiculously productive.   Unfortunately last-minute deadline blitz is unsustainable, if for no other reason than RSI.

We here at grumpy rumblings love to cross things off lovely lovely lists.  Sometimes even if I can’t be productive, I can write a list about what it would take to be productive.  Then day two I can cross one of the things off the list.  Breaking up tasks into smaller tasks is great for goal motivation.  Doing them from smallest to largest is also good for motivation, though one of us works best when she has an important goal that she doesn’t want to do hanging over her head– it makes all the other tasks on the to-do list seem so much more worthy of doing by comparison.

I guess it depends on WHY the funk.  I have anxiety which I manage with meds and awareness of it.

It’s also important to ATTEMPT to realize that it’s really not so bad once I get going.  Starting is hard! But starting is often the hardest part. Like Boice says, tell yourself to do it for 30 min– if that’s too long, then 10 min, or even 5 min. You can do almost anything for 5 min, and once you’re started it usually isn’t so bad.

What do you do, Grumpy World?

I hate the way I’m more racist when I’m tired

When I’m tuckered out I am SO bad at not being racist… I do that thing where I get people of the same race/gender/height/bodyshape/hair color mixed up with each other.

And then I do that embarrassed white woman thing where I turn bright red, make up excuses, then keep apologizing way after the time that it’s appropriate to be apologizing. I understand that just makes it worse, but I cannot stop!

Most of the people I know are polite about it. Except this one prominent economist who I keep getting mixed up with the same guy, usually late at night the same day of the same conference… he thinks it’s hilarious and now makes a point of asking me who I think he is (I haven’t gotten it right yet, mainly because I know the other guy by name because he works in my field but I’ve actually seen the other guy more often). I deserve that, though I can’t remember his name right now (whereas I can remember the other guy’s name…).

And I could make excuses that I’m pretty bad with whites too (which is true– I mostly identify people by their height and hair color), but it’s far worse with non-whites.  I’m terrible with names.  I’m terrible with faces (but not terrible enough to believe I have that medical thingy where you can’t recognize faces… I do recognize faces of people I know).

And I know it’s not just me.  I know there’s tons of research showing that when we’re tired or have too much cognitive load one of the first things to go is correcting for implicit biases.  But it’s still pretty excrementy of me.

All of this is to say, I wish I were either less implicitly racist or I were always less tired!!!!!

(And yes, I know that some people are going to say that this post is just making things worse because it makes the problem all about me.  You know, like white women do.  [Because nobody ever says that about white men; they always get credit for just trying.]  But at that point I throw up my arms and say, “I think I am going to ignore that and take a nap.”)

RBOC

  • I wonder how it feels to have something stuck in your whiskers.  I wonder if it’s like hearing a ringing in your ears.
  • Instead of reimbursing me for 2 months of summer health insurance (when I switched to DH’s plan), my university decided to charge me for another two months.  Fortunately they fixed it– ~$1400 deposited in my account.
  • Of course, when they did that I realized that this summer they’re still treating me as if I’m full-time, which means I screwed up on the health insurance decision for this summer.  What I should have done would be to keep my health insurance until *my* open enrollment period, then switch to DH’s plan using the reason that my health insurance has changed.  Doing that would have saved ~$700 for the two months.  Of course, there was also another month that was double-booked with health insurance because we had a bunch of doctors appointments and I didn’t want to deal with changing everything over.  I’m wavering on whether or not that laziness was worth ~$300.  (Added to that is us not realizing that DH’s health insurance started when it did, so we might not have been able to shut it off that month.)
  • I had garlic butter tatertots from a foodtruck.  #2 mocked me for never having had gussied up “gourmet” tatertots before.  Hmph.
  • I’m a lot cooler online than I am IRL, just so you know.
  • I’ve hit another professional milestone in my career– I’m being asked to write tenure letters and be an external reviewer for dissertations outside of my own university.  Um, yay more service?
  • Being able to pour Trader Joe’s X over Trader Joe’s Y, or to just pop Trader Joe’s Z into the microwave makes dinners a lot easier.
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Why it is so important to get out of debt and to start investing

In 2005, I had 50K in the taxable stock market.  How did that happen?  We got rid of DH’s debt really quickly by living on beans and rice (more accurately, potatoes and marked down produce).  Then we lived like regular graduate students and kept our expenses low.  Finally, we saved up the money we would have spent on rent for two years from when we were resident assistants.  That’s where the big money came in.

This post isn’t about how we got the 50K though.  I’m not actually sure how much we put in (I don’t have the cost-basis information at hand), though I’m fairly sure it was less than 50K (probably more like 36-40K, because that’s what we saved on rent).  This is what happened *after* that 50K.

