things you don’t actually have to do (unless you want to)

As we’ve gotten old and allowed to be lazy, we’ve made some discoveries about things that we grew up thinking everybody did, or found out that other people thought everyone did (even if we didn’t)

  • make your bed
  • fold your underpants
  • declutter
  • puree baby food (they don’t actually need mush)
  • cut old tshirts into same-size pieces to make rags (you can use it as rags without cutting it, you can tear where there’s already holes etc.)
  • shave your “lady-bits” (embarrassingly, I didn’t even know this was a thing until I saw people talking on a mother’s forum)
  • sleep train

ETA:  I’ve heard great things about Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu.

Grumpy Nation, what are some things you’ve realized don’t actually need to be done, or that you were surprised to find other people thought were necessary?

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I now own more than 4 pairs of shoes…

In college I owned one pair of (generic) sneakers and one pair of (Teva) hiking sandals at any point in time.  In graduate school I added (generic/bass/stonefly) brown or black loafers and (generic/stonefly) nice black sandals.  (The Stonefly were an investment in the last year when I was on the job market.)

Most of my professional adult life I’ve been content with one usable pair of brown sandals, one pair of black sandals, one pair of black maryjanes and one pair of brown semi-dress shoes.  All pretty expensive and extremely comfortable European varieties built for wide feet like my own.* Eventually I added hiking boots, for you know, hiking (though they would also get repurposed for things requiring tennis shoes).  I would justify spending $100-$200 on a pair of shoes by only buying shoes every 5 years or so.

I don’t know if it’s just my feet heading into middle-age, or the heady feeling of having two salaries, but I’ve now got more shoes.  Not like crazy Imelda Marcos shoes, but now I have a choice about whether to wear (naot vs pikolinos) maryjanes or (pikolinos) half-boots or even (super cheap target) canvas sneakers if I need a pair of black shoes.  It used to be if I was wearing something that required black shoes I’d check the temperature and pick the maryjanes or sandals.  Similarly for something that required brown shoes.  Now there’s choice.

I even got a pair of New Balance sneakers, which I think is my first name brand pair of tennis shoes ever**.

I’m losing more of my frugality/minimalist cred.

I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not.

Grumpy Nation, tell us about shoes and frugality and minimalism and cred (or the opposite!).

* I also usually keep one pair of completely worn out black flats and sandals of either color just in case that I didn’t count as part of the 4 pairs because they really should have been tossed. There have been a few occasions where I was glad to have kept them when my main pair needed to dry out (or be found).

** (with the exception of the Kinney Saddle Oxfords I had to wear in kindergarten as part of the uniform.  I don’t know why I remember that; it must have been a big deal for my mom.  I remember regularly polishing the white parts with white shoe polish.  I also had a really great pair of brown sandals that year that we bought in Mexico– the first pair that ever actually fit my wide feet.)

Link Love

Call using this script (or your own) to demand Nielsen’s resignation.

States with stricter gun control regulations have fewer mass shootings

Man sues Alabama clinic where his (teenage) ex-girlfriend got an abortion.  (Donate here to the clinic)

Unvaccinated child developed Oregon’s First Pediatric Tetanus Case in 30 years

Meanwhile Rand Paul misinforms about vaccines because I have no idea.  His DAD understands that children are people, not property, and should be protected from their parents’ bad decisions.  His dad understands the economics of how to be a good libertarian.  Rand Paul thinks kids are property.

This week in Fascism:

if this is socialism, sign me up

Corruption in Texas’s school endowment fund.

Can we have a black history month do-over?

International Men’s Day is Nov 19th, Donate here (especially if you are in the UK).

This is a gripping story, though a bit white-savior-y (makes me cringe after reading up on Green Book)

How did home cooking become a moral issue?

The hidden mechanisms that help those born rich to excel in elite jobs

Does Tesla autosteer make cars more or less safe?  We don’t know.

