Big changes in how DH’s family does Christmas

Every year I talk about how DH’s family has gift giving as their love language and how DH agonizes over what to get and I make lists of what we’ve gotten people and worry or don’t worry about the expense for the other families in question.

DH’s sister has twins due in November.  This will bring the number of grandkids up to 8 and will double the number of her kids.  She has requested that instead of the regular gift giving we’ve done in the past where everybody gets everyone something that we just pick names out of a hat and each person gives one thing.  (Which I think is silly– I’d rather not do gift-giving at all than to have a random element with higher stakes, but again it’s not my family.)  I think the idea is that everyone still gets something to open at Grandma’s house.  Though we always just have presents direct-shipped to people’s houses since we have been flying instead of driving recently.

But this year it sounds like we will not be having Christmas at Grandma’s house.  With 8 grandkids, that’s too many.  DH’s siblings live about an hour away from each other and in a more populated part of the state whereas his parents and other relatives all live in the more rural part of the state 5 or so hours away (assuming you don’t get stuck behind a tractor).  DH’s mom is planning on renting an apartment near his sister so she can be on hand to help out with the twins and she thinks we should rent a house either near DH’s sister or his brother.  And we should do it after Christmas instead of on Christmas.  (Which will make my sister happy because this past year my parents didn’t end up visiting at the last minute and she spent Christmas with friends instead of family and she has been complaining about it ever since.)

It will be kind of nice to have Christmas at home again.  We haven’t done that since my sister bought a house in the City, which was before DC2 was born.  We’ll get to have a rosemary tree and get out the ornaments (instead of the felt tree we put up) and actually put things in the kids’ stockings here and we can not have ham (though I will miss BIL’s birthday lasagna).

Now, DH and I kind of think it’s pretty likely we won’t be going to visit this winter at all because the virus will still not be under control and it will be too dangerous, especially with his sister being post-partum, but that’s months from now.  With all those United miles we can afford to put off this decision for a while.

I suspect DH will still give presents to his brother because he tends to buy electronic games that he and his brother and other relative can play during their weekly online gaming sessions.  But that can be our secret.

Has gift giving with your extended family changed as it has grown (or shrunk)?

Ask the grumpies: Things for an 8 year old to look forward to this summer (that don’t involve leaving the house)

Z asks:

My daughter (age 8) has been complaining that now that our summer trip has been canceled, there’s no longer anything to look forward to.  I have to admit I feel the same way too.  We’d been planning on meeting up with the grandparents in Florida and she had fun summer daycamps planned that are probably cancelled.  She’s been asking how Belle can sound so happy when she’s singing, “every day like the one before” and how can Belle feel lonely if she has so many people to say hello to every morning. (If you can’t tell, we purchased a Disney+ subscription.)  Do you have any ideas for things that she could look forward to that don’t involve things that could increase Covid 19 infections?  Any ideas for things that *I* (middle-aged woman) could look forward to?  Our library is still closed and it has been taking a lot longer than usual to get e-books.  We have some extra money that we would have spent on Florida and camp, but not infinite amounts.

I feel your pain so hard.  Our 7 year old has been similarly mopey.  DH and I have been talking about it.  Could we *drive* to see grandparents if we’re good about social distancing?  But that would really involve avoiding gas station restrooms (do not want to inadvertently kill grandparents) and I’m just not ready to go by the side of the road or the even more unnerving things one reads truckers doing.  :/  We have been face-timing and zooming with relatives but it’s just not the same at all.  (Maybe we could set up time with grandma to work on the same crafts?  But that seems like something more fun in person than long-distance.)  So… that just doesn’t seem like it’s enough.

So DH and I have been thinking really hard and tried to remember the kinds of things that we looked forward to when we were younger and our parents couldn’t afford regular vacations.  I was like… books?  But without the library that’s hard.  One can buy books, but new books are usually hardback and I’m not crazy about hardback (this is a me problem, not a universal problem).  Still… we’ve got the third Nikki Tesla on the list once school ends and it comes out in July.  I may order the rest of the Jim Benton books that DC2 doesn’t have since they’ve taken over my electronic wishlist and I’m only allowed to have 10 books on hold at any time.  There’s also a few Gordon Korman books that zie would like, but I have to be more careful with those– Son of the Mob is neither age nor interest appropriate (I still maintain that the best Gordon Korman books were the ones he wrote as a teenager, but those are harder to get).  (All amazon links are affiliate links.)

DH immediately thought about games and looked at the list of things coming out for various video game outlets this summer.  DC2 is seriously into Pokemon, so we’ve decided to tell hir that once school is out we will get hir the new paired Pokemon games for the switch.

Another suggestion:  Does your daughter want to redo some or all of her room?  We recently repainted the shelves in DC2’s closet and it really brightened the place up.  Depending on your daughter’s preferences, now might be a good time to upgrade a bed or paint furniture or add a bookcase, or even just rearrange the furniture (maybe remove some of the stuff she’s outgrown) etc.; if she is interested, it might be fun for her to do a lot of the planning.

