Why I want to make enough money to support myself (and my family) even though I’m a woman with a high earning husband

I mean, besides that I like having lots of money and enjoy my career.  Which I do.  I love having 2x DH’s salary instead of 1x.  But we could totally live on 1x.  I just don’t want to.  And I’m sure after a while I would start writing novels or taking over local non-profits or something.

There’s been a couple of recent articles going around about women making sure they only pick high earning potential husbands.  (“It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man…” to quote Marilyn Monroe’s character in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.)  Money matters because you’ll want to stay home with your kids, they say.  Or you’ll want to live a better life than you can on your income alone.  So don’t pick the 40K/year guy, pick the 100K/year guy with upward mobility potential.

Part of it is that I do not ever want to be in a situation in which I have to scramble.  I don’t want to be a 50 year old widow (or divorcee) having to go back into the labor market after an extended absence.  We have life insurance, but getting life insurance that would provide me with true security in a situation in which I could not find a fantastic job after DH’s demise forced me to work again would be a huge drain on just DH’s salary.  And I have complete trust in DH, but if I were married to any other person, that looming potential of being divorced or trapped in a horrible marriage because I needed the money would just be awful.  I never want to be helpless or trapped, especially with children depending on me.

The second reason is not about me.  My BIL is trapped in his current job and his current career trajectory because he has a SAHM wife and two kids.  He has to always make the safe choice.  The one that keeps him employed.  He needs to stay with his company because it’s union and he’s no longer last in/first out.  Contrast that with DH.  When he didn’t like his job he was able to take unpaid leave at first and to just quit without another one lined up later.  He was able to explore working at a start-up and then on his own company and then compare competing job offers that paid 2x as his “safe” job.  Eventually we might have needed him to bring in his own money so as to keep the stress off me (for example, me being on half pay this year in an expensive city would have been a lot more difficult to pull off!), but he had plenty of time to explore different options and was able to wait for one that made him really happy.  If/when this job evaporates, he will be able to go through the process of finding a job he likes again.

A third reason that doesn’t apply to me (but might if I had a husband who felt money more) is that for most people, money is power.  And that means that the person who brings in the money is the one who gets more say in how things turn out in the household.  He (and it’s usually he) gets to say what luxuries get bought, what the household allowance is, and so on.  And for the few months when I was the sole breadwinner, DH did take on more of the household responsibilities (which was nice for me!).  Being married to someone who greatly out-earns you can mean golden handcuffs.  I am much happier having an equal marriage.  And I might be willing to exchange money for power if I had to, that is, me being the one making more and having more say, but not so much the other way around.  (I suspect though that this gets back to point one– I’d rather be unmarried than to be in a bad relationship, but for that, I still need to make my own money!)  (Note that since DH doesn’t really feel money, he could make many x as me and we would still have equal bargaining power, but that isn’t true for every one.)

That’s not to say I want to be married to someone who lies around the house and plays video games all day.  But because I make money, I can value productivity more in a partner than the actual cash he is bringing in.  I would rather have DH produce value than be a hedge fund manager making 5x what he’s making right now (though I suppose if that were the case we could be more active with charity!)  And I’d rather be alone than married to someone who wasn’t making the world a better place.

If I made less money, we’d need to be more frugal, but part of why I chose the profession I chose was because of its potential for income and financial security.  And we’ve saved a lot as a couple to allow ourselves more freedom in the future.  Perhaps if I was less skilled and/or scared of math I might not have the luxury of looking for a productive husband (or having no husband at all!) rather than a high income one.  Caring only about love is a luxury that having enough money makes possible.  Still, I don’t think that finding a prince to rescue me would be the direction my thoughts would go.  I know how to be frugal (partly because great swaths of my childhood had my mom supporting the four of us on less than what a high school teacher makes) and I have ambition.

Of course, I married a guy who had virtually no income in the years we were dating before marriage because we were still in high school and college.  (And who had very little income during the first years of our marriage because we were in graduate school.)  I have no idea what I would be looking for if I, heaven forbid, had to go on the dating market as an actual adult.  But I would still want to keep my career and my income, not just because I love it or just for the money, but because I don’t want to give up that freedom and power.

So how about you?  How do you balance the importance of your salary with the importance of your partner’s?

Can toilet paper spark joy?

Pretty much everyone has heard of the Konmari book about minimalism and cleaning and only keeping things that “spark joy.”

Detractors often say that some utilitarian things are just not going to ever spark joy.  Now, we believe in small well-made tools to the extent that we’ve recommended people give tweezers and pencil sharpeners for Christmas.  These little luxuries really do spark joy for me whenever I have to sharpen a pencil or tweeze an errant hair or open a jar or what have you.

What, of course, makes them spark joy, is the memories of using pencil sharpeners that don’t sharpen right, or tweezers that take a lot of effort.  Or jar openers that take too much hand strength.  And on and on and on.

