• MIL’s surgery went well.  Now 4-6 weeks of recovery.  Hopefully the cancer is gone and additional treatment won’t be required.
  • [update]  They’re thinking it’s stage 2 so there will probably be radiation.  :(
  • Case Western is killing me with emails– like 2/day to not just DC1’s email account, but also my email account and the family junk mail account (which is technically DH’s junk email).  I tried to unsubscribe my email earlier, but it unsubscribed all three.  Then I tried to remove mine when we resubscribed DC1, but I’m still getting the @#$23ing emails.  Then I googled it and found out that last year they withdrew submitted (and paid!) applications from people who unsubscribed from their @#$2ing emails.  Not a good look Case Western.
  • We were thinking we’d have heard from the state school major by now since DC1 applied early action, but apparently they’ve only notified a very small group of nationally recognized people who are definitely also in the honors program a month ago.  If they had said yes, then DC1 probably would have applied to fewer colleges.  If they had said no, then DC1 would probably have applied to more colleges.
  • I feel so terrible that DC1 tried for the early action deadline when it’s not actually helping to get the response any earlier AND DC1 didn’t submit rec letters there because of it.  The essays were fine but not amazing too, and they would have been better with more practice, though this WAS practice for the other schools so I’m not sure what order zie should have applied.  I’m so worried that DC1 may have to go through all of this again next year because zie really doesn’t want to be an economics major and shouldn’t be an economics major so zie can’t stay at the flagship longer than a year.  Surely DC1 will get in somewhere zie applied in the major zie wants.  Ideally a SLAC where zie can also double major in music composition or something equally fun.
  • Did you know that the common app limits you to applying to 20 schools?
  • I have to remind myself that it’s DC1’s life.  But it’s still so stressful.  I wanted hir to stay at home another year and go to college locally if things don’t pan out, but that application deadline has passed and DC1 wants to be living in a dorm next year.  I wish zie could go to a residential high school, and there are prep schools that do take high school graduates, but it’s not the same (and they don’t have enough math and science classes).  And why pay college tuition without getting college credits?  And I dunno, new england prep students aren’t the same as the slice of the state students from our residential high school.
  • DC1 added a couple additional SLACs at the end.  The Carleton essay was probably the easiest from scratch essay– DC1 does very well with straight forward questions.  This one asked what zie would do for a senior thesis and why.  DC1 decided to create a text-based independent game (and compose all the music for it).  Describing that and why was a much quicker write than dealing with Haverford’s open-ended honor code question.  Amherst never made it to the list because of its questions, just like when I applied.  Who is willing to answer those questions?  Not even the same people willing to apply to University of Chicago because at least the U of C questions have a certain absurdity to them.  Amherst questions just do not compute with our way of life.  (I find the math one this year kind of insulting– it has a strong learned astronomer vibe to it.)
  • But thank goodness they’re done and we can all just put this out of our minds until responses from the colleges start coming in.
  • I find the constant advice to touch grass really irritating.  Some of us are allergic to grass!

Your children can do chores

This is a post draft from 2012.  All that it had was the heading– your children can do chores.

I’m not sure if this was a result of mommy bloggers complaining about waiting on their kids, or if it was just a reminder to myself that kids are often more competent than one realizes.  They start out so little and then grow so quickly.  So you forget to let to let them try things like putting on their own shirts.

Now, in 2022, we’re all at the age (#teen/#preteen) where they want to help less and it would be less effort to put their dirty dishes/socks away or to take their laundry out of the dryer rather than nagging them to do it themselves.  But also DC1 is going to college next year and needs to not be a horrible roommate/dorm person.

I worry especially for boy children– some of them seem to be able to skate through life with mommy waiting on them and then replace mommy with girlfriends and eventual wives.  Some of them never learn to take care of their crap and that’s unfair to future women who love them, or at least live with them.  Boys need to get used to doing chores as a service to their future partners.

Did you help out around the house as a kid or was taking care of chores a shock when you were on your own for the first time?

Ask the grumpies: Do procrastinators sink or swim come college time?

First Gen American asks:

How many of your chronic procrastinator students sink vs swim come college time? Asking for a friend.

If you’re talking about my students here at the R1 where I work… most of them do just fine.  They’re smart and they’re good at pulling things off last minute.  Sure, they might get Bs instead of As, and maybe the occasional C, but they’re fine.  It’s not that hard for procrastinators who were good enough to get into the school to do fine in my major.  Because generally they’re smart or they couldn’t have procrastinated and gotten in.

If you’re talking about student at say, MIT or Caltech… not so much.  There is a lot of sinking.  The people who do well aren’t necessarily the smartest (smart, definitely, but necessarily super-geniuses) but they’re the ones who can handle failure and know how to work hard and start early.

