We are not Mr. Money Moustache

We got a link from mothers in medicine the other day.

The link was about how one of our DH’s has an allowance, but it also seemed to contain a misunderstanding of our financial selves.

In case there are widespread misunderstandings, we thought we’d clarify a few things.  We are not the FrugalWoods.  We are not Mr. Money Moustache.  We don’t think you need to spend nothing.  (Nor do we think you need to outsource everything!)

We have a strong belief that you should spend where your utility curve hits your budget constraint in a multi-period model that includes the possibility of negative income shocks.  We understand that each person has his or her own utility curve and budget constraint and probability of positive and negative shocks.  In other words, do what makes you happy in both the short-term and the long-term (so long as it doesn’t hurt other people).

What we do doesn’t mean that’s what you should do.  Our utility curves and budget constraints are probably different than yours.  Which is a good thing or Paradise would sink into the ground from too many people.

Yes, for our sins, we are doing just fine with our finances.  How do we know?  Our use of money aligns with our values.  We’re on track (or getting on track) with retirement savings and so on.  We have contingency plans and emergency plans and so on.  We’re going to be ok in most scenarios (and have, so far, been financially ok when life throws curve balls).

No, we’re not planning on retiring early.  No, we don’t think you need to pay off your mortgage (or even have a house at all!)

We spend a ton of money.  Are we frugal?  Well, if frugality means spending in accordance with our values, yes.  But we’re frugal conditional on making a ton of money.  What we spend these days wouldn’t be frugal for say, us even 5 years ago (even 2-3 years ago), because we didn’t have as much money then.

Yes, we’ve sacrificed in the past which means we can spend more now.  Yes, savings and other kinds of cushions have helped immensely when job plans have changed and we’ve been grateful to our previous selves.  Savings has meant that one member of each of our family units has been able to escape terrible jobs without a new job lined up.  Money really can buy freedom and peace of mind.

Are you doing ok?

Well, we don’t know.  If you’re complaining a lot, then no, you probably aren’t.

Otherwise, that’s something only you can answer.  We recommend checking out financial calculators and maybe the balanced money formula and so on.  Make sure you’re doing the basic good things with your retirement savings (ex. low fee index funds).  That sort of Money 201 stuff.  If you’re not doing ok, then it’s time to rejigger the Money 102 stuff, or possibly even Money 101.

We’ll only judge your spending habits if you’re perpetually bragging about how much you make, complaining about all your debt, bragging about all the luxuries you spend on, and talking about how nice people who make less money than you do are continually buying you necessities because you had an emergency but spent all your money on luxuries.  We find high income people who complain about the consequences of their bad choices and treat other people badly to be irritating.

But otherwise, you buy whatever lattes or fancy vacations or nice cars you can afford (given on-track savings) if that makes you happy.  It’s your money!

And what *we* do is irrelevant to your financial well-being.  Either you’re saving the right amount for your situation and spending on the right things for you or you aren’t.  What we spend or don’t spend isn’t going to affect that.  So even if we were the Frugal Woods, that wouldn’t matter for your bottom line.

Still, we’re not.  And we like it that way.  :)

Do you feel judged by other people’s financial choices?  Also– did you think we were super-frugal low spenders?

Live-blogging my cyber security awareness training

an IM chat with my partner.

ME: and now, for sauce, an hour-long video training on ‘cyber security awareness’.
WHY WHY WHY are there so many videos I HATE VIDEO TRAININGS
just write down the things that everyone under 50 knows, and it’ll take 5 minutes to read.

[#2 notes that Grumpy Rumblings does not endorse tired age stereotypes about technology knowledge or lack thereof.  Workers over 50 ALSO know this stuff.]

PARTNER: not all employees are under 50 :)

ME: “Don’t answer phishing emails” DURRRRR
durrrrrrrrrrrr
don’t share passwords durrrrrrrrrrr
Partner, did u know that phishing emails are common?
This ‘cyber attacker’ is wearing google glasses

PARTNER: they do that!
ME: do they???
PARTNER: no

ME: hey if a stranger calls u on the phone and tells u that ur computer is infected and u need to go buy this software to fix it… durrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
“Simply hang up the phone or ignore the email.” This is some quality sh*t.

