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?

Merry Christmas! (For those who celebrate) Happy Wednesday! (For those who don’t)

How are you spending today?

What are we getting people for Christmas this year?

This year all sets of in-laws have provided updated and lengthy Amazon wishlists (note:  all amazon links in our posts are sponsored).  Yay DH’s family!!  Amazon wishlists decrease DH’s holiday-related stress so much.

MIL:  Last time we were at the in-laws, we made a cake for a child’s birthday and discovered that MIL has sub-par dry cup measures.  We are rectifying that this year.  From hir amazon wishlist, we bought a cell phone holder that goes in a cup holder, an onion chopper, a Grandma I love you book that we will encourage the grandkids to fill out on Christmas morning, a doormat with her favorite football team’s logo, and a keychain that says grandma.

The kids are making a lighthouse (not sponsored) and a mini-helmet for her favorite football team using DH’s new 3D printer.

FIL:  A gift certificate to Cabela’s

BIL1:  Divinity Original Sin 2 and some other cooperative games from steam games.

SIL1: Arkham Horror the Card Game, The Circle Undone Expansion

Nephew 1:  Apparently nephew 1 is really into Shiba Inu dogs this year?  So, this bathmat and this backpack.

Niece 1:  We again renewed her subscription to the Braille of the Month book club.  Even though she’s older now, she’s still really been enjoying it.  (The nonprofit provides the books at less than cost, so we also gave them a donation– what a great program.)

SIL2:  SIL is a teacher and fills her list with things for her classroom, so it’s really a pleasure to shop her wishlist– it feels a lot like donating to education!  Someone swooped in and got the stuff our kids have tested out in the past (except 1 thing), but there was still plenty of you know, cardstock.  We also got paint brushes, magnetic letters, and these phonics rods that DC1 loved as a toddler.

BIL2:  We never know what to get for him, so we generally just give an amazon gift card.  This year is no exception.

Nephew 2:  I was so excited when I saw his wishlist this year because it was full of books that DC2 loved… but then someone swooped in and got them all (except 1) before Thanksgiving.  But there were still interesting things on there.  Apparently the book of facts we got last year was a hit because there were several more books of facts on hir list, including 5000 Awesome facts 3 and the big book of why (that both our kids loved).  We also got the National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia and a crystal growing kit.

Niece 2:  The pre-Thanksgiving swooper left a bunch of cool stuff so we got Llama llama jingle bells, If you give a cat a cupcake, some highly rated super cute socks, and a toy doctors kit.

My mom:  Barnes and Noble gift card.  The B&N in her town went out of business, followed by the local bookstore, but there’s a B&N in a 30 min drive.

My sister:  She’s started cooking more on a somewhat regular basis, particularly for her subordinates (she got promoted after an impressive feat of engineering and is now managing a group and has decided to lean in a bit to the understanding maternal boss stereotype–I don’t cook for my students, but I think we both have iron fist/velvet glove management styles modeled after some of the nuns at the high school our mom went to).  Anyway, as she’s been doing this cooking it’s become abundantly clear that she is missing tools.  So we got her a set of nice Pyrex measuring cups , a tube cake pan, and some pyrex 6oz custard cups.  One of the cats we foisted on her has a peeing problem that multiple trips to the vet hasn’t fixed (also she can’t get Prozac into him via pill or gel or hidden treat), so some Angry Orange that was the only thing that has been able to get out the smell from when his sister peed on our couch 3+ years ago.  The Angry Orange is a bonus.

The kids are making her a couple of small ballet tchotchkes with DH’s new 3D printer.

DC1:  That lockpick training kit set I linked to earlier (technically this will be a birthday present).  A theremin arduino kit (including separately purchased arduino, because obviously two raspberry pis are not enough).  We opted to wait on a unicycle or new bike until zie has grown a bit more.  Currently zie is my height and using my bike when kicked out of the house to exercise.

DC2:  DC2 had a long list of small not-that-expensive items (Calpurnia Tate books, Gotham Academy books, Garfield comics, rain jacket, swimsuit).  The swooper (who I suspect is my MIL given the amount purchased, but it could be multiple people working separately) made a really large dent in that list.  I added some calligraphy pens as that’s an art area zie doesn’t have any supplies for (yet).  Zie will be getting a full-sized bookcase from us to replace the overfull half-size which will return to a hallway, but we’ll also need to get something for hir stocking.  I suppose we could always get a second arduino so DC1’s doesn’t feel outnumbered by pis!  (Kidding!)

 

Are you getting anything interesting for folks this year?

What are we getting people for Christmas this year?

DC1:  A set of trick decks for the stocking (DC1 is really into card and coin tricks),

DC2:  Spanish coloring book,  a set of 5 field notebooks and a wellspring flip note (DC2 is really into drawing and list making and notes)

BIL1:  Anti-hero, for the king, and into the breach.  I am told these are steam games.