In 2005, I got a real job that allowed me more room to save for retirement than I could use.  That meant I stopped putting money in the taxable stock market and put it all in tax-advantaged funds.  So that 50K from 10 years ago is a point-in-time snapshot.  It’s all in index funds and ETFs (mostly the S&P500 and Nasdaq, with a little bit of the Dow– essentially your three major ways of measuring the market).  Earnings are all set to DRIP.  I haven’t added anything to it, I’ve just let the money ride.

10 years later (as of this writing), that portfolio is worth $126,000.  That is double and a half.  252% of what it was 10 years ago.  That’s including the worst recession since the great depression.  I just let the money ride all the way through (even/especially during the dark time when it dipped below 40K).

Contrast that with DH’s unsubsidized student loans at 8.5%.  He owed 10K (quite a bit more than he actually borrowed).  If, instead of paying those loans, he’d deferred them during graduate school, he would have owed $15,227.95 at the end of that deferment.  That’s a 50% increase.  If he had followed their suggested payment schedule after that, 5 years from now with his last payment he would have paid a total of $26,992.80 on that 10K loan.  That’s a ridiculous cost for borrowing money.

I can’t even comprehend credit card levels of interest, which average around 15% and can get much higher.  Just that 8.5% student loan had me literally hyperventilating when I found out about it.

The downside of high interest debt is that it takes money away from you without you getting any benefit from it.  It puts you in a precarious situation because you have to make those payments (or go through a lot of heartache and hassle to get them deferred or negotiated down via bankruptcy)

I was running through the thought exercise about whether or not we could live in Paradise on just DH’s take-home salary (something we’re not doing next year) if we sold the house and the answer is that after the big expenses rent, daycare, health insurance, and retirement, we would have about $1050 left to spend on everything else, from car insurance to riotous living.  Currently we spend 2-4K on everything else.  That would be a pretty big cut.  But… we have a lot of money saved.  And that money is making money.  We could stop contributing to retirement at this point and we might still be ok, so long as we picked it back up after the daycare expense was gone.  We could undrip our taxable stocks and that would bring in some income.  We have a cushion that would last us until I found work.**

We’d be ok.  And although having this cushion/buffer/etc. did take hardship and sacrifice early on, having killed the debt and invested a bunch means that money is now working *for* us keeping us from having hardship and sacrifice now.

High interest debt takes money away from you without giving you anything in return.  Investment gives you money without you having to do anything to earn it.  Make your money work for you.  Sacrifice and save early so you don’t have to sacrifice more later.  And early can mean today, because today is always earlier than tomorrow.

Compound interest is amazeballs.  Unsubsidized debt sucks potty words.

Have you experienced the joy of compound interest or the drain of high interest debt?  How did you get there/how did you get out?

**Not that I have *any* plans to quit my job!  But I did have this horrible worry that I would get squished by a semi truck while biking to work next year and DH would have to fend for himself without my half salary.  Then I remembered that he’d also get 500K from my life insurance plus funeral expenses from my work insurance which should tide him over until he decides which city he wants to move himself and the children to after the year is up (oddly, he refuses to make that hypothetical decision now and says I’m worried about unlikely events because I’m stressed about the move!).  So the exercise was moot.

link love

This week in racism (selected, not exhaustive).  What is WRONG with people?

#raceontech

A link from leightpf explaining the mega backdoor roth

But where is the Bishop’s Bird Stump?

20 schools responsible for 20% of graduate school debt

Miser mom with uses for canning rings

This is really great

This is badass

#7 is my favorite

Ask the grumpies: What to do with 25K and some other concerns

Pondering25K asks:

I have a financial question that my spouse and I have been mulling over for a few months and wondered if we could tap into the expertise of you and your readership.

Here’s our situation.

We have about 25K to throw at some of our debt, and can’t figure out the best place to put it. Our feeling is that both major options we have thought of are good, but we’d like more advice.

We have a 30 year fixed rate FHA mortgage with a 3.25% interest rate that we have been prepaying about 800 extra per month (our interest + principal payment is 1500). The mortgage currently still has 27 years left, since we refinanced a few years ago. We have a $335/month PMI payment that will go away in 2 years if we reach 80% loan-to-value ratio. This will happen if we prepay with the 25K. If we don’t prepay with the 25K now, we will have to prepay more than we are currently each month to reach the 80% loan-to-value ratio. We cannot re-amortize our FHA loan to recover this cash in the future.

We also have a car loan with a 2.99% interest rate and about 5 years left (it had a 6 year term) that has a $405 monthly payment. The payoff balance is slightly under the 25K, so we could kill this loan now.

We have a better-than-required amount of money saved for retirements in IRA, 401Ks, and a teacher retirement plan, and are maxing everything out already. We also have started saving for our toddler’s education in a 529, and contribute $260/month to that.