One of the most exciting things that has happened with us since the pandemic was when my sister sent us frozen stuffed pizzas from tastes of chicago (not an affiliate link)– I’ve definitely upped my ordering from specialty places like and vomfass and southernseason and penzey’s and our favorite tea place in the local city so on (not affiliate links).  I’ve been contemplating getting something crazy like mail ordering fancy ice cream or something baked even though grocery stores have decent premium ice cream (though generally only Ben and Jerry’s and Haagandaaz) and DH has been baking up a storm… but you know, just to have something made by someone else.   We thought about ordering sushi grade fish online, but balked at the $50 s/h fee.  We’re not quite there yet.  To be honest, right now I’m feeling a little sad that I’ve run out of things I’m dying to get at  I want more variety!  But retail therapy had been working for me for a while there.

I would also love any ideas that anyone from grumpy nation has.  I saw an awesome comment on a blogpost about having a treasure/surprise bag to go through for younger kids with toys and activities after chores are done (I can’t find the specific post– will link here if anyone remembers).   Our DC1 (age 13) was already planning on starting a youtube channel and learning video editing this summer, so those plans haven’t changed– zie is mostly focused on the AP World History exam right now and hasn’t had a chance to be angsty, unlike poor DC2.

What are you and yours looking forward to this summer?  Do you have any suggestions for things to plan or places to buy random fun stuff from?

p.s.  my dc2 has a birthday in late summer and usually gets 2-3 celebrations over the month—in-laws, us, my sister … need to be thinking how to make our single little family celebration more special than just presents, a cake and a song with dinner since zie usually also gets a party at grandma’s with the cousins during summer vacation and a day out with my sister on a later weekend.


  • Some of my students have started to hit crisis mode with lost jobs and lost job offers and having to move back in with family.  Some of them have families in crisis mode as well.
  • DH’s parents should be fine– they have pensions.  But his other relatives have been mostly laid off, including all the teens.
  • It’s not too late to apply to graduate school– our admissions was way down this year, so we still have rolling admissions!  Wait out the bad economy with a masters degree.  (I think we’re done with PhD stuff, but we still have plenty of MA slots… we probably still have financial aid.  And if we’re in this situation, other schools likely are as well.)
  • I war between feeling #blessed and feeling guilty.
  • DH and I have been trying to figure out how to just give money without having to buy anything to our favorite homemade noodle restaurant.  Credit card is our best method right now but we’d have to order and if we tipped it might just go to whoever did the curbside (this is our best idea so far though).  There’s a language barrier, so it’s hard to discuss this with them.  We don’t have much cash on hand.  A check seems weird and how would we get it to them?
  • The kids’ piano lessons have gone virtual.  I’m really hoping DC1’s violin lesson can–she just texted as I was typing this to say she’s doing zoom lessons now.  So that will be interesting.  I get how we can set up for violin since DH has a pretty professional setup already at his work-from-home computer, but piano is going to be a bit more difficult.
  • I’m using DH’s low quality cast-offs for my work-from home zoom set-up.  I’m also using my fancy ipad pro to record lectures.
  • Our internet is not great when everyone is at home.  Usually this is only a problem in summer, but it is a problem now.  DH has hard wired me into the internet which seems to help some, but it isn’t perfect, even when I’m just doing audio and not video.
  • I spent about 2 hours one day trying to figure out how to get graded exams into ecampus. Because the day before we got instructions telling us we can’t return graded assignments with emails. And then the student I tried to send something to via ecampus email did not get the email or the attachment. So I looked up how to upload exams in the grade center. But the graded exams are on my ipad, not my desktop, and I have no secure way of moving them to the desktop (since I’m not allowed to use cloud activities and don’t have the right kind of cable to connect my ipad to my desktop). And Safari won’t let me scroll in the grade center. So I figured out a kludge involving sorting by date added so the midterm column showed up in the screen, and then realized it resets the order after every single exam which is not realistic, so I went back to google. After determining that USC’s instructions for how to show scroll bars in IOS wasn’t going to work, I figured out that I could reorder the columns manually, but of course the reordering requires manual moving that does not work on the ipad. So I manually reordered columns on my desktop and can now go through the manual override process that the Vanderbilt webpage recommends for returning graded pdfs in ecampus. Test student got her exam back. This is not what I should be spending my time doing. :( (If I’d just graded my exams a day earlier I could have said I had no idea our email servers weren’t secure enough to send graded exams through and could have just said oopsie doopsie.  I bet a lot of profs are going to ignore that email saying it got lost.)
  • A lot of folks have been posting the wonderfully creative things their children have been doing while “unschooled”… my youngest has been leaving a creative path of destruction (DH:  why is the bathtub still full of water and why are there stuffed animals in it?).
  • Where we used to live for a year in paradise is giving rental assistance for families with income less than $100k who have lost substantial income.
  • We’ve been getting groceries delivered– $10 fee and we’ve giving a $10 tip on top of that (this is generally rounding up from their suggested tip).  They just drop the groceries off at our porch and I let them sit for a bit before taking them in, letting them sit a bit more, unpacking them, then washing my hands.  Usually the substitutes are pretty good, but vegan butter (aka fancy margarine) is not a substitute for cultured butter #richpeopleproblems.  I am grateful that we can do this.  See #blessed vs guilty.  (DH plans to use the “vegan butter” in pie dough, which will add flake even though we usually just do 100% butter for the flavor.)
  • My school put together a relief fund for students.  I donated.  I feel like heavily endowed private schools could do this without donations, but I’m at a public school and see a future with a recession and no raises for a while.
  • We bought a random care package from for someone– random because all walmart had left were assorted random things.  Then the package got delayed, then split up weirdly.  So on Friday they got their first package, late at night:  A single box of Cascadian Farm organic granola.  The last package is going to be a single container of prunes.  And before that:  five cans of chicken noodle soup (Progresso).  In theory, today they’ll get the bulk of things (though I’m not sure how given they haven’t shipped), which will still be random, but not quite so weird.