PARTNER: well, taunting them wouldn’t be very professional

ME: hey another unit about email
DO NOT OPEN THE ATTACHMENT
also the ‘cyber attacker’ is a man of course
o wait, this one’s a woman– also wearing google glass

here’s a hint: your bank’s not going to ‘deactivate’ your account.

This envelope is vibrating. I wouldn’t open that.
“Browsers are one of the primary ways we interact with the internet.”

PARTNER: good to know
ME: right?

“Should you heed security warnings?” gee what a hard quiz

“social networking websites are one of the most exciting technologies on the internet!”
this is definitely written BY 60-year-olds, FOR 60-year-olds.
oh no that guy got a fishing hook through his FACE

[#2:  See above disclaimer.  60 year olds who work have gone through more of these security trainings than #1 has.  They are aware of social networking.]

PARTNER: ow
ME: your friend doesn’t actually need you to wire money to him in Romania
PARTNER: I dunno, sometimes my friend is in Romania
ME: and they can only contact you via facebook?
PARTNER: well, probably not.

ME: also this video has bad grammar.
ooooh kidnapping your child, that’s definitely the item choice I’m picking.
I thought we were going to learn about encryption there for a minute, but no. That would be much harder than “don’t click that link, yo”
“Not only can you call anyone IN THE WORLD” using your cell phone… go figure.

PARTNER: well, usually I can’t call you, actually.  [This is because #1 is the only person left in the US without a cell phone.]
ME: in the WORLD, Partner.
hahahaha “never jailbreak your own phone”

PARTNER: then teh haXX0Rz will pwnz you!
ME: don’t go to http://www.EvilAntiVirus.com — I bet you shouldn’t click on that link
PARTNER: Firefox can’t establish a connection to the server at http://www.evilantivirus.com
ME: sad
the section on passwords promises hilarity
oooh passphrases. Use numbers in place of letters. Are you listening, 60-year-olds? [#2:  60 year olds probably have as many passwords as the rest of us non 60-year olds]
PARTNER:  31337!
the password ‘p4$$w0rd’ is totally uncrackable!
ME: hey don’t use your banking password for youtube
PARTNER: but then how will I remember my youtube password?
ME:  o noes
never share your password, Partner. It is a SECRET.

PARTNER: Keep it secret. Keep it safe.
ME: Enable “Hobbit-level” security.
Don’t send important secret work information to your personal email

PARTNER: but how will I get it home?
ME: Don’t log in as root unless you need to…
this guy seems to have an RFID chip embedded in his clavicle
that seems… not-ideal
PARTNER: ow

ME: don’t install software that has the Jolly Roger on it.

PARTNER: but I really liked Assassin’s Creed 4
ME: me too!
“These steps should be applied in a way that is consistent with our policies.” no, really?
argh, grammar.
hey that loud-ass bird is back, the one that likes to sit outside our window and look at us. What’s up, loud bird?

PARTNER: tweet
ME:  “Which of the following is a typical step that an attacker will take after compromising a system?

A. Installing Microsoft Office on your system.”
ha!

“If you believe your system has been compromised, you should: A. Continue using the system so the attacker does not become suspicious” — YES, YES, pick that one

WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY

This data management policy is laid out like a football play. Am I the running back or the tight end?

“We hope you enjoyed your security awareness training.”  NOPE.

PARTNER: thaT DOES NOT CHANGE THEIR HOPE THOUGH

ME: hahahaha
“Remember, our goal is not to scare you from using the internet.”
“Technology is a tremendous tool that enables you to accomplish amazing things.”  Ok, Grandma.  [#2:  Most grandmas are well aware of facebook and skype etc.]

[end.]

Later, my co-worker started the same online training and spontaneously burst into giggles.  “Welcome to the 21st Century?” she asked.  “It gets worse,”  I told her.

