Ask the grumpies: kids learning stuff

Sandy L asks:

I still sometimes feel guilt that I haven’t forced my kids to learn an instrument or even the 2nd language I speak with my mommy. They know some but are not fluent. What are your feelings on that? Do you force your kids to do things they hate?

The Official Grumpy Rumblings Parenting Philosophy ™ is that people are going to want you to feel guilty whether you do or don’t have your kids do activity X (or indeed, any activities at all), so do what you feel is best, which may be whatever is easiest for you.

Do we force our kids to do things they hate?  Sometimes!  I suspect DC1 would never ever ever bathe or take a shower if we didn’t make hir.  Certainly not as frequently as every other day.  And there’s things we’ve made them do the initial not fun parts and they end up liking them more later after they’ve gotten better, like cooking for DC1 or the tough parts of Train Your Monster to Read for DC2.

What about the rest of you, Grumpy Nation?  What are your thoughts?


Ask the grumpies: Do summer homes make financial sense?

Sandy L. asks

Summer homes. Do they ever make financial sense?

In the grand scheme of things, probably not.  They’re really not something that I understand at all.  Most people would be better off just renting a place for the small amount of time they use the summer home, especially if that home is not the only place they vacation in each summer.  But people don’t do summer homes for the financial reasons.

HOWEVER, there are some scenarios that can make financial sense.  If you can claim the summer home in another state as your main residence, you might be able to get a break on state income tax.  If you rent out the summer home the 9 months of the year you’re not using it, you may be able to make some $ if it’s in a desirable area (particularly if it’s someplace in CA where property taxes are frozen and you bought years ago).  If you turn it into a B&B/Air B&B place it might make $.  And if you’re lucky enough to buy someplace that magically goes up in value after you’ve bought it, you might be able to sell for enough profit that it’s all worth while (particularly, again, if it is in California).

If you use it also as a weekend home, you might save money over staying in a similar place that you don’t own each weekend.  If it keeps you from jaunting off to Europe on a regular basis, it might also save money.  If your second choice would be extremely high priced rental lodging for you and all your servants, then sure, it might make financial sense.

Those of you contemplating summer homes, keep in mind that federal tax treatment of the mortgage deduction for these may be changing in the near future (getting rid of the mortgage deduction is a good thing economically in the long run), making second homes more expensive to own.

Any experience with summer homes, Grumpy Nation?

Ask the grumpies: Which historical figure would you meet?

Leah asks:

If you could meet any historical figure, who and why?

#1:  I wonder if there are any famous deceased pastry chefs…  I think I would probably go with some food-related person who made something that we don’t know how to make anymore.  (What was ambrosia prior to the marshmallow concoction we use now?)  I would also probably need a translator with me!

A lot of the historical people I once thought I would want to meet now I have no desire to meet because I’m female and it turns out they were sexually harassing @#$23holes.  Far better off dead.

#2:  Eleanor of Aquitaine, except we don’t speak the same language

#1:  Why? Is it because you share a proud taste for scarlet and miniver? [Note:  no ermine or squirrel were harmed in the making of this blogpost]

#2:  I dunno, she’s rad as hell, and I couldn’t come up with anyone else.   I read lots and lots about her when I was in high school and younger.  She seemed… wily.

Ask the grumpies: Favorite memes?

Leah asks:

what are some of your favorite memes? I’m personally a fan of ceiling cat and science nerd jokes, like

I do like ceiling cat. hm. It’s hard to come up with something on the spur of the moment.

What are your favorite memes, Grumpy Nation?

Ask the grumpies: non-team sports for kids

Sandy L asks:

What non team sports do you think are useful to learn for a kid (swimming, biking, etc)

Well, as you say, swimming is a big one here– that could save a life.  Biking is also useful… biking is a great form of transportation.  I’d never really thought of the option of not learning how to ride a bike, though to be honest, I didn’t learn until I was 7 and we moved out of a city and had a place to practice.

In terms of “etc”… I am honestly not thinking of any.  There probably are things that would be useful like, say, martial arts, but we’re not having our kids do them.  My sister would argue in favor of dance because of strength and balance and stuff.  Others could make that argument with gymnastics.

Grumpy Nation, what non-team sports do you think are useful to learn?

Ask the grumpies: How best to save for kids’ college

First Gen American asks:

I would love a post on savings bonds as a vehicle for college savings…pros and cons vs 529. Also is one better for high earners. There seems to be some language about earning limits on the tax deductability of the earnings but no penalty if not used for educational expenses.

Disclaimer:  We are not professional financial planners.  Before making important financial decisions, talk to a fee-only financial planner with fiduciary responsibility and/or do your own research.