Why I won’t take money from my parents: cw: Captain Awkward level family stuff

This post sounds crazy.  Reading it, I keep thinking that a bunch of people must be thinking, “Gee I wish I had her problems.”  Or why WON’T she just take money.  Or lots of us grow up without spending a lot, why is she complaining.  And I don’t really have any answers.  I would probably need therapy to sort through things and I’d far rather just forget than revisit.

For a long time, I had a very powerful post* in drafts about what it was like growing up with a fear of money.  Of not having money.  Of being yelled at for spending money. Of parents fighting because my mother occasionally spent money from her salary. I realize now, it was more about being controlled with money than some general money fear.  I deleted it because every time I looked at it the fear would return and I’d start to cry.  I decided… I’d rather forget.  If I’m forgetting the good stuff, maybe the bad stuff will dim with time too if I don’t keep going down those neural pathways.

My personality is such that I tend to be present and future-focused.  I don’t like dwelling on the past (unless reminiscing about DH is involved).

But sometimes I think about things.

To preface:  I need to say that my household growing up was very much like Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme, but without buy-in from the family.**  So I grew up washing dishes and hanging up laundry (women’s work) and freezing in my room above the garage in the winter because I wasn’t allowed to have my heat set above 50 even if I couldn’t sleep (I’d often sleep in my mom’s snowsuit under the covers in the winter and didn’t stop wearing a hat to bed until I was over 30) and sweltering in the summer basement because we weren’t allowed to use the air conditioning and feeling guilty about every single cent.  I’d neglect to mention class trips and pictures and so on because my mom would want me to be able to participate and I knew that would result in a screaming fight about me again.  Ugh… I need to stop or I’ll get back to that post I deleted however many years ago.  And I really do want to forget.

During graduate school, I think I’ve mentioned before, my father gifted me with some then worthless PG&E stock– it had gone bankrupt after spitting out some dividends that he had not given me.  But I had to pay taxes on the appreciated value and the dividends at the time he gifted it to me, which he hadn’t told me about, but happened before the bankruptcy.  I found out about this at tax time.  DH and I were each making 18K and our rent was 18K and he’d brought 10K of high interest college debt into the marriage.  We were scrimping and saving so much I’d lost my ability to eat meat without throwing up.  An additional few thousand dollar tax bill on stocks we couldn’t sell because they were worthless (and I didn’t know how) was hugely stressful.  Eventually I got him to give me the dividend checks to cover the tax bill.  But it wasn’t fun.  (If I’d known I’d had these stocks, I’d have sold some before they went bankrupt instead of borrowing money from my mom for a deposit and last month’s rent on our first apartment.  But I had no idea.)  My father’s name is still on the PG&E stock in addition to mine, though I’ve managed to gain control of the web-page for tax purposes.  (Also, PG&E is bankrupt again, though we were getting dividends for several years so I no longer feel complete hatred for it, I mean other than the way it kept setting California on fire so I could get those dividends).

At some point I got old enough and found out I had a matured American Century Trust fund that he’d started as a tax dodge in the 80s.  I didn’t need the money and it had dropped in value and it was a huge pain to finally get his name off of it years later.  So… we occasionally pay taxes on it when it randomly decides to sell and rebuy itself.  This used to be stressful, but now we have enough money to handle it.  I would just sell it because it’s an over-priced S&P 500 Index but I am greatly concerned about the cost-basis as well as having to pay capital gains.  My current game-plan is to leave it to our children after our death.  Prior to this, I’d earmarked it to pay for DH’s relatives’ kids’ college, but I think we’re going to be able to cash flow that unless more of their kids decide to go to 4 year schools.

And then there was a small amount of other stocks, maybe 5K of tech companies that went out of business, or a few shares of AOL that got bought and sold by a million companies over time.  Figuring out the cost-basis for these has been an occasional nightmare, but at least we got to take losses for tax purposes.

Around the time that we finished graduate school, after we’d bought a house and gotten grownup salaries, and my sister graduated college, my father offered to give us stocks up to the annual gift tax amount.  I said no.  My sister said sure.