Moving on

A DIY bathroom remodel

The first science fiction novel known to have been written and published by a woman (from 1666)

Hope rides again preview

 

Ask the grumpies: Retirement vs. college savings

Alice asks:

How do you decide at what income level to begin funding a 529? I know the mantra of ‘max out tax-advantaged retirement accounts first’, but that is a lot of money to put away (~30% of income) before starting any college savings…I assume we’ll be in the ‘squeezed’ middle on college, with too much income for aid but not enough to pay full freight outright. It seems that at least some dedicated college savings are worthwhile after 15-20% retirement savings, even if not optimal as far as taxes go…We’re assuming private or out-of-state public are in the cards, and want to avoid student debt. I’ve heard the ‘Roth contributions can be used’ chorus, but that won’t go far with current tuition rates.

TBH, if I had to do it all over again, I would max out retirement first instead of regularly contributing to 529s. Because of financial aid.  You can read about how our minds have changed on this topic via this cut of our archives, though I’m not sure we ever spelled out the history in one concise post.  (For an alternate cut, here’s the college tag.)

If you’d asked us this question when we started the blog, we’d have told you to make sure you were (getting any employer matches and) saving 15% of your income for retirement (more if you need catch-up savings– we’d have recommended you play with online retirement calculators to see whether or not you were on track) and then put a regular amount away for college with every paycheck.  We’d have told stories of how we knew people whose parents had spared no luxury (cds, cars, clothes, regular vacations to Hawaii, etc.) but then the kids couldn’t go to the fancy college they’d gotten into because their parents made too much money for decent financial aid and they had nothing saved.  And that’s not terrible advice– make sure you’re on track for retirement and then put money away for college to give your kids more options.  I don’t completely regret having taken it when the kids were younger.  Their college savings have grown at a nice clip, and it’s likely both will be on track to go to the private schools of their choice even without financial aid.

These days we’re much more attuned to the importance of College Financial Aid (Forbes Magazine has a great series on the topic– click here for the latest updates).  You can ignore this concern if you prefer to think of tuition as a donation to the school (which for us depends on the school… I’m always irritated at the fundraising letters we get from DH’s graduate alma mater given their endowment).  Will you be squeezed?  It turns out there are calculators for that, and those calculators depend a lot on how much money you have that can be tapped for college.  Formalized retirement savings (even the Roth savings) do not count for financial aid.  This Forbes article from 2017 is a little out of date, but should give you a good idea of how your income translates into financial aid (or not) for different types of schools.

To get an even better idea, you should pick a set of colleges that you could see your kid potentially attending, and spin through their financial aid calculators.  These individual aid calculators have become quite sophisticated and you can see how different colleges will treat your different levels of assets vs. income etc.  So you can run the counterfactuals to see that, for example, if my DH loses his job and makes no income, that won’t at all give us any more aid at Harvey Mudd (which is stingy for high-income folks and extremely expensive) or our local state school (which we could cash-flow), but would make a big difference at Harvard (which is generous up the income distribution).  (Here’s us doing those exercises and contemplating how much we would need to save for a set of private schools .  I just spun through the super simple Harvard calculator and for spendthrift high income folks with no savings, your kids can still get a scholarship at a joint parental income of 260K!  You can play with how hiding assets in retirement changes aid compared to having to report them like with a 529.  Note that Harvard is a bit of an outlier both in terms of generosity and how easy it is to use their calculator.)

Loans for college are not a terrible idea, especially if you can get subsidized loans.  You can put money away for retirement now and then take out loans for college that you can repay more quickly by contributing less to retirement later when the contributions will no longer count for college.  If you’re maxing out your retirement options today at 30%, then you can drop down to the match later when your children need the money.

Many people feel uncomfortable using money for purposes that they have not initially dedicated that money to.  For this set of people, putting money in a 529 is the only way to guarantee that a child will be able to go to something other than the cheapest college option.  If this feeling is acknowledged, however, and planned for in advance, I think it can be gotten around.  You can decide now what money you want to earmark now for college, put that in retirement funds instead, then take out loans and repay them later for the amount in question by putting less in retirement later and cash-flowing.

In terms of using a Roth to save for college– there are a couple of wrinkles to doing that.  Drawing money out while your child is still in school can decrease your financial aid eligibility because some of that hidden money turns into income.   Here’s another post with more details on the pros and cons of Roth IRAs for college savings.  Note that these cons can be gotten around by delaying when you use the Roth until the child is close to graduation, assuming that doing so will not affect a younger child’s financial aid eligibility.  (And the principal rather than the earnings can be withdrawn after college is complete for no penalty.)

