Ask the Grumpies: Knife recommendations

monsterzero  asks:

I need to get a nice sharp knife, mostly for chopping vegetables; any suggestions?

We like our Shun knives, but they are way more expensive than you need. The “best” knives on the market are much cheaper.  So, as beautiful as the Shun knives are, you can spend a fraction of their cost to get a great set of knives.

Generally if you only have one kitchen knife, you want it to be a utility knife.  I’ve noticed that a lot of “knives you must have” lists on the internet disagree with me on this, instead saying that you should have a chef’s knife and a paring knife, but we use the utility knife all the time both to slice and to pare, and we pretty much never use our paring knife.  We actually have two utility knives, our beautiful Shun knife and a more moderately priced Kitchen Aid version.  Henckels and Victronix both get good ratings online.  Note that these are sometimes listed as small chef’s knives instead of utility knives.  Generally you want 6 inches.

If you have two knives, then you should get a chef’s knife if your hands are big or a santoku if your hands are small (I love my santoku, DH usually uses the chef’s knife instead).  Victronix again wins accolades for the chef’s knife.  Seriously, Cook’s Illustrated raves about their 8 inch chef’s knife which is now ~$40 rather than the $27 it was when their ratings came out.  For santokus, it may be worth paying the extra money to get Shun or Wusthof.  Note that you chop differently with these two types of knives (the Santoku doesn’t rock)– you may want to watch a video or two if you’re not used to the kind of knife you end up with.

If you get a third knife, it should be a bread knife if you like to eat a lot of bakery-style bread.  We decided on this one from Tojiro for my little sister after discovering her hacking through artisan bread with her chef’s knife at Christmas.  At $18 it is a bargain.

Then maybe a paring knife (we never use ours though).

And that’s really all you need unless you want one for carving turkey.

One item that we really appreciate having is an electric knife sharpener.  If your local farmers market has a knife sharpening station where they sharpen by hand using a stone, that’s probably going to be better for your knives, but there’s a lot to be said for getting a quick sharpen at home and just replacing the knife a few years earlier than you would had you gotten them professionally sharpened each time, since you will still get decades of use out of the knives.  There are a lot more options now than when we got ours, but Chef’s Choice is still the sharpener people recommend.  I bet you can get away with the $40 version, but there are also $180 versions which I hope will carve at angles for you (something you would need for hunting knives, but not so much kitchen knives).

Grumpy nation, what knives do you love?  Which ones do you regularly use?  How do you keep your knives sharp?

Ask the Grumpies: Work clothing?

Leah asks:

Do you have to dress up for work? When you do, have you found any brands/stores with a good balance of comfortable and work-appropriate? I am a fan of the dressed up look that doesn’t require any pain.

#1 has to wear business or business casual and gets most of her clothing at the Loft outlet.  Loft is way less fussy and more washable than the standard Ann Taylor.  In the summer she goes much lower scale business casual, but it’s still nice fitted short sleeve shirts rather than what she wears on weekends (which is mostly unisex protest t-shirts or DH’s old t-shirts that are too ratty to wear outside but are really comfy for sleeping and lounging around the house in).

#2 I dress from business casual down to “not actually my pajamas.” I have no brand suggestions, I wish that I did. Sometimes Ann Taylor/ LOFT does me well, but it depends on the season. The pants are fairly reliable for me but I haven’t tried the dresses. They last pretty well (the pants).

#1 always gets really really depressed trying on Ann Taylor pants because they were not made for her, uh, womanly figure.  Some Loft pants are ok.

Ask the Grumpies: What to do 10 years before retirement?

First Gen American asks:

 Things to think about/do now when you are ~10 years from retirement…assuming the cash side is all set.