Throughout the years, he seemed increasingly upset that we wouldn’t take his money.  I’d say we didn’t need it.  They should spend it on travel or a house in Sacramento or charity.  The one time we asked him to donate to DC1’s school on our behalf he seemed happy.  I would suggest that if he was so interested in skipping over the inheritance tax that we’d be happy to let them fill up the 529s.  But he was never interested– just wanted to give me stocks directly.

He just sent an email with a lengthy rundown of all of my sister’s investments from the gift tax each year, including how they’re invested and how much they made in the past year.  Apparently it’s over $650K now, in a variety of stocks for single companies, and can they give their usual $30K to her again?  He cc’d me.  I don’t know why.  If I’d wanted the money I guess I could have had it, but I didn’t, and we don’t need it.  We have our own money.

So much of what I’ve done with my life has been because I want to be in control of myself.  I want to be in control of my body temperature and what I eat and how I spend my time.  I want to never feel trapped.  Money is a means of control.  I don’t want to control other people and I don’t ever want other people to control me.  So… I chose a lucrative profession.  We got rid of debt.  We saved and saved and saved.  We lived below our means, but always in a way that we both had buy-in.  Yes, it was hard starting out, but we didn’t have much income either and DH was happy to get rid of those loans.

As we’ve gotten more money, we’ve loosened up.  Money stopped being a source of guilt many years ago– once we had enough of an emergency fund that a job loss wouldn’t set us back too badly.

I read that email my father cc’d me on and thought, thank God I didn’t let him give me any money.  He’s controlling the stocks.   He’s telling her what taxes she has to pay or what losses she gets to take.  He could probably take the money back if she ever displeased him.  Or if he disagreed with how she spent it, if she ever sold those stocks.  What a nightmare.

There’s many reasons that I use only index funds (other than the stocks he’s given us).  The fact that they’re less risky and less time intensive are the main reasons… but it’s also really nice to not have to worry about them going under and having to find their cost-basis.  I’m glad one of the recent previous administrations made a law that companies have to keep track of cost-basis, but that’s no help for stocks that were bought when Brown and Company was still a private entity.

So… I don’t take money from my parents, not for the noble reasons of me wanting them to enjoy the fruits of their labors.  That’s what I told myself for years.  And not just because taking money from my father has always been a huge hassle (and we always find out about it after we no longer have use for it), though that is still definitely a part of it.  But because I still associate my parents’ money with control and being yelled at and about.   The money I have access to now is mine and my husband’s.  We earned it.  We saved it.  We control it.  We can spend or save it as we like.  We built a peaceful life where money is a tool that buys goods and services but isn’t used to create guilt.

I have no questions.

*This post is much more jumbled.  And I’m sure there’s people who are thinking #firstworldproblems about this post who would have had sympathy for that post.  But I’d rather not be brave than be told I’m brave.

**To be completely fair the rest of us were allowed heat with our showers or baths, so long as we didn’t take long showers or fill up the tub too much.  Instead of quick cold showers like Jacob, my father generally only does sponge baths unless he’s at a hotel where he takes advantage and leaves a ring around the tub.  Oh lord, now I’m doing that flashback thing and getting yelled at for wasting water while washing dishes in my mind (because even though my sister and I had to wash the dishes, we had to do it his way except we could never get it exactly like he wanted).  Maybe I should delete this post too.

Ask the Grumpies: I moved into a rich subdivision and my neighbors gave me way too much

Moved to the Southern US asks:

My husband and I (immigrants from [an Asian country]) have done very well for ourselves lately, and after living in a 2200 sq ft house in a standard subdivision with mostly people affiliated with the local university, we saved up and built our own house where the minimum allowed house size is 3,500 sq feet and there are plenty of trees and lots of land between houses.  Lot sizes are big.  According our HOA, we could have horses if we wanted, but nobody does.  On one side of us lives a surgeon and his younger SAHM wife with their two children (neither of whom are close to my children’s ages).  On the other side are a couple of older lawyers (we think) whose children are grown (we think).

We moved here mid-September, so this is our first holiday season here.

Recently the SAHM gave us an enormous box of homemade cookies.  Along with the box she provided a holiday card and a lengthy very personal holiday letter with pictures and information about their “magical” summer vacation.  There were also a lot of bible verses.

The cookies were, sadly, not very good.  Neither my toddler nor my growing pre-teen ate more than one, which is saying something.  (Our builder also gave us a tin of cookies as a holiday gift, but there were a lot fewer cookies and they were good!)  We ended up throwing them out and sending a thank-you note.  My DH initially wanted to invite the family over for tea, but thought better of it.  We thought about reciprocating, but… it seemed weird and we don’t want to encourage such gifts.

This morning [a Saturday] around 7am while we were all still in bed, we got a knock on the door and it was our other neighbor, the lawyer husband, with a box from honeybaked ham for us.  My husband groggily thanked him and took it inside.  When we opened it later, it had an entire ham in it with a price tag for almost $60(!) along with a Christmas card saying, “Hello neighbor, have a wonderful Christmas!” with the word “Christmas” underlined twice.  I’ve never met the lawyer couple and know very little about them.  My husband has not talked with either of them much either.  (We’d at least seen the cookie neighbor around the neighborhood while walking our dog, though we couldn’t tell you the names of her kids.)