Often people will say, “Toilet paper will never spark joy.”  And I submit that those people did not grow up with crappy toilet paper.  One of my guilty pleasures in life is buying really nice quality toilet paper.  Toilet paper that doesn’t melt upon contact with water.  That doesn’t scratch.  That doesn’t take handfuls and handfuls per use.  (It’s a guilty pleasure because I know it’s not the best choice for the environment, but I buy it still!)

So… how to make sure even your mundane objects spark joy?

  1. Use crappy cheap versions of the object
  2. Find the best version of the object
  3. Use that instead
  4. (dispense with the crappy versions if you’re Konmari-ing)

Joy sparked!

Of course, if you haven’t suffered, you’ll never know the joy.  I suppose that if you do get rid of everything that doesn’t spark joy then you’ll have a lot of unsharpened pencils until you get a new sharpener, at which point, its eliminated absence will cause new joy to be sparked.  So…

Ah, the cirrrrrcle of hedonic adaptation.

Do mundane objects spark joy for you?  Which ones?

Who to vote for in the primary: In which the grumpies disagree even though they agree

#1:  All three candidates are perfectly acceptable.

#2:  Given the choice I’ll vote Sanders; if it’s only Clinton on the ticket I will happily vote for her and think it’s a good choice!

#1: I’m voting for Clinton, but I’m totally fine with Sanders. In a different world, I’d be more for Sanders, but in this world, I’m for Clinton.  I tend to vote for the pragmatic candidate–I knew underneath Obama’s idealism beat a heart of pure pragmatism (he won me over with his specific wooing of the economist vote). I think Clinton has a better shot of getting ‘er done.  Everyone I’ve met who has worked with/for her says she’s a great boss and extremely competent and has a big public service motivation (not ambition like SNL wants you to think) and thinks she’s the best person for the job *and she’s right to think that.*  (They also say she’s unexciting and kind of a bureaucrat, but I’m totally fine with that.)  She was wonderful at that Benghazi hearing.

#2: I have differences of opinion with Clinton. However, if it’s Clinton vs. Republicans, I am Clinton all the way! My differences with her are much less than my differences with anyone else (except Sanders). My issues with Clinton are small in the grand scheme of things.

#1: What are your differences of opinion? I am curious if I also have them or if I agree with her.

#2: I think she wants to be more involved in the middle east and more explodey than I want.

#1: oh, I have no idea about foreign policy

#2: also more drones spying on other leaders

#1: yeah, all of that is out of my wheelhouse

#2: in the grand scheme of things, foreign policy isn’t the most important to me.

#1: I know enough about that stuff to not have an opinion! it’s like, who the hell knows what is the right thing to do

#2: i would rather cut military spending and fund education and healthcare. But I’m some sort of commie or something.

#1: in the perfect world, I would agree with that

#2: there is too darn much military spending, but it’s our own fault

#1: I do think we need to do a better job getting other countries to pay for foreign interventions.

#2: I see how we can’t vanish it all overnight, that would be ridiculous

#1: it still sits with me wrong

#2: YES

#1: they’re really hard questions and I’m glad I don’t study them

#2: I think she may be also more drill-for-oil than I agree with, but I’d have to check

#1: mainly I want people to stop dying and for women and minorities to have human rights and so on

#2: YES

#1: anybody who wants to drill baby drill right now is STUPID– the low cost of oil is destabilizing

#2: reproductive rights! healthcare! social justice!

#1: I wish the democratic debates were better publicized.  They actually talk about issues and sound professional and stuff.  Debbie Wassaman is doing a terrible terrible job.

#2: https://www.isidewith.com/ is a good way to figure out who you side with. They don’t have complete info for anyone on every single question, but you can break it down by the areas that are most important to you. I agree with Bernie on almost all things, but lots and lots of them are less-important things. I agree with Clinton on a few large, important things but disagree with her on some less-important things. SO…. enh?  “Less-important” meaning TO ME of course.

#1: wow, these questions have gotten crazier since I last took the test– some of the republican candidates really are batexcrement evil crazy–it says I’m 95% bernie, 92% hillary, 78% O’Malley… then Chris Christie and John Kasiach and Jeb Bush. Apparently I’m “Left-Wing Authoritarian”

“Your political beliefs would be considered strongly Left-Wing and moderately Authoritarian on an ideological scale, meaning you tend to stand up and protect those who are oppressed or taken advantage of and believe the government should do the same.” Down with oppression!

I’m still voting for Hillary. Assuming I can get my voter registration reinstated (the post office sent my registration check card back to the voter office, even though they delivered DH’s). (Why yes, the Voter Rights Act did affect my state and its absence is being noticed.)

