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?

April Mortgage Update: Still wrestling with next year’s money goals

Last month (March):

Balance: $82,617.28
Years left: 6.666666667
P =$881.26, I = $333.14, Escrow = 621.66

This month (April):

Balance: $81,065.97
Years left: 6.5
P =$887.38, I = $327.03, Escrow = 621.66

One month’s prepayment savings:  $2.62

So, as we’ve discussed, this past year we’ve been contributing $500/month to each of the DCs’ 529 funds.   DH and I have been contributing to various forms of IRAs (now all Roths) since we graduated from college.  We’ve been putting money in 403(b)s and 457s as well, and are now pretty much caught up to where we should have been retirement-wise had we not wasted our youth frittering away our time in graduate school.  We’ve also been paying around $600 extra each month on the mortgage (though that varies with our escrow).

All of that is going to stop being automatic next year, other than my mandatory 403(b) contributions (~12% of my salary if you include the match).

We will have some extra money on top of our emergency fund at the end of the summer because (in theory) I’m getting summer salary.  This will be somewhere between 18K and another number (depending on things like emergencies, whether/when DH gets consulting, and so on).

Last semester when DH was thinking about quitting his job, we wrote out a list of priorities of what to do with extra money above and beyond our emergency savings.  #1 was 529 plans.  #2 was DH’s Roth IRA, #3 was my Roth IRA, and so-on.

Now I’m questioning the wisdom of putting money in the 529 plans before funding the IRAs.  On our current path, our children may very well get financial aid, which is something we hadn’t been planning on when we started the 529 saving.  Mint tells me that DC1 has over 40K at this point and DC2 has over 4K.  Do we really need to keep putting 12K/year away in these funds?

Earlier when I talked about this, I suggested filling up DC1’s 529 and not doing much with DC2’s, even though we are planning on paying for four years of college for each.  The reason would be that if DC1 doesn’t use all of hir money, it could easily be transferred to DC2 and we could stop saving for DC2.   People didn’t like that because they didn’t want DC2 to feel like a lesser loved child.  I want to emphasize that we will be paying the full college tuition for both children to the schools of their choices, even if 529 pots are unequal sizes (which they will be, even if we contribute the same amount just because of the vaguaries of the stock market).

Also, I would love to just put money into the Roth IRAs now, but there’s always the chance that DH will make a full salary before the next fiscal year is out and push us over the limit.  Undoing that sounds like a hassle.  Though maybe that’s too unlikely a proposition to keep us from waiting until January.

Anyhow, here’s our dream list of savings:

$12K/year in 529 plans (6K/kid)
DH Roth IRA (5.5K)
My Roth IRA (5.5K)
Mortgage prepayment (up to the amount left)
My additional 403(b) (17.5K/year)
My 457 (17.5K/year)
A SEPA or other self-employment retirement vehicle for DH (up to the amount he earns or 51K whichever is smaller)
Taxable stocks (infinity!)

Keeping in mind that I already must contribute 12%  to my 403(b), that we’ve caught up with where we should be an our ages and income on retirement, that our mortgage is as described above, we want to pay full tuition to college for two children, we’re in the 25% tax bracket (we were also in that bracket before DH left his job), and we have a healthy emergency fund in cash, In what order would you put extra money and why?

Personal assistants and other outsourcing

Life with a baby is suddenly hectic again, especially when you’re used to living with an elementary schooler who can entertain hirself pretty well.  Especially that whole not sleeping thing.

One thing that is recommended for we middle-class and upper-middle-class folks when time is of the essence is outsourcing.  Pay someone to clean, to do yard-work, child-care, and all the little errands that need to be done.  The higher the value of our time, the more we should be outsourcing.  Someone else should buy groceries or take things to the recycling center!  Get a personal assistant to take care of the honey-do list.

In the past, when DC1 was tiny, we did on occasion hire a college student, generally one of our mother’s helpers or a friend of theirs, to just go through our to-do list and get things done.  For less than $100, a huge amount of crap weighing on our minds for weeks, months, or even years, would get done over the course of a weekend and could stop nagging us.

Any time we have any sort of plumbing problem, we call our amazing plumbers, secure in the knowledge that for the cost of $80 and parts everything will be better.  It just isn’t worth it to try to fix it ourselves when we know they’ll do it right the first time without us getting dirty or wasting our time rushing to Home Depot.  (My sister, who makes way more than I do, recently fixed her garbage disposal, which would have been fine if her housemate hadn’t not realized it was broken for over a week.  The disgust factor alone would have be getting out my checkbook.)

Outsourcing can be awesome.