Is this normal?  Do we write a thank-you note?  Are we expected to reciprocate in kind?  I don’t want to spend $60 on someone whose name I don’t even know.

We are Christian and we do like ham, so we will be eating it, but we would still have preferred not to have gotten this gift.

That definitely sounds WEIRD!  It is so tacky to leave a price tag on a gift!  What is up with that?

And who gives a HAM?  And who gives a ham 4 days before Christmas?  I may be biased a bit because I don’t like ham and we’re about to leave to visit relatives (and there is usually a lot of ham at Christmas dinner but without pineapple which is the only thing I like about baked ham so I can’t imagine coming back to an entire ham after that).  There’s so many people who can’t eat ham, not just for religious or vegetarian reasons, but also for reasons of cholesterol and salt content.  That’s just so WEIRD.  (Also, not a fan of Honeybaked ham– they somehow seem even saltier than normal.)

Let’s assume that there’s nothing overtly racist about either of these neighbors, they just can’t imagine a world where anybody wouldn’t be Christian.  It’s just easier to live that way.

I find people over the age of 25 who proselytize to not be very interesting to talk with, so I think not having tea and just sending a thank-you note was the right call there.  (My students often outgrow the proselytizing as they meet more new people–it’s just how they were raised.)

My guess with the holiday letter and cookies is that they had a bunch leftover from their friends and family giving and decided the neighbors would get the overflow.  Possibly she went to a cookie party (where people make and trade huge batches of cookies), though if that were the case *some* of the cookies would have been good because they’d have been made by other people.  So you got the letter because she had some extras printed out, not because she really wants you to know about her vacation.

As for the ham… I was completely mystified about that too until I talked with one of my friends who knows more rich people than I do.  (Technically we know a lot of Silicon Valley rich people, but Northern California rich is a lot more like upper middle class most places, and most of them are only first generation rich because of the dot com boom.)  She said he’s probably giving said hams to everyone on his list without really thinking about it.  $60 seems like a lot to most of us, but it’s like that arrested development clip with the banana.  They don’t see it as extravagant because they can’t.

Image result for how much does a banana cost meme

[This, grumpy nation, is but one reason that we need higher marginal tax rates.  Wealthy people should not be gifting each other bad hams!  What a waste!  (Personally, I’d try to give it to our local food pantry, but I don’t know they’d even accept it and they’re impossible to get on the phone.)]

So, Moved to the Southern US, eat the ham as you wish and write a thank you note as you did with the cookies.  Either they’re giving you outsized gifts because you’re new to the neighborhood and they’ll scale down next year, or these gifts are such a small part of their lawyerly budget that it just doesn’t seem over the top (and maybe you’ll just come to expect your annual ham until it’s time to move to a nursing home).  Send a thank you card and move on.  You do not need to reciprocate!

Makes me glad that the only gifts we get from our neighbors are the occasional much appreciated overflow summer tomatoes!  Oh, and when DC1 was little a number of our neighbors used us as an opportunity to get rid of outgrown toys and clothes, which was also appreciated.  Also, several years ago we did get into a banana bread war with one of our neighbors– she ran into DH doing yardwork one evening and they got talking and she mentioned she had lots of extra bananas from her work and somehow that ended up with him getting a bunch of very ripe bananas, which he turned into several loaves of banana bread.  So he gave one to their family…  And then she gave us another loaf of banana bread in return.  At which point I’m fairly sure we realized we needed to stop, but it might have gone another round.

Grumpy nation– Do you get holiday (or other) gifts from your neighbors?  Have you ever lived in an upper-class neighborhood and is it different from where those who barely qualify as having mcmansions live?  Do you know rich people and do they give you hams?

Ask the grumpies: How much to save for different long-term priorities

Ali asks:

How much to save for college vs retirement vs other savings, etc.  Basically, tell me what to do.

The vast majority of our readers should max out their retirement savings prior to saving for kids’ college.  The reason for this is that you can get loans for college, but you can’t get loans for retirement AND US colleges don’t include retirement savings in their financial aid calculations.   That means every dollar that you hide in retirement is a dollar the universities don’t take into account for their financial aid calculations.  If worse comes to worse (ex. student loan rates are high), you can contribute less to retirement while the kids are in college (because you already have so much saved up) and cashflow some of those college expenses with what you would have contributed to retirement.

Disclaimer:  This is not what we did.  Originally I paid a lot of attention to the “recommended” savings percentages in various books and made sure we were putting away 20% of our income for retirement (recommended is 10-20%, we were on the “went to graduate school and need to save extra to make up for low savings years” track).  Then some extra money went into 529s (tax advantaged college saving) for our kids and then the stock market went crazy in a bad way (remember 2008?) and we started prepaying our mortgage as well.  It wasn’t until later that we started contributing to a 457 plan, even though that would have made more sense than contributing to the 529s.

The following assumes you have no debt other than a low interest mortgage.