My salary is 60K, but will go up each year as I just started as a teacher and will move up the step system. It is pretty secure, unless our state budget was drastically cut and they got rid of my entire school system (it’s run out of the state Dept of Ed).

My husband’s  base salary is 130K, with bonuses that are pretty significant, but not guaranteed. His job itself stable, but he’s not happy there. If he were to find a job he liked, it would likely involve a change to a much lower paying career, or starting a small business of some sort.

We can’t re-amortize at any point (a major disadvantage to an FHA loan). We have thought about refinancing to have a mortgage where we could, but the interest rates are higher and closing costs would be around the same as the amount of PMI we would pay in the next two years.

We are torn between lowering our monthly expenses now and saving money long term. Both of these are important to us, as we would like flexibility in case of job loss or the desire to switch to lower paying careers. We don’t want to be trapped by our mortgage payment.

Standard financial disclaimers apply.  We are not financial planners and everyone should do their own research and/or consult with real financial planners before making major financial decisions.  Our opinions are opinions, apply at your own risk.

First to answer the question you actually asked:  Should you put the money towards your mortgage or your car loan?

Unless I’m missing something [UPDATE:  See discussion below about FHA loans compared to private industry loans– depending on the circumstances, I may have missed something], paying down enough to get rid of PMI dominates (or matches) the benefits of paying down the car loan (assuming you’re not planning on ever declaring bankruptcy, foreclosing, or getting a car repossessed).  First, it has a better return on investment given that 1.  You’re still early in the mortgage, 2. the interest rate is higher, 3.  PMI is a big additional chunk.  Second, dropping a $335 monthly payment isn’t really that far off from dropping a $405 monthly payment in terms of solvency given the numbers you’ve been throwing around, so if you need to lower required monthly payments you’re not actually gaining that much from paying off the car vs. getting rid of PMI.  Not nothing, but there are other places to cut that would give you more bang for the buck.

And now for the question you didn’t ask.  You’re currently making 190K plus bonuses.  You are very high income.  It’s great that you’re putting so much money away in retirement, but unless you have (and are using) the ability to put insane amounts of money away for retirement (for example, you’re saving in a 457 plan in addition to the standard pension, or your spouse is putting money in a Mega Backdoor Roth IRA), you might want to try cutting  your spending and funneling the extra money towards a large emergency fund and possibly some taxable investments.  Why?  You note that your DH is not happy with his job and may want to leave the job for a lower paying career or starting a small business with its attendant risk.

Think about what kind of paycut he is likely to have, and run some emergency scenarios (a financial fire drill in the words of Donna Freedman).  What savings would you stop?  What spending are you required to make?  What changes might you need to make long term?  How much would your DH need to bring in to supplement your salary given the step schedule?  Once you have all of that information figured out, try living on the new salary just to see what it’s like.  While you do that, funnel that money you’re no longer spending into a healthy emergency fund that you can easily access and into your car loan in order to decrease your required monthly payment (2.99% is a low interest rate compared to long term investment, but it’s higher than what a savings account will give you these days).  This will allow you to feel what it’s like to live on a lower income and make adjustments now while there’s no danger from making mistakes while also saving up so you will be able to weather emergencies while on that lower income in the future.  (This is also a standard recommendation for planning for a spouse leaving the labor force to take care of a child.)

There’s a lot to be said for being able to let a beloved spouse quit the job he dislikes if he wants to, even if it brings in a good income.

Books you may find helpful:  Your Money or Your Life, All Your Worth.

Note here that if the couple were lower income, I would suggest cutting some of the long-term savings rather than spending to boost short-term savings for two reasons.  The first being that lower income families get more financial aid so the 529 should be a secondary consideration after PMI and after the car loan.  The second would be that they would already be spending less and would both have less slack in their budget now but would also be unlikely to have to cut as much spending later (as the going from 130 to a lower salary isn’t as big a drop as 50 to the same lower salary).

Additionally, if they didn’t want more flexibility, then their current plan would probably be fine since their jobs are secure.  But the need for freedom is important, even if that freedom is never acted upon.  The ability to leave a job is a wonderful freedom to have, and worth more than a lot of kinds of spending.

What do you think, grumpy nation?  Did I miss anything with the 25K?  How about the other advice?

Ponderings on mindsets and intelligence

One of the things that the mindset literature is pretty clear on is that you’re not supposed to praise kids for innate characteristics, but for effort.  They have studies where they measure effort after a kid has been told, “You’re so smart” vs. “I can really see the effort you put in” or something like that.  Outcomes in the next experiment decline for the former but not for the latter.  Later studies suggest cheating goes up when innate intelligence is praised.