Sadly, #2 and I completely came up with a big old blank when we discussed this question. Personally, #1 has trouble thinking about next week, so a 1 year plan is out and a 10 year plan is pretty unthinkable. She realized while contemplating this question that in 10 years, her 10 year old will be 20 and will probably no longer be living at home. Crazy! And difficult to contemplate. That’s another world from now. (Kids got lots of extra hugs.) Ten years is a long time!  I also suspect that even if it’s a year before retirement I might think, “Let’s worry about what to do next, you know, after retirement. When I have time.” If I retire.

#2 also says, “keep living your life”. And, “How can you be bored if you have books?”

We came up with a lot of good ideas, but they were all about the cash side, which in this question is already set. If the money tells you it’s 10 years until retirement… keep working? Earn more money? Don’t quit? So, uh, you should read the getting the most of your social security book (or run through the software if that’s more your style), but again, that’s money stuff.

Fortunately a lot of these Early Retirement gurus spend time thinking about the non-monetary parts of retirement.  So we’re punting and linking to Our Next Life.  Here’s their . Not all 10 questions are about money. So maybe that will help?

Grumpy Nation, what better advice do you have for First Gen American?

Ask the grumpies: Alternatives to mint?

Linda asks:

I decided yesterday that I need to give up on Mint so I’m looking at replacements. I don’t really need a “budgeting” app. I use Mint mainly to track my spending, look at trends/patterns so I can make adjustments as needed to meet goals, and export reports for taxes. Doing some searches has led me to CountAbout as an option. It’s not free, and it seems that in order to get the automatic downloading of account data you have to pay $39.99 a year.

What do Grumpy Nation folks use? I’m open for suggestions.

The reason I’m giving up on Mint is that it simply will not connect to my mortgage or Ally Cashback credit card. I just get vague messages about security, although I can’t understand why there are problems since the security on these accounts don’t seem very different than others. I’ve tried their customer service chat more than once, and each time has ended with a “I’m sorry it’s not working” message. Ugh! These aren’t tiny financial institutions, and they are pulled up in the Add Account drop down, so some people must be able to get their accounts synced. I’m so tired of entering these transactions manually as “cash” transactions. people seem to like YNAB and Quicken, but that’s budgeting.  Leigh has programmed her own software.

#1 uses Mint, but not that carefully since it also usually doesn’t connect to one of her credit cards (despite working with her DH’s credit card from the same company) and doesn’t at all connect with her credit union.  We download all the tax stuff individually in February and just don’t pay that much attention otherwise.

#2 doesn’t use any program.

Grumpy Nation, surely you have better advice for Linda!  What software do you use to get your spending information all in one place, if any?

Ask the Grumpies: Outings for older kids

First Gen American asks:

Seems the last two go to weekend adventures have been dubbed as “for babies” by my tween. (They were a fall foliage historic train ride and corn maze/pumpkin fest in case you are wondering).

Wondering what new outings I can add that would hold the interest of the older one as I think we are outgrowing the zoo, museum phase of fun weekend activities.

#1 suggests: What do tweens like? Basically nothing! Also I have never outgrown the zoo and museum. [#2 notes, this is true– once when we met at a nearby city when #1 was at a conference, we went to the zoo]. Are there street fairs? I’d be happy to go to the library… Hiking? Fancy tea in the city? Music fest? Opera?

Make the tween suggest the things!

#2 suggests: What do tweens like? Protesting! Making a difference! Being active! Volunteering!

#1 says: That makes sense!  Volunteer at the cat shelter!

#2 notes: Miser-mom tends to have lots of good suggestions with her kids.

Ask the grumpies: How does not wanting to retire early affect your savings decisions?

Leigh asks:

How [does] having careers, not jobs and not wanting to retire early, while still having healthy retirement savings all ties in together. How does that affect how much you put into retirement accounts vs other accounts each year, etc.?

TBH it really doesn’t. But I do think it accounts for some of the calm we wouldn’t be feeling if we weren’t in good financial shape right now.