So yeah– the primary season has started!  Vote for your favorite democrat.  Even if you live in a red state.  Especially if you live in a red state!  There’s something wonderful about discovering you’re not the only democrat in your town.  If you’re not a democrat then, um, vote for Kasich?

Is “everybody sucks/has crappy lives/etc.” actually helpful for people who are having difficulties?

One of the things I’ve noticed on blogs/fora where the author is having trouble with marriage or kids or work, or what have you, is that often someone in the comments will say, “Oh, everyone’s life is like that.  We’re all miserable/have terrible husbands/rotten kids/awful bosses.  You’re normal.  That’s normal.  Anybody who says differently is a lying liar who lies.”

And this is provided as comfort.

Does it work?

Honestly for me, if I were in a bad situation and got that comment and truly believed it, I might end up being all, “why bother?”  If life is going to nasty brutish and short what’s the point?  Why continue living or striving?  Why not just give up?

I’m glad I don’t believe it.  I’m glad I believe that life can be better.  That marriages can be functional instead of dysfunctional.  That kids can be helped.  That there are good job environments out there if the current one is bad.  I’m not an optimist, but I am optimistic that if I work hard to change things, life can get better.  Maybe not the way I would most prefer, but better than a horrible situation.

The big question though is:  Does this kind of comforting actually provide comfort?  Do people feel better when they’re in a crappy situation and someone comes along and says yeah, all situations are crappy.  (Not, mind you, “it’s not just you” but the more inclusive, “it’s everybody.”)

What does the research say?  It is true that people are happier (and healthier) when they’re at the top of a distribution and can point to people with crappy lives.  This may be why the Koch brothers and others in the 1% of 1% of 1% are trying to destroy America. Big income disparities make people on the top happier than do little income disparities.

But I don’t think it has to be that way.  You’ve got people like Gates trying to bring the bottom up, trying to decrease the income differential.

Research also notes that people who satisfice– who set an external absolute level target– are happier than people who try to optimize.  Maybe if you’re focused on comparisons with others, you’re happiest on top, but maybe you’re happier still if you’re not comparing yourself with others at all.

I don’t know the research on this, but my guess is that it is best to focus on absolute levels rather than relative differences.  Comparing yourself to other people is a sure way to misery because someone will always be better on any level.  (And it must be lonely at the top.)  Instead, compare yourself now to the yourself from before and reach for the yourself that you want to be.

And it’s best if you know that that life that you want to have is actually achievable.  And it’s more likely to to be achievable if someone else is already achieving it.  Because it’s a big world out there, and it would be pretty difficult to be the first person to have a happy marriage, great kids, or a fulfilling job if that had so far eluded the entire world’s population throughout time.

I almost tagged this with deliberately controversial, but I wasn’t sure that it fit (since this is one of those things where there’s so much potential for individual variation), so I stuck with debatable.  Still looking forward to discussion!

What do you think?  Does being told that everybody has your problem (whatever your problem is) provide comfort?  Does it provide despair?  What do you prefer as responses ?

Am I a tiger mom?

Eh, maybe a little.  DH and I push our kids.

We’re not so far up the SES ladder that our kids can rest on their laurels– we both broke into the upper middle class this generation (DH from the rural working class, I’m first-gen on one side and come from a long line of middle-class working women on the other).  And OMG is it nice to be upper-middle class.  The stresses we don’t have that our parents had and that DH’s siblings and cousins still have, I can’t even.  Every day I’m mindful of (and thankful for) this miracle.

We got here from climbing the academic ladder and playing by the rules (and, of course, luck).  From pushing ourselves, and maybe being pushed a little bit too.  Well, not maybe, definitely.  (DH’s siblings, while not upper-middle-class are definitely doing much better than his cousins.) Definitely from being pushed a little bit too.  Our kids will have more freedom and latitude to maybe not play by the rules, but having that academic ladder cleared will certainly help if other ventures don’t work out.

A’s now mean life is easier later.  Challenges now mean that there’s less likely to be complete melt-downs in college.  So we push.  Not to breaking, but occasionally to leaving the comfort zone.  So far the discomfort (often followed by breaks, and then by trying again) has always led to epiphanies and growth, just as it should.

There’s no shame in getting a B, but a B also means that the material hasn’t been mastered.  There’s room for improvement and that’s a target to work on.  So, in that sense, Bs are addressed.  Material is mastered and then some.  Even if it’s not that interesting.  Even if school sometimes has arbitrary rules.

Granted, our kids are truly brilliant, and they’re highly capable of mastering many many challenges.  So it’s easier to have a home with the underlying belief that Bs aren’t good grades.  We have justifiably high expectations.  I have students who, as hard as they try, won’t pull off As in four classes a semester.  But it’s my job to get them to master as much of the material as they can, and it’s their job to try.  If my kids go someplace where they’re truly challenged, then even Cs may be fine as long as they’re still getting where they need to go, but they’re not there yet.