SIL1:  Usually we get SIL books off her amazon list but this year we only got her Binti:  Home and instead got her the first Timestories game off her wish list because DH really enjoys Timestories.

nephew 1:  A meccano microid and a minecraft plush pig from his amazon wishlist.

niece 1:  We renewed her subscription to the Braille of the Month book club.  Apparently they’ve really been enjoying it.  (The nonprofit provides the books at less than cost, so we also gave them a donation– what a great program.)

BIL2:  We never know what to get for him, so we generally just give an amazon gift card.  This year is no exception.

SIL2:  She had a bunch of stuff for work, mostly craft paper, on her amazon wishlist, so we got that.

nephew 2:  He’s easy to shop for because he’s a similar age to our DC2 and has similar interests, so we got more Magic Treehouse books (our DC2 is not a fan, but our DC1 was, and they were a big hit last year), bad kitty books, and a book of facts that DC2 really enjoyed.

niece 2:  She’s a bit harder because we have to remember what we gave nephew 2 at that age (not to be confused what we gave the other niece and nephew).  Generally we make a list and then ask SIL2 if there are duplicates.  This year we got Go Dog Go, Put me in the Zoo, Big Dog Little Dog,  Sneeches, Green Eggs and Ham, and one fish two fish.

MIL:  Life has gotten easier since she got a wish list!  We got her the Michelle Obama memoir and a non-crisping ninja foodi (so.. basically an instapot?) that is backordered on amazon and may not get there until after January.

FIL:  An instant food thermometer and a gift certificate to Cabela’s.

Sister:  She’s been doing a lot more cooking lately and asked for a bread book, so we got her DH’s current go-do– Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno.  I would call this a recipe book for the advanced beginner.  It has a lot of really good information (with pictures) about different types of bread, ingredients, and multiple techniques before it gets into the recipes.  It’s not a coffee table book with rich histories like Home Baking, nor is it a trendy artisan bread in 5 min a day, but we learned a lot of techniques from it and it’s got a lot of variety and almost all the recipes we’ve tried have been excellent.  (Exception:  DH notes on the soft pretzel recipe:  THESE ARE NOT PRETZELS, need baking soda.)  We don’t know what else to get her– she has said she will think about what she wants.

Mother:  The local bookstore in her town went out of business, so I guess it is back to Amazon gift cards.

Father:  I’ve given up here.

For #2 I got her a bunch of excellent books off her wish list including three for kindle that I sent her right away because Amazon sucks for gift giving via kindle (stuff stays on the wish list so you might end up with two people buying you the same thing).  I got her Deception by Amanda Quick, KJ Charles’ retelling of the Prisoner of Zenda, and Band Sinister.  The other stuff is still a secret.

 

#2 says:  This year, as with most years, it’s an Icelandic-style bookflood for me.  Though I still have to figure out what to get for DH.

So we opened (taxed) traditional IRAs and Roth converted them

We decided to do this both for DH and for me this year.  With the tax bill, I got very worried about whether or not I’d be able to keep both the 403(b) and 457 contributions, so I figured we could do this for me too, not just DH.

It was super easy.  Like, there was a button on the Vanguard website.

Here’s the process:

  1. Set up a link between our credit union and DH’s Vanguard account.  Wait a day for them to transfer pennies and then take them back.  They actually transferred the money without us saying how many pennies there were, but eventually DH had to fill in that information on the account.
  2. Wait a while because we got busy and weren’t paying attention.  Then tax bill stuff happens which reminds us we should really do something about this.
  3. I send DH the link on how to turn a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA in Vanguard.
  4. We ponder how DH got more than $5 in interest while we were being lazy when we get like 16 cents a month from our Wells Fargo account with more money in it.
  5.  DH reads through it and says, “we just need to press a button”.
  6. Turns out since DH doesn’t have a Roth IRA on his Vanguard account (his is still in etrade) that he has to create a Roth IRA account first.  But then he can press the conversion button.
  7. Wait a day for it to convert.
  8. I’m like, hey, I should do this too.
  9. I transfer money to Vanguard (my account is already linked)
  10. The next day I press the button (I already have a Roth IRA at Vanguard)
  11. I decide to put all $5,505.35 in DH’s account into VANGUARD TOTAL INTL STOCK INDEX FUND ETF (VXUS) because I feel like his account needs more broad-based international exposure.  I have to put a limit order on this because their # of shares calculator rounds, so either I get 97 shares or I need to wait until the price drops to get 98 shares.  It’s on a downward trend, so I set a limit order for 60 days.  The limit posts the next day.
  12. I decide that dealing with an ETF is kind of pain, so I choose the Index version for my account even though the fees are higher.  This means I just say I want $5,500.38 worth of index fund shares (man those money market funds may not be FDIC insured, but they sure do rack up the pennies).  I intend to put in another 5,500 in January and then get the Admiral funds expense ratio instead of the regular funds rate, assuming that this is still allowed in the coming year.  (By the time this posts, we will know.)  The trade is executed the next business day (Monday).