Which reminds me also:  DH taught in an engineering major at my R1, and his students were definitely sinking.  They’d sunk out of one major and into his and many of them were on their way to Political Science (where they would likely be fine) or just dropping out.

In the above two engineering situations, people were smart enough to get in and had enough flex in their high schools to be able to deal with procrastination, but they couldn’t cut it once they got to college.

Academic Grumpeteers, what’s been your experience with procrastinators?

Ask the grumpies: Will your kids be paying a portion of their college costs?

bogart asks:

[Are] people are planning to have their kids pay a portion of college costs and if so, how much.

Background: I have 1 kid and expect to be able to afford to send him anywhere (this is more a function of an employer’s tuition benefit than household wealth, though we are not comfortably off). Both I and my stepkids (whose college I also helped pay for) graduated college with some debt, not an obscene amount (let’s say 1/3 of our first year’s anticipated salary had we gotten an entry-level college-graduate job). I’m inclined to expect roughly the same for my DC, with him either working summers (or whatever) and/or taking on (sensibly financed) student loans. But at this point that’s just a vague notion, not an actual plan. I’m interested to learn what others’ thoughts are on the pros/cons of college kids investing some of their own current/future $$$ on their education, with a note that I definitely know that needing to work lots while in college creates lots of problems for lots of people and don’t want that for DC. And also whether DC does or doesn’t cover what I’m (vaguely) thinking of as a reasonable amount isn’t going to have a big impact on our household’s financial well-being one way or the other. And that I realize I’m lucky and frighteningly privileged to be able to say that.

Related posts: Should parents pay for their childrens’ college?  You can read this deliberately controversial post for why we think the argument that people won’t care about their own education unless they’re paying for it themselves is not a great one.

We are planning on paying full tuition, basic living expenses, and textbooks/etc. expenses for our kids in college.  Probably we’ll also pitch in for one of those overpriced refrigerator/microwave units for the dorm room.  If there are any loans, we will take them on.

I figure they can pay for any extras (meals at restaurants… not sure what else… concert tickets?  plane tickets to visit significant others?  stuffed animals?) out of their earnings, either summer earnings or work during the school year.  My friend whose kid is at Brown is paying for full dining hall PLUS multiple restaurant nights a week, though she just had a conversation with him about that.  (But Mommmmm, the restaurants are so good here!)

Not sure about masters degrees– we will cross that bridge if we come to it.

I graduated with my parents paying the 0% interest subsidized loans they’d taken out on my behalf (we were very low income).  DH graduated with 10K of unsubisidized debt at ~8% interest that we scrimped like crazy to pay off ASAP.  I worked for spending money for extras during the school year and DH worked over the summers.

Paying college tuition is a great way to transfer money to the next generation while avoiding gift/inheritance taxes.  It also doesn’t have the problem of creating more expenses like giving someone a house downpayment would nor does it teach people to live large when they can’t really afford to like giving them cash or a fancy car would.  So if you can afford it, why not?

Leah adds:

I was super grateful that my mom helped me graduate debt free by picking up extra shifts nursing. I think the path to take depends on your family. I totally understood the value of what my mom did for me. I worked hard in college. I had a work study job, got extra scholarships each year, and worked for the school newspaper. There’s more than one way to teach being fiscally prudent. Do what works for your family.

Grumpy Nation:  Those of you who partook of higher education, who paid for it?  If applicable, what do you plan to do/did you do for your kids?

Ponderings on college costs and savings (t-1)

  • As of this writing (which is a month or two before the posting [update: the stock market has dropped more since then]), DC1 has $237,800 in hir 529.  This is a drop from a high of $275,000 last November (and a drop from $258,000 the last time I posted about it), but also it’s the same amount that zie had in there last February, so it’s only market gains that got lost.
  • It’s so weird thinking about “real” vs. not “real” money.  Like, it’s real money when I put it in there because we earned it.  And it’s real money when it comes out, because I can like, use it and stuff.  But while it’s in there… not real.  That’s the only way to stay sane with the stock market I think.
  • I’ll have to think about how to withdraw the money next year, if we get a choice about that.  Like it would make sense, I think, to withdraw from the stable income and let the stock market stuff float, maybe?  But I haven’t really given it much thought.  It will also matter if we’re planning to withdraw everything within 4 years or just a portion and leave the rest for DC2.  (Which will depend on what schools DC1 gets into.)
  • DC1 says it’s a requirement for high school for hir to fill out the FAFSA.  Which is a great idea and totally understandable, but there’s no way that we’re going to qualify for financial aid at any school.  We just have too much cash, on top of having a combined income that doesn’t qualify most places.  Maybe if we move to a blue coast and buy a 2 million dollar house (thus having a monthly mortgage and getting rid of our taxable money).  But not now.
  • Estimated cost of Harvey Mudd over 4 years:  $339,584.  Though that does include living expenses.
  • Huh, the deluxe meal plan only covers 16 meals a week.   I guess they assume people sleep through breakfast?  I feel like I was on a 19 meal plan when I was in college (3 meals/day M-F, Brunch and Dinner on weekends), but maybe I’m misremembering.
  • I’m already mentally planning nuts.com care packages for DC1.  I really hope zie ends up at a school with a good dining hall because I am not convinced zie can feed hirself otherwise.
  • Estimated total cost of state school over four years:  $120K (but probably actually less than that because living expenses seem pretty inflated in their estimates).  Not including living expenses it would be under $50K.


