Help us decide our future financial paths: A guest post

#2 is on a two-week honeymoon in Italy so we’ve solicited guest posts from readers and will be running them along with random kitten pictures and hopefully(!) food pics from Italy.

Anandar is kicking us off with a money Monday question about long-term financial planing.  Help her think through her options!

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Anandar writes:

For the first time in a loooong time, we have what feel like real choices in our financial life, and so I took the opportunity to write up a guest post in hoping of thinking things through (and getting feedback if you feel like commenting!).  My spouse and I are both professionals around age 40.  In our 20s, we were in grad school and/or making peanuts.  In our 30s, we were still (!) in grad school, and generally felt urgent about working to pay off the school loans/get established in our careers while paying daycare bills/afford a downpayment in our crazy-high cost-of-living area.  Now, we own a house, just paid off law school loans, our youngest is starting public kindergarten, and we generally feel less strapped.

Additional background:  We both have the sort of jobs (teacher and legal aid lawyer) that are meaningful but also very time consuming and stressful for conscientious types.   We live in a very high cost of living area, and while our fixed expenses are lower than many people of similar age and socioeconomic status—we are debt free except for an affordable mortgage, with no expensive habits–the whole working-parent-modern-life thing leaves us susceptible to throwing money at problems and “treating” ourselves in ways that we suspect we wouldn’t if we worked less.  While I wouldn’t say we live in Paradise, it is definitely a place where spending a lot of money can be fun, interesting and/or delicious.  We’re not interested in easing our finances by moving to a cheaper area, because we don’t want to reboot our community from scratch.  Our savings are on track for retirement at a typical age (we’re steady savers when working but also spend many years in grad school, including a spare PhD, not contributing to IRAs or 401(k)s).  Our savings for kids’ college are relatively modest, but we are taking a “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” and “you can borrow for college but not retirement” approach (our privileged kids’ grandparents have also started 529 plans).

Here are our four options for the future, ranked from least to most expensive, and I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on how you’d evaluate them:

1)      Save up for a sabbatical year of living in another country with kids (the teacher could do this easily; the lawyer would probably have to quit current job).  This is on our “bucket list” of things to do with our children before they old enough to prefer international adventures sans parents.

2)     Save up for major house renovations to make our small home more liveable long term, including separate rooms for each child; a second bathroom; a real guest bedroom for visiting grandparents (who may in the far future want to live with us, so heck, let’s call it an in-law unit); a deck for eating al fresco.

3)    Same as #2, except borrow the money in order to enjoy the benefits of renovation much sooner, while locking ourselves in to higher fixed monthly expenses due to debt.

4)    Save like crazy in order to achieve financial independence (FI) before standard retirement ages.  Neither of us has any desire to stop working entirely, but working on a very part-time or volunteer basis would allow for more flexibility and creativity in our professional and personal lives.  Once we hit FI, we could dramatically increase our charitable donations, which we would really like to do.  I am not sure exactly how long this would take, because I am not sure how frugal we can really be and still preserve our equilibrium.

I can already hear you all saying:  since all of these options cost money, and you seem not to know what you want, why not just save as much as you can and decide later!  And for goodness sakes, these options aren’t all mutually exclusive—if you were financially independent, you could drag the kids on an international sabbatical every year!

There are a several reasons why I’d prefer to have a plan.  First, we are thinker-aheaders (if one were taking a deficit approach, we’d have anxiety issues).  Second, there are practical differences in how we would be spending our scarce free time today depending on which option is our top priority for the future (language learning! home cooking all meals!).  Third, to my mind, these options involve different mentalities with respect to our jobs and our finances, as well as our underlying value sets.  Trying to achieve FI early requires a substantial commitment to frugality.  Saving or borrowing money for home renovations entails a certain amount of doubling down on our paid work, while planning for a sabbatical involves thinking about detaching from our jobs.  And so forth.

So, thoughtful readers, how would you prioritize these options in our circumstances?  What additional questions would you ask yourself? 

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Why I Quit Dieting: A Guest Post

Here’s a guest post from another friend of mine.  She is a white, able-bodied, heterosexual (I think) woman.  She is a wonderful person to be around, and she reads Dances with Fat (who reminds us that we can’t hate ourselves thin), too!  We were having a conversation about radical self-love when she agreed to let me use this piece.