College is not cheap, and it may be worth saving 30% or more of your income now knowing that some portion of that is being saved for college (in terms of needing to save less than 15% of your income later) even if you’re not earmarking it.

Now, I noted that today we regret not having put the $500/month/kid in our kids’ 529s (not to mention mortgage pre-payments) in our retirement options instead.  The reason for that is that we are now high income and we are maxing out our retirement options (DH also has much less space to save than he did when he was working for the university).  Any money we save over that amount cannot be hidden from colleges.  There are a number of pricey schools out there that we will not get financial aid at should DC1 get in and decide zie wants to attend.  (DC2 may be better off in terms of financial aid since DC1’s tuition and living expenses will do a good job of eating all of those assets.)  We’ve paid off our house, have replaced DH’s car, will replace mine sometime in the next two years (Financial aid starts counting 2 years before college starts), and are renovating our kitchen, but even after all of that we will have assets leftover that could have been hidden in retirement accounts.  We could in theory buy a bigger house or I could get something other than a sensible car, but I guess I’d rather donate tuition to a university than make those changes.  (#richpeopleproblems)  (Note that if our income goes up more, then we can ignore all of this because we won’t be eligible at any asset-level, but if DH loses his job and our income is halved, then all of this becomes extremely important.)  Here’s our most recent recommendation of what order to save for multiple big financial goals, and here’s our recommendation of what vehicles to use.  Finally, if you haven’t opened up a 529, here’s our thoughts on which one to pick.

Grumpy Nation, what are your experiences with saving for college?

 

February Challenge Fitness ladder update

Recall this February challenge I did the calisthenics Fitness Ladder.

I got up to Rung 4 and was on the cusp of Rung 5.  The sticking points are push-ups (my arms have gotten weak) and, oddly, running in place.  I keep getting lactic acid build-up.  DH tells me that as my circulation gets better the lactic acid build-up will gradually become less of a problem.  The fact that I have this as a problem makes me concerned about my lack of circulation!

My progress wasn’t as impressive as when I did the 7 min workout (for example, I can barely do 5 pushups, but I ended that challenge with 9).  I don’t know if that’s because I’m 4 years older and in worse shape, or if it’s just not as intense a workout.  However, I did not hate this workout.  I kind of like it (except the lactic acid part), and DC2 and DH are also into it.

Of course, on March 1st when the challenge was over, I was like, I don’t *really* need to do this, so I didn’t.  And March 2nd I completely forgot until after I’d showered and was already in bed.  If it had been February I’d have gotten out of bed and done it, as happened a few times, but since the challenge was over I felt I didn’t need to.  I have no willpower.  March 3rd I decided to do it in the morning.  I kind of felt like doing sit-ups which is the first time I can say that in 4 decades, give or take.

I think the big thing for me if I want to keep up with this is to have some sort of regular time and reminder for me to actually do it.  Mornings would make sense except that I am barely making it to my 8am classes this semester.  There’s just too much packed in the mornings already (and I don’t shower in the morning like DH does, so if I get to the point of sweating stinkily I’ll have to add a second shower to the day).  Right before bedtime is what I’d been doing because that’s when I would remember, but now that there’s no challenge going on, that’s not a great idea because I have no willpower before bed.  Though I suppose it could be fit in before the shower in theory.  I also don’t know if I have willpower to do it right after work– usually at that point in time I’m trying to get dinner ready.

I’m still doing a walk every day at work– generally sometime between 10:30am and 1:30pm.  That happens because I have a motivated colleague who also needs an exercise and gossip/work break in the middle of the day.  It’s also a good vit D pick-up for me since I’ve given up on trying to stagger my pills (I generally forgot the second one and it would take a couple hours to realize why I’d been so tired) and just take both of them after I brush my teeth in the morning.

It may be that I need to set a timer for calisthenics for sometime in the evening.  It helps if DH is doing it at the same time too.  I don’t know if he’ll be going back to doing it in the morning though.  I also think I should add some stretches because the ones in the workout are kind of silly… or at least seem silly to me because they’re not stretching the muscles that my American education has taught me should be stretched.