On the other hand, DH is currently doing all of our yard-work.  We’d love to outsource it, but after going through something like 7 different companies we just gave up.  Either they try to cheat us by charging more than was agreed to, or they run over our blueberry bushes with the mower, or they do a great job for a few years, then graduate and sell the company to someone who mows over our blackberry bushes.  Finding new people we can trust who won’t kill our lawn is just way more trouble than it’s worth.

Similarly with cleaning folks… you can get a crew who will cost an arm and a leg and sometimes do a great job and sometimes suck, just depending on who is on the team that week, or you can get a one-person company.  The really good people everyone recommends aren’t taking on new clients.  The folks who are taking on new clients do a great job… at first, but then start turning your countertops yellow (despite the repeated explanations about bleach) and scraping your hardwood floors while ignoring things they used to do a good job on.  They get complacent.  And so, we just live in squalor.  Squalor uses fewer chemicals too.

Since DC1 started going to preschool and our mother’s helpers and previous folks graduated, it became difficult to find someone to do personal assisting kinds of work.  Sure we could advertise, but interviewing folks for something that’s only going to save the time of a weekend…well, we might as well take the goodwill stuff to goodwill ourselves.  Or just put off that chore.

And let’s not even go into tax implications and making sure the help is legal so when the President of the United States tries to appoint you to a high level position there isn’t that as a reason to block the candidacy.

So yes, outsourcing can be awesome, but good help is hard to find.

I am looking forward to having mother’s helpers around again.  In the past they cleaned the kitchen while DC1 nursed.  A small part of their jobs, but one that made me happy.  I’m hoping for the same with DC2.  Hopefully we’ll find some awesome childcare help.  Paying above market wage seemed to help last time and will hopefully help this time too.

Do you outsource?  Why or why not?  What do you outsource?  Have you had trouble finding good people you can trust?  Where do you find great people for outsourcing?

Breaking news: Hardcore July

Welcome to what are sure to be fireworks.

I, #1, have decided to go hardcore in July.  (Not the half of the blog who is expecting a baby!)

Just for one month Imma try really hard on this getting-in-shape thing. I have made some fits and starts before with a healthy eating challenge and an exercise challenge. Looking back, it appears I only have energy for this stuff in the summer. Hm… Gah, my job is a whole other series of posts.

Hat tip to personal finance blog Mr. Money Mustache for introducing the word “badassity” to my month.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but check him out, he’s a good read and some useful things to think about.  Inspiring, at least.

Confession time:  I keep trying to like kohlrabi.  And I keep not liking it that much.

Anyway.  I have made a calorie target for each day of what I should be able to eat and lose some weight.  Within that amount, I can eat whatever I want.  For the past 3 days I have actually been coming in under that number without too much trouble… yet!  It requires feeling *slightly* hungry for a while, and being very thoughtful about snacking.  I am writing down every single thing I consume except for water and medicine.  Oh yeah, and I’m all hopped up on prednisone right now [temporarily; unrelated] so I feel kind of invincible!  So far I don’t feel too much like killing people.

This involves eating a lot less pasta, which #2 has nudged me towards before.  I haven’t found a wheat pasta that’s any good but if you put enough other stuff on it, it can be edible.  Bleh.  Also there is that high-protein pasta, which isn’t whole wheat, but is made with chickpeas or lentils or something which is ok too.  Neither one is as good as regular pasta.

My lovely partner is helping me by knowing things off the top of his head like how many calories are in this big plate of salad we just made, and how many are in an egg.  Good news: Somersault beer from New Belgium is tasty and has fewer calories than I was afraid of.  Whee!

Also:  exercise.  I hates it.  Hates it, my preciousssss.  It’s hot and gross out.  Since last fall, I have had some but really only moderate success with the plan of get-up-at-o-dark-thirty-and-go-to-the-gym-with-partner-before-work.  The gym is hard and boring and there are other people there, which I hate.  I still do it.  Not as consistently as I should. Dr. Isis points out some recommendations that I should probably exercise AT LEAST an HOUR on MOST DAYS to lose weight.  That there number is impossible and gross.  Eff that.  That number will make me give up if I try to stick to it.  I can hardly think of something less fun.  Also I hate bicycling very much.  (“You don’t live longer, it just feels longer.”)

BUT!  It is summer and I have free time and I can ride a horse!  I love this.  I am trying to work out a super-hard-core deal with the horse farm where I can give them infinite money and ride all the darn time in July.  My partner swears that if I concentrate hard on the food and do some exercise most days for a solid month, I will see results.  And then the plan is that after a month I will feel less deprived and be able to keep going on the diet more easily.