So all of that was pretty easy.  If you have a lot of money in traditional IRAs it isn’t as easy at tax time, but we converted all our traditional IRAs into Roths back when these conversions were first allowed.  I’ll let you know at tax time if I missed anything important.

P.S.  Given the tax bill and its limited property tax deduction, we opted to not to bunch our property taxes.  I paid the other half of this year’s property taxes before the end of the calendar year.

Some anonymous spending polls for Christmas :)

For the family member ones, pick the person or people you would consider to fill that role (ignoring DNA unless you don’t want to ignore DNA).

Each one of these is a separate poll, so you’ll have to click the vote button for each one.  Sorry!

What are we getting for people this year?

My sister said she wanted a chef’s knife and a paring knife, so after some conversation, we got her a santoku (Shun), a paring knife, and an electric knife sharpenerThis post of ours really helped me!  I don’t know what DC1 is going to give her this year, but DC2 has been working really hard on a 4 plate pixel hobby with 8 ballet dancers on it (DC1 gave my sister a pixel hobby with a pair of ballet slippers on it at about the same age).

Sadly, the bookstore in my mom’s town just went out of business (as did the Barnes and Noble a few years back), so either I get her a giftcard to someplace half an hour or more away, or she gets an Amazon giftcard.  Aha!  I realized that she’ll be staying at my sister’s around Christmas, so I can get her a card she can use at the half price books near my sister’s place.

For everyone else it has been harder!

MIL:  She started an amazon list this year!  Woooo!  When DH found that out (on the phone on Thanksgiving while trying to pump her for any hint of what she could possibly want) his stress level visibly dropped 75%.  We popped through and got a bunch of “Nanarelated merch (I guess replacing her previous Green Bay Packers theme?) as well as a number of hard-boiled mystery novels.  (My mom runs more towards cozy mysteries, DH’s prefers the tougher stuff.)

FIL:  Now that FIL is retired, he’s spending more time hunting.  Plus he’s making sure there’s plenty of game on the plot of land he inherited from his parents.   So in addition to the Cabela’s giftcard we usually send him, we’re also sending a highly rated game cookbook.

BIL1:  DH is waiting for a game to go on sale so he can get a copy for his brother and his cousin both.  (I assume we’ll also be sending a check to the cousin, but I don’t know for how much yet.)

SIL1:  It is always a pleasure to shop for SIL1 because she has an up-to-date amazon wish list!  And she puts cool things on it!  And she has great taste in books!  This year I’m adding the Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal and KJ Charles’ regency series.

Cousins 1 and 2:  The younger has been learning braille, so we got her a subscription to the children’s braille book of the month club.  (It is pretty heavily subsidized, so we added on a donation.  What a great program.)  This is the first time we’ve known what to get hir!  For the older we’re getting the dragonbox complete math pack and big numbers which is too new to be in their complete math pack.  (Usually we also buy books for their oldest, but he’s already got most of what our DC1 likes.)

BIL2 and SIL2: This one was hard this year.  The past few years there’s been a good excuse to just write a check (a new house purchase, saving for a house, babies, paying off wedding debt, etc.) but this year none of that has been recent or immediate.  When DH tried to pump SIL2 for information on the phone, she was non-committal and said she’d update her amazon wishlist, which she always says and rarely does.  DH suggested not exchanging gifts among the adults with her nuclear family, but apparently she demurred.  I wish he’d just asked her straight up about checks vs. giftcards, but he didn’t.  We do have a bunch of $5 off amazon luxury beauty products and she does have a $20 foundation from 2014 on her list– we could get her that and the pair of $14 earrings from 2014 but that’s literally all that is on her list right now, other than a bunch of size 0-3 month onesies and diapers that will probably not fit either her rising 3 year old or her 5 year old.  [Update:  We got her the foundation and the earrings, and then a little over a week later she actually did update her list so we got her one of the books on teaching she wanted and now we are 100% done with holiday shopping other than that one game that DH is taking care of and stocking stuffers.  Yay.]

Cousins 3 and 4:  SIL did ok us buying books again for her kids (given how many toys everyone gets from the grandparents).  For the older one (about the same age as our DC2), we got Magic Treehouse and Magic School Bus books and the Magic School Bus chemistry kit.  For the younger one, ladybug girl, the Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, Elephant and Piggie books, and Beautiful Oops.

For someone who likes art and lives in Milwaukee

What are you getting for peeps this year?