#2 notes that her IT training just switched to slow and stupid.  No skipping to the quiz anymore.  No just reading the slides and fast forwarding them.  Nope, you cannot move ahead until they’re done talking.   And it’s an hour and a half with a huge amount of useless prologue.  UGH.  So, of course, instead of actually paying attention, I’m just letting it run on my secondary monitor, clicking next whenever I notice a slide has finished (there are ~150 slides).  If they want me to learn something, this is not the way to go about it.

What’s the dumbest training you’ve been to?  How can we all be less ageist?

What is the path to perfection?

Sometimes it seems like people think their lives will be some sort of perfect ideal, for example, if I can run marathons or keep my house clean or organize the crap out of every minute of the day… or whatever the latest fad is.  (I guess those fads were several iterations ago… as I finish this post it’s minimalism and Frugalwoods-style frugality… can you tell we’ve been finishing up and scheduling old drafts?)

But these internet fads aren’t magic bullets.   Some people love marathon training and some people don’t.  Some people enjoy cleaning and some people don’t.  Some people need more organization than others or have situations that make compartmentalization necessary or optimal.  It’s great to try these things out, but if they don’t bring the solutions you were looking for, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with *you*.  Even if they work for someone else whose blog you read, especially someone who is trying to sell products along with that perfect lifestyle.  They are they (them?) and you are you.  Different strokes.

It’s important to realize that choices are choices and not referenda on what your values are or maps to what other people should be doing (unless that map inspires you).

Enjoy the journey, and reach for the destination, even if you never get there.  Or if you like where you are, enjoy that too!

Be who you want to be.  Find *your* bliss or just live out your life — not every life has to waste time worrying about bliss or optimization.  Make your choices your own and don’t be bound by what the patriarchy or society or your parental unit has been telling you all your life unless you want to be.

And of course, “an it hurts no-one, do what you will.”  There’s limits to freedom, even in touchy-feely posts.

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.”)

Do you think there’s any point …

Occasionally we stumble upon mommy-blogs in which the author is extremely anxious about the cleanliness of her house or her lack of making beautiful baked goods or what she’s doing or not doing with her children or I don’t know, whatever it is that the NYTimes is telling women and mothers to be anxious about.  Sometimes her husband is a lazy asshole and she feels like she can never measure up to his wants and needs while still taking care of the children and house (and sometimes, though not always, her job).  And she’s worried about her (normal-range) weight to boot.

And sometimes I will “poo” in her comments section, questioning why she believes that magazine or blog article she read telling her that her life is worthless if her kitchen floor isn’t sparkly.  (I haven’t seen articles like that, but bloggers claim they exist.  Maybe they have subscriptions to Patriarchy Monthly:  Keeping women down since the beginning of time?)

This little scat packet of mine rarely goes over well.  I’m not the target demo.  The target demo is other women who also feel like their kitchen floor will never be clean enough who are supposed to commiserate.  *shudder.*

And I wonder… is there any point to saying, “Cleanliness is next to cleanser, not next to Godliness” and “Why are you making yourself miserable because you don’t measure up to some artificial standard created by the patriarchy?”  (Because the blogger is always miserable.  And she always blames herself and never the magazines.)  Not usually in those words, but it doesn’t actually matter how gently or politely the words are phrased.  Harsh comments and gentle comments get the same response.

If it weren’t for the patriarchy or those women’s magazines, would they find something else to be miserable about?  Is it really the patriarchy bringing them down, and would understanding it do any good?

Really what I ought to do is to completely leechblock such blogs so I don’t have to read them myself, because they depress me.  Reading about women who are upset when they don’t need to be depresses me.  I don’t like reading about people who stay with lazy husbands they don’t love and don’t communicate with who make them miserable (and say all relationships are like that, anyone who says differently is lying, so why change).  I don’t like reading about people feeling guilty and anxious and worthless because they’re buying the line that the patriarchy is selling them.  I don’t like reading about people being determined to stay miserable and anxious.