  1. Save an emergency fund that will get you through a missing paycheck or late reimbursement or small emergency.
  2. Put money into retirement up to any employer match.
  3. Save an emergency fund that will get you through a reasonable job loss or other large expense.  (A Roth IRA is a good place to stash this when you’re just starting out since you can tap the principal without penalty and it can go to retirement if you don’t have a major emergency.)
  4. Save 10-20% of your gross income for retirement (or the max if are a high earner).  Play with retirement calculators to get more specific on the percent.
  5. Start putting money away in a 529 plan based on how much you’re planning to contribute and what schools your kid is considering.  We have more details here, and also more generally with other 529 posts.  The short is you’ll want to play with some college savings calculators AND the financial aid calculators at individual schools that you’re looking at.  (You might want to pay down your house at this step instead because colleges don’t use most housing wealth in their calculations for financial aid, but play with those different assumptions with the calculators.)

I DO think it is important to have a 529 for relatives to put monetary gifts in if you have relatives who are likely to think that’s a good idea, and don’t just have one for the oldest boy even though the money is fungible across kids.  That’s not how gifts work– people want to give to both kids, not just one.

So… I guess that’s the basic advice.  There are exceptions to the above– people who have access to a backdoor 401k at work but don’t have high incomes might never be able to max out their retirement, for example.

Grumpy Nation:  What advice would you give?  How do you decide how much to save where?


  • DH and I have decided that if we ever have someone ask for permission to marry a daughter, the answer will be no.  (Because nobody should be asking a parent permission for an adult to get married.)
  • One of my colleagues said she just wouldn’t vote if Bernie was the nominee.  I told her that not voting is half a vote for Trump.  She said she couldn’t bring herself to.  I said I would vote for road-kill over Trump.  Because there are children in concentration camps in our country and children’s lives are at stake.
  • One of my RAs got hir entire school account suspended because one of the datasets zie was working with was called sex_and_gender
  • One of our relatives just named her new son Pnykolass.  The P is silent.  [Actual name may have been changed to protect the innocent and to prevent googling!]
  • Remember how we got a whole house water filter?  It turns out that unfiltered water has chlorine in it and filtered water doesn’t.  Which means that that pink/orange bacterial slime that loves to eat soap has infiltrated the master bathroom.  We are debating the pros and cons of getting a bleach tablet for the toilet (which will corrode the toilet innards) or hiring a cleaning service just to do the kitchen and bathrooms (since I hate putting stuff away before a full clean).  Spending every weekend cleaning the bathroom sounds not fun to me, but I also am squicked out by pink slime.
  • update: a single intensive cleaning session with bleach is buying us time.
  • DC1 went to two different programming camps and got two Raspberry Pi.  I said zie didn’t have an r so zie didn’t have a circle, just two pi.  DC1 pointed out that Raspberry starts with an R.  DC2 chimed in that no, DC1 has two pi Remainder asberry.  I’m so proud!
  • Every time I see a headline or tweet for 90 day fiancé I get really excited until I realize (again) it doesn’t say finances.
  • The new countertop in the kitchen settled, taking the shiny new caulk down with it, so we had to recaulk.
  • When I was starting college halfway across the country, I was the only kid I met there whose parents didn’t go with them on move-in day.  I thought that was weird.  Plane fare was so expensive.  And why pay for crowded hotels?  (My parents did move-in my sister but she went to school in-state so it was just a lengthy drive.)  And yet… when it is our kids’ turn we will probably go because it won’t be a big chunk out of our budget and it is one of those milestones.  And I guess DC1 will be younger than I was, depending on what zie decides to do 4 years from now.
  • OMG, can you believe [bachelorette spoilers].  I sure hope she doesn’t [more spoilers] because I want him to be the next bachelor.  But they never pick the guy I want, so…
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Being asked for money

Although we have given money to family before, we’ve never been asked for money before.  There have been little things like school and other charity fundraisers and political candidates, but not requests for spending money.

Usually instead what happens is relatives will have had a tragic event and set up a gofundme or they’ll get married or buy a house or have a baby or we’ll hear through the family grapevine about some need and we’ll send a gift-card or a check or buy something off a registry.  We have also offered to pay full college expenses for the kids of one of DH’s relatives, though there’s not been much take-up of that.

Recently we got asked for a short-term (two week) loan from a low income relative, $200-$300 in exchange for a post-dated check to be cashed after the next paycheck (usually this relative is able to get an advance on the next paycheck, but the person able to do that was out that week).  There’s a long list of reasons why this relative isn’t quite making pay-check to pay-check ends meet, and they don’t have credit cards or the ability to borrow more from their house and I think it’ll be a few years before they can declare bankruptcy again.  There’s a lot of problems with previous mismanagement (and there’s still a heavy smoker in the family… but cigarettes are less expensive than Nicorette), but the big thing is really that there just isn’t enough income or opportunity.  When there’s overtime or side-jobs, they make it paycheck to paycheck, but when there isn’t they just run up perpetually short.  They’re reminiscent of delagar’s series on poor and middle-class in the US, but on the low end– the line between poor and lower-middle-class.  Usually they lean on other family members who are also low income (and get leaned upon by the same local extended family), but those sources, too, must be tapped out.