Back tracking a bit though…

As Leigh notes, we’re working because we want to, not necessarily because we have to.  We do like our high incomes, but a lot of why we work is because we’re trying to make the world a better place and in my case partly because of ambition.  We have no plans on retiring ever, though we may change our minds in the future.  Early retirement is definitely not in our plans.

Right now we’re maxing out all of our hassle-free retirement savings.  So I’m putting away my mandatory match, my 403(b), my 457, and DH’s 401(k) (now with Fidelity and a much better deal!  Asking for change works sometimes!).  We are on an “over-saving” track for retirement at this point given our lack of desire to retire early and my relative job security (though who knows what will happen in 30-50 years!).

The main reason we’re putting this much away is to take advantage of the tax advantage and to make it more likely that schools will give our kids financial aid.  We (as of this moment in our current situation) have plenty of money leftover to spend.  But there’s not much to buy around here and we don’t really have the time or energy to go looking for things to buy.  This is the first year that we’re starting to accumulate additional money after the targeted retirement/529/mortgage/sabbatical saving is done since before we bought a house.  If the US were stable, we’d be putting it in lump 10K sums into the stock market (with a 25K donor advised fund that we may still do), but instead we did one lump and now it’s accumulating in savings waiting to see what happens with DH’s job and the political climate.

(As we’ve expressed probably ad nauseum to our regular readers– we have more than enough to live on in our current low cost of living area, but not enough to safely buy a house in Paradise, even assuming we move to Paradise for a high paying job for DH.  But there’s always the chance we’ll want to move to Paradise with only one job and will be very happy that we “over-saved” even if we can’t afford to buy a house when we get there.)

I guess if we wanted to retire early we’d spend less.  I would probably have to actually sit down and figure out what numbers we could retire at assuming different draw down rates and stock market returns etc.  Depending on how early we wanted to retire, I’d have to figure out how to ladder accounts to draw down from (probably the easiest way is just to use the 457).  And I’d probably be freaking out about money more because it would matter for our “freedom” date.  But instead I’m expecting another 30-50 years of work so it’s easier to roll with uncertainty.  There aren’t money worries on top of everything else.

If we get more tax-advantaged space to save for retirement (because of changes to tax laws), I guess we’ll use it, but at some point we’d have to think hard about when to stop maxing it out.

So right now we’re just going with the max defaults because where else are we going to put the money?

Grumpy nation:  Do you have a career or a job?  Are you aiming for early retirement, not retiring at all, or something in between?  How does that decision impact your retirement savings decisions?

Ask the Grumpies: When to use a tax professional?

Linda asks:

I’m trying to decide if I should continue working with a tax professional for my 2016 filing year. I’ve been working with a tax pro for nearly 20 years now, but I feel like I do much of the grunt work of taxes by pulling all the data together and organizing it. If I just went one step further and filled out the forms, I could be done with the process and cut out the additional cost. If I’m guided by a good tax program, I shouldn’t miss any potential deductions or credits.

But I’m not sure if this is a good idea or a bad idea. So my questions to the grumpy nation are: What works for you: tax pro or personal preparation? Why do you choose to prepare your own taxes? Or, why do you choose to use a professional? If you prepare them yourself, do you use a tax program? Which one do you recommend?

#1’s family does not use a tax professional exactly for the reasons you say– pulling the data together and organizing it is the biggest time-sink and tax programs are pretty good these days.  We do make mistakes from time to time (previously mistakes have been on state taxes back when we lived in a state with complicated taxes), but we’re not sure that a tax professional would have been any better.

That said, #1 has a friend who has a much easier tax return but uses H&R block anyway because she wants their protection if a mistake is made or she’s audited.  For the risk averse, that makes sense.

#2 uses TurboTax

#1 used to use Turbo Tax but then there was that year where they messed up something that would have forced us to spend more money on a different package of their software for something small and stupid, so we switched to TaxAct.

Both our partners do the taxes instead of us.  Because doing taxes stresses #1 out and #2’s DH has weird stock whatevers that only he understands.