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Why I Quit Dieting

Even though I was an average-sized kid, I went on my first diet at age 9 because I thought from example that it’s what you do when you are female.  It lasted a day because I was nothing but hungry all day.  At 15, I got better at fighting hunger and lost weight by eating only an orange and then drinking Diet Coke and chewing Trident bubble gum during the school days  – days that frequently included a couple of hours of tennis team practice – so I could go home and eat a normal dinner and not tell my stepmother I was on a diet.  I definitely lost weight and for years my mother went on and on about how good I looked when I performed in a play at the end of that spring.  I later revealed I was only that thin because I had basically been starving myself. Of course, I gained weight back.  I went through about 3 more of those 15-pound cycles into my late 20s, one of them “accomplished” during a college summer by eating 800 calories a day, chewing on candy but spitting it out, and running about 2 miles a day.  (I hereby apologize to the library information phone line librarians who had to answer all of mine and my friend’s questions about how many calories were in different foods before we had the internet.)

One of my first steps toward empowerment was after a re-gain when my mother called me and asked how she could help me lose weight.  She had experienced a time when her mother read a newspaper article about one of her major professional accomplishments and her mother only commented on her hair.  So, when she called me, I said something along the lines of: “You know how you felt when your mother only commented on your hair?  Well, that’s how I feel right now.  I am proud of what I am doing and the person I am. My weight is none of your business.”  And then I lost about 15 pounds – because that’s what I wanted to do at the time.

A couple of things helped me shed the ideas of what NOT to eat and focus on eating nutritious foods:  one friend said that to lose weight, he ate fruit instead of a hot dog for breakfast.  It was so simple, but something about that got me to eat a substantial, healthy breakfast every day, something that is an essential part of my life now.  After a thyroid crash in my second round of grad school, I worked with a naturopath who gave me a list of foods to eat every day and foods to eat every week to recover from my many inflammation-related conditions.  I recovered from the thyroid crash, focused on what TO eat and stopped paying attention to what not to eat, except when I got rid of migraines by eliminating some foods.

I love my current naturopath who has never weighed me, but reports all of my kick-ass results of true health indicators (I think it was my C-reactive protein number that she said was the best she had seen in a long time). It feels so good to use my assertiveness to tell the medical assistants at “regular” doctor’s offices that “I do not want to be weighed today.”  I’ve learned so much about what a poor indicator of health the number on the scale is and carry it through in my actions.  Since I jokingly call myself an “empiricist pig,” I trust the research that shows that the number on the scale on its own is not useful as a predictor of health, that 95% of weight loss efforts do not last beyond 5 years, and that losing and re-gaining weight is bad for health.  I’ll go with the real predictors:  eating fresh fruits & vegetables, regular moderate exercise, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation.

I am so much happier and comfortable my current size than I ever was at the smaller clothing size that I “could” be.  My size is not a (secretly) temporary size.  It’s not full of regulations, obligations, or shame. It’s my size.  It’s the size I am when I eat and relish the joy of delicious, healthy, whole, real foods most of the time (and relish less healthy foods sometimes as well – because they are delicious, too!).  It’s the size I am when I enjoy exercising multiple times each week.  I have always been physically active in many ways, but it is even more fun to exercise now that I do it for how much I love it, how good it feels to move, how strong it makes me, and for how much energy it gives me  – without any concern for its effectiveness at changing my body size.  Loving movement, loving food, eating when I’m hungry (until I’m not hungry, and not feeling guilty about anything I put in my mouth or even an occasional full week without exercise), is the most joyful and peaceful way to live.

 

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#2 notes that focusing on fun and new things to eat has gotten her through a lot of pregnancy and related eating restrictions.  There’s a whole world of healthy yummy food out there for all sorts of restricted eating, be it whole foods, gluten-free, nut-free, etc. etc. etc.

Got comments, Grumpeteers?  Be nice.

 

Behind the news… guest post from a brand-new patriarchy-blamer!

Warning:  this post is about rape, and contains swearing.  Please feel free to skip it if these are things you don’t want to read.

We’ll be heavily moderating comments here.  This post is not about what may or may not be facts in evidence; it’s about taking apart news stories and uncovering weaselly, skewed, woman-hating rhetoric.  It’s about the UVa rape story/frats/Rolling Stone article/etc.

We present to you in all its glory:  an email from a (white male) friend of ours who is becoming more and more feminist the longer he hangs around me.  *grin*
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