And so I’ve been keeping these ideas in mind when raising my kids.  With our first child we even went so far as to (frequently) request daycare and school teachers not to praise hir intelligence, but instead hir work ethic and interest.

And I thought that was the right thing to do until recently.  For the past couple of years, I’ve had an extremely successful student, a young woman, for two classes who has low confidence.  She’s easily one of the best students our program has had and lots of professors agree.  But she has low confidence.  She wanted to go to graduate school.  It took a lot of pushing to get her to apply to top programs that she should have gotten into based on her testscores, perfect GPA, and research experience.

She didn’t get in to any of them.  I’m guessing her essay wasn’t any good (she was too embarrassed to show it to professors before sending!) and most likely they wanted more work experience.  Plus she was on the low end for pure math courses– a few more probably would have helped.  I also wonder if she made the right choices of letter writers.  Maybe her research supervisor wasn’t as effusive about her as the professors in my department are.

Contrast that with one of her friends who is similarly situated except has an extremely high self-confidence (even if she has far less intellectual curiosity).  This friend didn’t apply to graduate school but did get into one of the most prestigious RA positions you can get as a feeder to top graduate schools.

I met the parents of both women at graduation and got an insight into the difference in confidence.  The parents of the second girl thanked me for being a great professor and for giving their daughter opportunities and said they were really excited about her job for next year.  They had normal proud parent reactions as we went back and forth praising their daughter (and me) and discussing her future.

The second set of parents (divorced, so I got this conversation twice) was also effusive in their praise for me, but not so much in their praise for their own daughter.  “She works hard,” “she’s always worked hard,” was a constant refrain from parents, step-parents, and siblings.  But there was something about the way they said it, as if they were excusing the praise rather than accepting it.  This was fixed in my mind when her mom’s response to my praise of her daughter was, “that’s sweet of you to say.”  “No, no it wasn’t,” I said. “I’m from the midwest.  We don’t just say things unless they’re true.”

Maybe I shouldn’t be so worried about the world telling my kids that they’re smart.  They are smart.  That’s just a fact.  (And, to be honest, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable about being told I’m smart… I mean, yes, I’m smart, but so what.  Praise my accomplishments and things I’ve done, not my innate nature.)

Growing up my family took being smart for a given.  Of course I was smart.  I’m smart but so what.  Being smart isn’t enough (wasn’t enough), it’s what I do with it.  I wasn’t allowed to let my brain atrophy.  I had to keep exercising it.  My mom always told me I needed to keep pushing myself so that I could grow more dendrites.  Working hard would make me smarter.

Early on I really did believe that I just worked harder and had more opportunities than the other kids.  And that’s definitely true– my parents sacrificed a lot to give us opportunities and focused on our academic growth.  My mom picked up a lot of good child rearing techniques while working for Head Start back in the 70s.

But in the past few years since having children, I’ve come to suspect that there’s actually a bit of nature in the equation as well.   Maybe it’s not just in utero health and stimulation as an infant and so on (though these things are obviously important).  I sometimes wonder if gifted kids were just born with a bit more curiosity than non-gifted– and it’s the energy and curiosity that causes us to explore and grow dendrites… or maybe the lower sleep need is what allows more connections to be built, who knows.  Other kids can get as smart, but it’s more of an uphill climb.

Nature cannot be everything.  At university, I see my students get smarter, quicker, and more curious over the 2-4 years that I know them.  That blossoming is amazing.  Taking kids with cruddy high school experiences and fewer family advantages and teaching them to think and aspire and question is one of the most rewarding things that I do.  People really can get smarter.

I don’t want my DCs to feel limited.  I don’t want them to think they’re not capable of great things.  Maybe it is ok to say, Yes of course you’re smart, but what matters is what you do with it.  What matters is what you love, how hard you work, what interests you, what you care about, how much you focus, how many times you try.  And luck, of course, but we can control that about as much as we can our intelligence, which is to say, we can help create our own luck with measured risks just as we can increase our intelligence by focused study*.

I don’t think those short-term lab experiments by Carol Dweck et al. exclude this idea, the idea that you can combine praise for intelligence with emphasis on hard work.  So maybe I’ll go back to doing what seems right to me and not worry so much about how people praise my kids, so long as my kids know that intelligence isn’t everything.  Maybe praising solely effort isn’t the only way to create perseverance.  Maybe a little self-knowledge won’t hurt and will allow them to reach farther so they don’t keep themselves from taking opportunities.

Where do you fall on the praise spectrum?  We know all our readers are intelligent– do you think how you were praised as kids affects your perseverance and self-confidence as adults?  (And in what way?)

*standard disclaimer about extreme situations and not blaming people in poverty or with mental disabilities

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