And no, I don’t blame these women, but it makes me feel sad and helpless to see the comments agreeing that that’s just the way life is and everybody feels like that and all women are worthless and not measuring up to arbitrary standards that they believe are important that don’t have to be important.  And voices of dissent get attacked– it’s self-policing.  Will it always stay that way?  And is one lone blogging voice saying no, don’t believe it, doing more harm than good?

What’s the point?

In which we pay an estimated tax penalty

So, last year, with DH’s unemployment and our various deductions, we ended up getting $500 back from the government at tax time, even though we hadn’t paid in estimated taxes.  So this year we figured we weren’t required to pay estimated taxes because Turbo Tax said we hadn’t last year.  We were wrong.  Why?

1.  One of my legacy stock funds (American Century Trust from back when my father took care of my investments) decided to sell parts of itself and cause a capital gain of 6K which it then reinvested in itself.  It did this last year but only for 2K and hadn’t done it for the previous 12+ years so I thought last year was an aberration.  I was wrong.  Now I want to sell the entire thing so I don’t get these surprises each year.  (On the plus side, when I investigated last year, this capital gains thing they do lowers the capital gains that will accrue when the stock is actually sold.  Still, unlike my father, I prefer my investments to be simple and predictable.)

2.  I was stupid and made major charitable donations Jan 2015 instead of Dec 2014 because I didn’t understand our state tax situation for next year because … yes I know I have a phd in economics don’t judge me.  (I suspect Brigitte Madrian thinks I’m stupid too.  This is one of my great sorrows in life.)

3.  The stupidest of the stupids… I ridiculously assumed that if we claimed 0 deductions on withholding that the government would take out about the right amount of tax for our income so I wouldn’t have to think about taxes on the wage part, just the non-wage income income.  That is apparently seriously untrue.  Yes I know we are how old and never realized this before… but we never had to stop paying estimated taxes for a year and then start up again (and we had bigger mortgage tax deductions…).  Gov’t withholding  on your wages is not enough once you hit a high enough income.  I don’t know why I assumed it would be… it’s not like they can take out larger percentages of your paycheck as your income goes up.  [Update:  The gov’t DOES take out the appropriate amount of income if you’re single (and work steadily).  And the way it does it is by taking a larger % out of larger paychecks (unlike Social Security which takes out the same % and then just stops when you hit the cap).  The gap between monthly payments as a single vs. as a married is substantial and at my income level seems to be assuming that the spouse is earning less.  Which, in this case, he really isn’t.]

4.  We’ve never actually made more than 150K/year before and hit the tax penalty.  So we thought we only had to pay 100% of last year’s tax, which we were sure we’d do because DH has been employed all year instead of unemployed half the year… turns out we actually needed to pay 110% of last year’s tax.  And somehow we paid something like 108% of last year’s tax, give or take.

Add to that are the things we knew were changing, like less housing interest, and it turns out we both owe the government a pretty hefty 4 figure check and have incurred a penalty of $31.  It’s a good thing we’ve been saving up.

By the time we figured this all out, I was basically like, $31?  Screw it.  (Should we figure out if we can pay estimated taxes for 2014 now to eliminate the penalty?  Whatever.  Screw it.  It’s $31.  Which feels like nothing when you’re already writing a check for over $6K.  Even though it really isn’t nothing, I’d pay $31 not to have to think about taxes anymore this year.)

Apparently if we pay our tax bill early, we can cut the penalty to $21.  At least according to TaxAct.

Now to figure out the estimated taxes for next year… because there’s nothing like following up a huge check with another huge check.  But hey, rich people problems.  If only I didn’t feel so dumb.