For any of the self-care things I need to do every day, showering, teeth brushing, etc. it’s important that I have a regular process for each– finishing showering means it’s time for teeth, and so on.  For things I really don’t want to do, it’s extremely helpful to have someone else there to nudge it along.  Though I can’t use another person as a crutch or excuse– I just need to be grateful for being included.

How do you get yourself to do self-care things regularly? 

Reminder: Check your retirement (and other stock) accounts!

My sister had 12K that was just sitting in the IRA she opened in college (and thinks she contributed to a couple/few times after getting her first job) making no interest in her etrade cash– it had been sitting there in cash for TWELVE YEARS.  (Her other two stocks in that account were etrade and paypal that she bought in college.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t advise her on that– I was telling everyone my age and younger to buy QQQ!  I understood both that tech was important *and* that broad-based funds (in this case a technology ETF) are the best.  I assume that was advice from our father.)  I put in a order right off to buy Vanguard’s 2060 target date fund with that cash (we chose 2060 because she has a defined benefit pension that has vested, so she can afford to be riskier with retirement savings).  Because if you’re going to set and forget…

Then she put in another 11.5K for 2018 and 2019 and is going to follow the steps to set up a backdoor Roth even though she thinks it’s sketchy.

She also has 30% of her 401(k) portfolio invested in company stock.  She’s been meaning to sell it off for a while, but with one thing and another over a decade has passed and here we are.  She’s not sure if she’s going to sell it all on Monday (the company value is currently coming out of a low point) or if she’s going to set up automatic quarterly sales.  I recommended the quarterly sales (there’s still more of this stock coming in!), and found the number for her to call in an email the retirement provider had sent to her this year saying she had too much invested in company stock, but I also said that if that’s too hard to set up to satisfice and just sell what she’s got.

I’m not a saint either– When I checked at tax time, I had over 1K sitting in my own etrade cash account (taxable) because one of the stocks my father had bought when he was managing my stuff got bought by another company and rather than me getting the other company, I ended up with just the cash.  Which sat there for a few months because I don’t pay attention to that account.  And for some reason last quarter all our QQQ etrade accounts stopped DRIPping (maybe there was a name change again?  It looks like it has lost a Q.) — there was enough in each account to buy one share, but with a $6.95 commission, so I put the money into VFINX instead.  Luckily I do look at these accounts once a year around tax time…  Etrade’s cash account doesn’t even make reasonable interest like Vanguard’s money market fund does!

The other thing we needed to change on my sister’s IRA account was her beneficiary– she’d listed our father, but she’s fairly sure that her niblings have a higher probability of being alive when she’s gone, so now that over a decade has passed and there is a younger generation that didn’t exist when she set up the account, she switched those over too.

To sum:

  1.  Take a look at your accounts to make sure you’re still invested in what you think you’re invested in.  (I’m not even talking about something complicated like rebalancing!)  Sometimes companies merge or die or your dividends stop dripping and you end up with a bunch of cash where you thought you were getting market returns.
  2.  Make sure the people you have listed as beneficiaries are still alive and are still the people you think should be inheriting.  If you’ve had additional kids since listing a beneficiary, make sure you’re not just listing the oldest!

When was the last time you checked your stocks?  Do you know who you’ve listed as beneficiaries?

Link Love

Infants as young as 5 months old detained by ICE without needed care.

tw: pregnancy loss:  heartwrenching post by Dr. Jen Gunter

A response to a manifesto

Elaborations on the Vimes Boot theory (h/t Delagar)

This article is full of good economics

The color of money

How Marie Kondo helped this person sort out their gender.

A Sunday morning thread

A poem by not of general interest

Dianne Feinstein doesn’t need a do over.

Men and car crashes

Remember that NC election with all the voter fraud?  It’s getting a do-over.  Donate to the democratic candidate here.

Why nutrition research is so messed up (Here’s our much shorter post on the same topic)

She’s on to something

Hitting a moving target

Simple asset allocation calculator

Style

These are really tasty

No rational person would do this, and certainly not a week and some change early.

A thread about Merlin