Unfortunately, acquiring cardiovascular endurance sucks and is hard and sweaty and feels bad and yucky and takes a long, hard time and I hate it.  But I need it so I can do better on the (horseback) jumper course.  And doing that exercise is apparently the opposite of the exercise you have to do in order to lose weight (lifting weights, which I still won’t do because I hate it, even though I want to lose weight).  First-world problem!  Endurance vs. weight loss: I hate them both.  I know everybody keeps saying to lift weights.  They don’t make it any more fun or less boring or less of a jerk-fest at the gym.

Of course my problem is the same as anyone else’s problem:  exercise and eating better requires weeks and months of continual work in order to see any change at all in exchange for constant sacrifice; eating a huge-ass plate of pasta provides tangible rewards RIGHT NOW.  During the school year, 110% of my willpower is taken up with not smacking students and dragging my ass to stupid meetings, so I don’t have any left to deny myself good things, like as much pasta as I can eat all the time.  Healthy food is vaguely unsatisfying.  It takes more work, too.

Pleeeeease encourage meeee?  WTF I hate biology.  Calories are tasty, lying on the couch in the a/c is the best summer of all.  So, once more, an uphill climb for me!

Suggest the color of my parachute?

Dear Grumpy Readers…

I have always, always wanted to be a professor.  I never trained for anything else, nor wanted to!  But now… Please help me brainstorm about jobs out of academia that I might be able to do without wanting to die.  Not in a cubicle.  Not dependent on grant funding.  Preferably with benefits.  Any ideas?  I don’t necessarily need health insurance (I could get on my partner’s, potentially), but I still need to fund my retirement and get sick days.  I worked in a bank for a while and it was hellacious.

Sometimes I take career inventories or similar tests… they always come out “professor”.  Always.

#2 suggests freelancing, and I think that’s probably the way to go.  Not that that’s a steady income.  Some quick googling turns up infinite scummy gross websites where “freelance” means “write your homework paper for you”

 #2:  Why don’t we ask the blog?
 #1:  we should, probably.  Working  9-5, 5 days a week makes me want to DIE, as do cubicles.  I know, because I tried it for a year [not the bank job, a different job].  In 12 months my body never got used to the morning schedule and I was never able to learn how to concentrate in a cube, headphones notwithstanding.
#2:  librarian?
 #1:  their job market is bleaker than academia and I would need to get even more degrees… and lower paid, too.  Also, “librarian” doesn’t mean “work with books”.  It mostly means “deal with whiny patrons, or computer programming, or both”.  I love books.  I hate people.
#2:  Courtesan?
#1:  I could be a courtesan if I liked making small talk with strangers, which I don’t.
 I really want nothing social.  Preferably not working with people.
P.S. I have very few marketable skills and I want to sleep and read novels ALL THE TIME.  I’m really bad at being a grownup.  I think I might need a personality transplant.
#2: but really, soft money and a big emergency fund. Working part time, in SF.
#1:  I really think that would give me ulcers, not knowing if I would have an income the next year or not. And my track record with getting grants is not great.
I dunno what to do with my life.  if only this school weren’t so hideous, I really want to have tenure and be a faculty member and do research.  But the teaching?  I don’t know if I can do this for 40 more years.
#2:  after tenure can you care less about teaching?
#1:  yes, but I still have to do it. With how much I hate it, I wonder if it’s sustainable on my stress level. I probably just need therapy for the rest of my life in order to realize how to grow up and be an adult and do  a job I don’t always love because that is adulthood.
#2: if it were fun they wouldn’t pay you to do it
and the question is– is there a job you hate equally that pays more!
#1:  yeah, the problem is balancing the fact that I want money to live comfortably with the hatred of all work that feels like it is sucking out my soul but in reality nobody ever died from that.
My dream job is still academia.  I just need to be at a different school.  This is probably a separate post, but I’m feeling that I’m really not fitting in with the mission of this school and this college.  I have workload issues and specific administrator issues.  I feel like my scholarship isn’t respected here because it doesn’t fit with the mission.  Further, the location depresses me.
So, readers… help!  What should I do?  Nothing in a cubicle, something that gives sick days, nothing with physical labor, I hate interacting with people, and I don’t know how to program.  (I could learn, but it’s not worth it; I’m not patient nor interested enough.)  Nothing that is teaching.
Ideally I want to have the same job at a better place, but those jobs seem impossible to come by.  I did look, believe me I did.  Last year there was 1 job in the country that I could have applied for, and it’s not worth moving for.