Obviously we’re not going to be dealing with loans to family, so this would be a gift.

We are of the minority in the US who can easily come up with $500 (or $400, or even $1000, depending on the study that you look at) on short notice.  So even with our extremely expensive summer (and even with me not getting paid over the summer), this is not a hardship for us.  We’ve certainly made enough mistakes this summer that cost over $500.

But it’s uncomfortable.  It’s uncomfortable because we remember times in the past when $100 was not a hardship, but still a sacrifice for us and sending $100 to buy groceries ended up becoming a game system for them instead (and DH wanted a game system but we didn’t feel like we could afford it yet… we were still saving up for a w/d).  It’s uncomfortable because this is a large extended family– one request from one person is not a big deal, but if word gets out…  It’s uncomfortable because $200-$300 isn’t going to really make any difference in the long run.  There’s still going to be that gap in income and expenditures and that gap is not going to shrink.

It’s uncomfortable because of what it means for the future.

Sometimes giving money makes things worse because it enables people to get into even bigger holes by taking risks they shouldn’t be taking (to take a previous real example, replacing an old car that ran just fine with an expensive new car that then got repossessed when they hit bad times).  And, of course, that makes us uncomfortable because it puts us in the position of feeling squicky about “worthiness”– who are we to judge, and yet… we don’t want to make things worse.

So we (mostly DH) made peace with all of this and said no problem, but that a check was unlikely to get there in time, what did they need the money for, gas and groceries or what?  And because it was gas and groceries for the week we sent a Walmart giftcard for $249 (since $250 triggers additional fraud protections) which was cancelled by Walmart’s fraud service team in the middle of the night anyway because I guess they caught on to the $250 minus $1 trick.  So we had to call up and get it reprocessed, which it is still (as of this writing) in the process of doing, but presumably it will be done before a check could have reached them.  So, if you are attempting to send a walmart card to a needy family in a short amount of time, maybe stick with denominations in the $100 or less range.  (If the money was needed for something else, we were going to see if hir bank took Zelle, or if we could pay a bill directly.)  We also sent a check for $50 in the off chance it can get deposited before the outstanding checks zie’s written overdraw the account.

Then the next question is whether to allow the relative to send a check that we then tear up or if we say not to bother sending a check.  DH is in favor of complete honesty, but I’m torn between 1. thinking how zie wouldn’t have a -$25 balance in checking right now if zie thought zie had $299 less in there and 2. knowing that a lot of people really hate it when checks haven’t been cashed because it screws with checkbook balancing and 3. knowledge that the belief that the check will eventually be cashed won’t last very long and might screw with mental accounting in the wrong direction later.  We will no doubt go with the honesty option, but perhaps not until after the check has been sent.

Do you get requests from family for loans or gifts?  How do you deal with them?