For K-12, A’s are pretty important.  Especially if they’re not going to fancy high schools that colleges know by reputation.  I trust that my kids will work hard and if they don’t get As it won’t be from lack of trying, but I also know that we will work hard to stem any damage by filling in knowledge gaps should a lower grade occur so that it won’t lead to downward spirals down the line.

DH and I have both gotten Bs in our high school and college careers, but not that many.  I think DH even has a C on his college transcript.  And, possibly related, we haven’t always gotten into our top choices for things.  But we keep working and we keep trying.  And that’s the message we want to send to our children.  That’s how we push.

Did you get pushed as a kid?  Do you feel like that affected your adult life?

On mental accounts, gift cards, and credit card rewards

One of the trends in the personal finance community is extreme frugality.  Included with that trend of extreme frugality is a suggestion of not using cash money to pay for gifts for other people, but to use gift cards gotten as gifts, credit card rewards, and so on.

From a strict economics perspective, this seems ridiculous.*  Money is fungible.  Keeping a credit card that gives you 1% rewards in gift-cards that “count” as not spending money on your PF blog makes way less sense than switching to a card that gives you 1.5% back directly to your bank account or credit card bill.

However, from a behavioral perspective, this type of budgeting can make a certain amount of sense.  Some people really do have problems with spending, and they may have problems with spending more on other people than they do on themselves.  For some, a little bit of spending can open the floodgates– if they’ve already dipped into the main account to give a gift, what’s the problem with giving a little more?

For these folks, having this forced budget with money that is outside of the regular income/outgo is an easy way to limit spending. Gift cards and cash-back rewards seem like extra money and can be put into a specific mental account that can help people control their spending.  Folks can drain the separate account without feeling like they’ve dipped into the main account, limiting additional desires to spend out of it.

It still doesn’t make sense for cards gotten from Swagbucks to “count” as not spending but money from a part-time job doesn’t count.  Being paid in cash vs. something less useful doesn’t have to be the dividing line for your mental accounts.

The problem occurs when you decide on purpose that you want the less useful form of compensation (or less remunerative form of side-work) because you’ll be able to spend that without guilt, or worse, you’ll have blog-cred for using it that you wouldn’t have if you got the cash back and set a separate gift budget.

And bloggers who brag about not spending any money on trips or vacations or shopping because they used “credit card rewards money” are being disingenuous.  Money is money.  That money could have just gone back into their account to pay off debt or save for a down payment or early retirement or whatever it is that their blog is about.  They chose to spend it, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it still could have been used as, you know, money.

*Exception being one in which you would not use the card anyway.  For example, you’re in the situation where you have a $25 Starbucks gift card and you don’t drink coffee, but that’s the favorite coffee-place for someone you owe a gift worth at least $25.  From an economics perspective, it’s totally rational to count that $25 card as free money to you, assuming that reselling to get the cash value of the card is too much hassle.

In which we teach DC1 how to bend the truth…. er I mean estimate

DC1 has a lot of homework at hir new school.  One of the homework things is that ze must read for at least 30 min/day at least 4 days a week.  Ze has a log that ze has to fill out that says how many pages and how many minutes and what the title of the book is and then we have to sign it.

Research on intrinsic motivation has found that with good readers, intrinsic motivation decreases when kids are paid to read.  With poor readers, their intrinsic motivation actually increases as they become better readers.

This regular homework assignment is not for people like DC1 who already read a lot and are already excellent readers.  This regular homework assignment, is, in fact, really irritating for everyone involved at home.  DC1 began by bringing a timer every time ze started to read and would try to remember to turn it off and the add the minutes etc.  Ze would get very frustrated when ze forgot.  Or when ze didn’t remember the page number count.  We kept not being able to find the timer when we needed it for say, cooking.

The final straw was at 3am when DH was gone on business and DC1 somehow rolled over the timer after falling asleep with it in bed and set it off.  This happened two nights in a row before I figured out where that @#$32ing beeping was coming from.

At that point I decided it was time for DC1 to learn that not all assignments have to be followed to the letter.  Sometimes you need to just get the spirit right and/or to show the minimal when you’ve checked off a box even when you’ve actually done more.

So we’re estimating.  Every time ze reads, ze puts down at least 30 min, that have been estimated.  Ze guesses (based on past reading) how many pages were read.  Ze puts down one of the book titles that ze read that day.  No need to be exact.  No need to record everything.  No need to put down a session less than 30 min.

I’m not sure if this is a good life lesson for DC1 or not, but it does fit in with our grand theme of lazy parenting and fixing things when they make our lives more difficult.  In an ideal world we would have checked with the teacher to make sure it’s ok, but we know this assignment really isn’t for DC1, so it’s just easiest to you know, bend the truth estimate than it is to explain why our kid is a special snowflake.

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