November Mortgage Update: And hypotheticals

Last month (October):
Balance:$40,306.31
Years left: 3
P =$1,042.82, I =$171.58, Escrow =$788.73

This month (November):
Balance:$37,254.58
Years left: 2.75
P =$1,054.86, I =$159.55, Escrow =$788.73

One month’s prepayment savings: $7.90

Man, it sure is nice to be getting paid again.  Beautiful beautiful paycheck.  Bank account numbers are going up instead of down again.  :)

I won’t find out whether or not I’m getting a half-paid sabbatical next year for several months.  However, I may take the year off unpaid *anyway*.  We have an awfully large savings buffer and DH’s company swears they have enough money to stay in business for the next two years even if they earn no more money during that time (and they’ve got grants out and products being made, so hopefully they’ll get more money).  And DH is one of their valued employees.  And he should be able to find new employment even if he loses his job depending on where we do the sabbatical.

There’s a lot of questions about where to go too, but I’ll defer that for a later post.  All of the places, however, have a higher cost of living than where we are right now (which isn’t difficult!)  Think double the cost of daycare, 1.5 to 2x the cost of housing for something much less nice than our current mortgage (even without the prepayment).

The hypotheticals I want to address right now involve the house.

We currently have 3 cats, one of whom still occasionally pees on a comforter or pile of laundry if we leave it out when she’s out and about.

Our house is also a superficial mess.  Yes, the carpet in the kids’ bathroom is gone and the vertical blinds that were in the worst shape have been replaced, but that’s only the tip of the home-repair ice berg.  The kittens literally shredded the master bathroom when they were still kittens.  It will need to have the wallpaper completely removed, patching done, and paint.  The entire house needs to be painted– it’s grungy and chipping in places and occasionally sports two year old art.  There’s a sizable black ink stain in the carpet in DC1’s room that won’t go away with steam cleaning (it, in fact, just gets bigger every time we try).  The deck needs painting.  The screens need to be replaced or patched.  The guest toilet is getting rusty.  And on and on and on.

We are not allowed to rent to students by HOA rules.  (Though we’re fairly sure there’s a group of students living down the street from us, but the HOA board is currently weak.  When strong it has brought lawsuits to such houses and won against them.)

Our house, in theory, if it were in good shape, would rent unfurnished for $2000/mo.  Though one year rentals may drop as low as say, $1600/mo.  (Note, our required mortgage is $2003/mo, though as you can see the escrow and interest are under $1000/mo.)  Storage for our furniture would cost something like $300-500/mo, give or take.

In bad shape, any house in town will rent for $1200/mo, possibly even $1500/mo.  Our house would be a bargain at that price, even with stained carpet.  Though we’d still have to repaint, I think.

We’re not sure if anyplace we go will allow 3 cats.  Two, yes.  We might be able to leave one of the cats at a relative’s place for the year (though the two black kittens are very attached to each other, and we’d be breaking that attachment– it is unlikely that a relative would take the incontinent kitten).

Our utilities range from $50/mo to $800/mo depending on time of year.  Lawn mowing costs $35/mo, plus weeding $50/mo, but only during the growing season.  Our lawn has to meet a certain standard or we get nasty letters from the HOA  threatening to take our house.

Obviously we’ll stop mortgage pre-payment for next year if I go on leave.

So our choices:

1.  Fix everything up, try to get market rate for the house.

2.  Fix some stuff up (painting, but patch instead of replace screens, put a rug over the ink spot etc.), put the house on the market for cheap.  Potentially offer a discount for renting it furnished rather than unfurnished.

3.  Hire someone to house sit.  Here we could either ask that they pay utilities and take care of the lawn or we could pay utilities and pay them to take care of the house and the two kittens.  If we pay them, then we could get the house fixed up while we’re gone rather than this year when we’re both living here and busy.  With infinite money we could even have the kitchen redone (except we don’t have infinite money).

So I don’t know.  We have quite a bit of extra money in savings right now earmarked for home improvement (we’ve only spent ~$3K so far), though some of that may end up going for rent next year depending on what we end up doing.  If we had a lot more money we’d pick option #3 no contest.  But while we could afford that option (without the kitchen remodel), it would potentially drain our non-retirement/non-529 savings (when combined with our living expenses for next year).  

What are your thoughts on the options?  What should we be considering to make the decision?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 321 other followers