  • One of DC2’s extracurricular activities got bought by a creepy 20-something mega-Christian.  We didn’t find out until one of their events in which the new owner started by talking about how Jesus was more important than [extracurricular activity] and how they incorporate Jesus in every class and then we were asked to pray.  We asked DC2 and zie confirmed that zie had been asked to pray in class.  The place’s website has also been modernized since we signed DC2 up and talks about Jesus on a little text thing that comes and goes.  I was already pretty pissed off at this place because of the unannounced mommy participation day.  And it was fairly obvious from the older kids’ that this studio really isn’t focused on [extra-curricular activity] at all– I have been to so many of these events in my life and this one was easily the worst.  As soon as we got back home from said event we withdrew DC2 and looked for a studio that focuses on [extracurricular activity].  I really hate stealth proselytizing.  (I am also not a fan of [extracurricular activity] but DC2 is, so what can you do?)
  • The kids’ piano teacher also starts recitals with some musings about Christian religion, particularly the Christmas recital, but for some reason that doesn’t bother us as much.  It could be that since she was DC1’s music teacher when zie was at a religious school we were forewarned, but we think it’s more that she makes it clear that she’s talking about her personal faith and she doesn’t make everybody pray.  (The quote on the program this time was Isiah, “The people who walk in darkness shall see a great light,” and she talked about how every morning there is a sunrise and it seems like we’re living in dark times, but there will be light again, and the Christmas season reminds us of that… which I dunno, seems pretty accurate and not something that the person in the previous bullet is even aware of.) It is a Christmas recital, but non-Christians also play non-Christmas music (both of the holiday and non-holiday varieties).  So it seems more inclusive.
  • Some academic self-proclaimed feminists sound really transphobic on their twitter accounts these days.  I strongly suspect that this “problem” they talk about of people forcing kids to change their gender is not really a thing, but acting like it is probably does actual harm.  I don’t see how the existence of trans women who are attracted to women hurts other lesbians in any way. (And definitely not in any way that wouldn’t disappear if the patriarchy were dismantled!) These “feminists” seem to think that being trans is an act or a lie or something that people are tricking other people into doing. I will admit that I do not “get” gender identity at all– with respect to me, I only see gender as a way that the rest of the world categorizes and interacts with me, not the way I see myself (except as is reflected by the rest of the world). It is really easy for me to take the path of least resistance. Sure I’d rather be a guy just because the patriarchy means that guys have it easier, but being a trans guy, and being a trans guy who is attracted to my husband, that seems really hard. But I also understand that many people do have strong gender identities, and that gender identity doesn’t always match up with the sex they were assigned at birth and those people don’t need people like [insert “feminist” tweeter here] telling them that they’re being duped by society and hurting other LGB people… as if someone can be convinced by society to become trans in this culture. Really? Trans people are real people who are fully dimensional and have life stories and opinions and thoughts and histories and feelings just like everybody else. Excluding them, telling them they’re wrong… that is not what feminism should be about. That’s a pretty piss-poor feminism.
  • Speaking of the above bullet– I think it is easier to imagine people complexly (to paraphrase John Green) if you know a lot of different people and read/watch a lot of media in which people tell their stories and fictional people are drawn complexly.  Deirdre McCloskey was the first trans person that I ever really listened to on the topic (there were some trans folks at my high school, but they weren’t really in my social circle, though they may have been in #2’s)– I’d spent two semesters reading and loving her work published under the Donald name (economic history) and had heard stories about how horribly she’d been treated by her family from other professors whose own advisors had been involved in the march to get her out of the mental institution her relatives had committed her to (in IL you only needed 2 people to commit you!).  Then she gave a talk about being a woman in economics, “notes from a novice” and answered any and all questions we had (my question was, “should we cite your pre-transition work as Donald or Deirdre?”– she said Deirdre and that she hoped to get it all changed).  Deirdre McCloskey is a trans lesbian and a truly wonderful person.  Well loved and known to be a fantastic mentor.  She’s not harming anybody.  I also love the contrast of Claire in Questionable Content compared to Carla on Dumbing of Age.  (Claire is neurotic and wonderful and so much with the terrible puns, while Carla is kind of a jerk, but a jerk who generally does the right thing.  Completely different people.)  The trans students I’ve had in class have been, to my knowledge, trans men or trans gender neutral.  I don’t know much about their lives other than the standard student stuff because they’re also just people trying to learn statistics and economics like everybody else.  But they’re the reason I’ve spent so much time on the phone with legislative aides pleading and arguing about various bathroom bills over the past several years.  Bathroom bills are a genuine threat to people’s lives.  Not this fake garbage that creates some kind of LGBTQ hierarchy.  That’s BS.
  • Ok, maybe I do know a little bit more about my students than their statistics knowledge:  I recently learned a valuable lesson from one: never impulse buy flying squirrels on a road trip in an overcrowded car, even if they’re for sale at an open market you stop at.  One of my colleagues and I agree that they should sell the story to National Lampoon as a Christmas family road trip.
  • You can create new regency romance titles by switching out “Squirrel” with “Earl” in Squirrel Girl volume titles.  “Earl, You Really Got Me Now”
  • … thank you, Mint, I guess, for sending me an email the other week telling me I’d lost $30K in the previous week’s stock market crash.  I’m not sure how to feel about that.  Good, I guess?  I mean, that’s a lot of money.  (I didn’t check to see if that was actually accurate– sometimes Mint double counts one or more of my retirement accounts.)
  • I’m seeing a lot of New Years posts with people talking about how they’re going to ignore the news in 2019.  I hope that you all don’t do that– I know I’ve been feeling a lot of political fatigue especially since the last election, but we can’t give up now.  I don’t have time right now to do a super long pep-talk, but we have to keep pushing forward with activism.  We have to keep fighting.  Children’s lives are at stake… the environment, women’s rights, minority rights… so many things.  Rest and relax, but don’t stop moving forward.

A history of loving money: Our family crest

One of my cousins has been doing a bunch of genealogy work with the help of our relatives still in Europe.  Turns out my family has a crest!  This is from the 17th century when an ancestor was the local official overseeing a town building and decided to leave his mark:

The circles in the lower right are coins, which is not surprising given how important money is to this side of my family (we are all terribly crass about it!).  The cross-like things on the upper-right are supposedly lilies, and I guess they technically are similar to fleur de lis.  This is the side of the family that has won and lost fortunes in Europe (and various non-American colonies, where it is likely they did horrific things in the name of trade), as opposed to the stunningly middle-class American side (it’s unlikely that that side had fortunes prior to leaving for the new world either, though side branches that I’m not descended from have done well for themselves– I am very distant cousins with some rich old US families).  My mother’s family does not have family crests (indeed, my mom’s last name is one of those that got created upon an ancestor coming to the US).  My DH’s last name does, but only in the way that really common UK names that are also places do.  If you go back 4 generations down my maternal line (possibly not coincidentally, the line related to those rich distant cousins), we’ve got one of those as well according to places on the internet that sell such things.

Do you have a family crest?  What’s on it?  What would you put on a family crest?  I’d like to swap out that woodland creature for a book…