According to this page from the treasury:

For single taxpayers, the [education] tax exclusion income limit [for savings bonds] is an adjusted gross income of $92,550 and above. For married taxpayers filing jointly, the tax exclusion income limit is an adjusted gross income of $146,300 and above.

So to me that says that savings bonds are not a good vehicle for college savings for high earners.  Maybe if they’re the kid’s and the kid is not filing as a dependent, but that seems risky too given how FAFSA and CSS heavily weight the kids’ savings (exceptions here).

Savings bonds are also a less risky, lower earning asset.  Given the lack of tax advantages for higher earnings and current interest rates, they’re not much better than CDs or high interest savings accounts for low-risk low-earnings savings and will also show up in financial aid decisions.

So… for both high and low earners in the “may get some financial aid” range, the best thing to do with your money is to put your savings in places that won’t count against your financial aid– so fill up retirement accounts (especially IRA Roths if you can since you can take out the principal on those in case of emergency), pay off credit cards, put money in home equity below what CSS forms pick up, fill up your HSA, and so on.  (Forbes magazine is probably the best place to look for these kinds of limits/suggestions.)  That may seem counter-intuitive that the best way to save for college is to hide money in ways that it is more difficult to tap for college, but financial aid is powerful and you can take out (short-term) loans for college but you can’t take out loans for your retirement (and taking out loans for your mortgage can be expensive and problematic).

AFTER you’ve hidden as much as you can, I still think the 529 in a state that either gives you a state tax break or, failing that, a state that has good Vanguard options with low fees is your best bet.  You could also do a Coverdell if your income is low enough (<220K in 2017 and 2018), but they’re not really any better than 529s unless you have private K-12 tuition that it could go towards, and the limit is pretty small.

If you are too high income to qualify for financial aid (and note that that income may be higher than you think) then you don’t need to play games hiding your income and savings because there’s not anything you could do to get things low enough for colleges to pitch in.  It may also be worthwhile in this case to push some savings onto the child so as to take advantage of the child’s lower income.  If you’re in this situation, don’t just read free advice from the internet– pay for a fantastic fee only financial planner with fiduciary responsibility and get all of your financials in order.

High earners and grandparents cutting down their estates may want to look into frontloading 529s with 5 years worth of 14K gift exclusions or, if they don’t want to force the money to be used for college, they can look into a gift trust.

How are you saving for kids’ college (if applicable)? 

Ask the grumpies: Apps for 3-5 year olds

The frugal ecologist asks:

You did a toddler app post I think, but any other apps that your little one is into? Thinking for the 3-5 set….

Ooh, we need to know the answer to this question too.

We did like endless words, but boy was it an ipad memory hog.  I had to delete it eventually.  Starfall was another favorite, though we’ve just let it lapse since DC2 has really outgrown it.  ABCMouse seems pretty similar to Starfall– I don’t know if it is worth the cost, but we just got it free for the year with DC2’s kindergarten.  It’s fun, but too easy for DC2 right now– but it would have been good when DC2 was 3!

DC2 now spends a lot of time on the PBS Kids website on DC1’s computer on weekends after zie has done hir chores.  Zie wants to play games just like DC1 does.

Dragon Box has been pretty fun, both the algebra version and the geometry (elements) version, though DC2 hasn’t been able to complete them yet because the difficulty seems to hit frustration level after a while (but zie had fun during the first parts!).  We haven’t tried the numbers apps because they came out after DC2 had seemingly mastered numbers, but maybe it’s worth trying them anyway.  Update:  After typing this up we got Big Numbers and DC2 is hooked (some knowledge of addition and subtraction makes this game more fun).  (Right now, I admit I wish I were picking apples and gathering stones and turning fish into gold coins.)

A free one if you do it on the computer instead of an app is Teach your monster to read.   DC2 is also doing this one in school (even though zie knows how to read) and is enjoying it, but I must say after listening to hir play it this weekend, some poor princess keeps getting kidnapped over and over again and one would think would have better security by now.  Or maybe a weapon of her own or something.  They should mix it up and have the crown prince get kidnapped or something.  The narrator has a pleasant Britishy accent.  Update:  Level 2 does much better on gender–DC2 repeatedly feeds a female monster cookies and helps another find her lost words instead of rescuing a newly captured princess.  (Again, this is too easy for where DC2 is right now, but gee it would have been nice to have had a year or two ago!)

But yes, we really would like to have more suggestions on this one as DC2 has really outgrown most of what is on the ipad.  Extra points for stuff in Spanish!