  • I can’t believe that polio is circulating in the US again.  It is insane.  We eradicated it!  Growing up, I saw adults with twisted limbs who had gotten it as small children.  The vaccine doesn’t even require a shot!  This is so insane.
  • The US reported almost two-fifths of the world’s monkeypox cases according to an NIHCM email I got this week.
  • DC2 (age 10) has a(n) (opposite gender) friend who is very Mormon, evangelically so.  They have a texting relationship since they’re two of the only people with cell phones who are allowed to text.  Zie seems very nice, and yet, I don’t really want DC2 to get too close. (I have not acted on this feeling, other than to honestly answer some of DC2’s questions about Mormonism.)  This caused some introspection.  I think I would feel this way about any evangelical person, and particularly those from faiths with a history of misogyny, homophobia, and racism.  I do have a female Mormon colleague in a related department who has been allowed to work despite being married and having a large number of children, but she’s pretty extremely homophobic (under her maiden name, there are homophobic screeds she’s authored on the internet).  The Mormon economists I know are all extremely nice and all male with large families and stay-at-home-wives.  They even encourage female students to become economics PhDs.  And yet…
  • So many evangelical people seem so nice.  And yet… when it comes to equal rights and respecting people’s sexual/romantic identities… seeming nice and being nice are not the same thing at all.
  • DC2 got staph infections on hir knees– we initially thought it was just scraped knees, but then the scrapes didn’t go away and the patches seemed to increase in size.  Two days of antibiotics + bleach bath cleared it right up (we finished the full treatment of antibiotics and bleach baths).  It is remarkable how quickly modern medicine can work.
  • It’s a little crazy to me how many antibiotics I took as a kid, but I think this may actually have been DC2’s first round.  I got strep throat several times as a kid and had several ear infections in middle school and high school.  My mom almost died of Scarlet Fever when she was little, so at the first sign of a sore throat we’d be at the doctor getting a throat culture. Everything else generally took a wait and see attitude, and even so, the ear infections didn’t go away on their own and I’d go into the doctor when it felt like someone was sticking a knife in my ear.
  • Man, the stock market has kind of tanked recently.
  • After a semester and a half back in public school, DC2’s progress report scores have actually dropped below where they were last Spring when we’d home schooled hir for English and Science.  This is a progress test where zie is nowhere the ceiling, so it’s not just that hir percentile score has dropped (which they have) or zie isn’t doing as well in the next grade-level– it’s an actual loss of ability.  And I don’t think it’s just mean reversion because I’d expect it to be the same or only a little higher, not lower, if that were the case given the additional instruction time that has passed. These are in the mid-90s for percentile, but I’m not sure if this is an indictment of public schooling in our state or that DH and I did a really good job teaching English even though we had no clue what we were doing, or that the California teacher we stole material from really knew what she was doing.
  • I was explaining the above bullet to a (childfree) friend via text and she was like, “you need to chill” and like… I was chill?  I was just noting that homeschooling seemed to be better academically than our local public school despite DH and me having no idea what we were doing.  Like, my kids are going to be fine?  And I have no intention of sacrificing our careers more for marginal improvements and I don’t feel bad about that?
  • Should this be making me anxious?  I have extremely low to non-existent levels of parenting guilt.  Possibly because I don’t think what we do matters that much in the long run so long as we’re not abusing or neglecting, which we’re not, and we’re providing stability and love, which we are.
  • What is making me anxious though is flying out to my dream job department.  Just looking at the cvs of the people I’m going to be meeting with had me almost hyperventilating.  I don’t feel worthy AT ALL.  But DH talked me down reminding me that I have double the teaching load and more service and less grant support and a different student mix and who knows what else.  Plus, DH didn’t add this, but also the constant worry about politics directly negatively affecting my children and their friends and my students in the background.  It’s quite possible that my productivity would be closer to theirs if I had better opportunities.  And I need to remember that.
  • Since its not guaranteed that I will get my dream job, I’ve been making a list of jobs in Blue states for people at associate and full.  I’ve applied to two, but all the rest require rec letters or names of recommenders and I don’t even know where to start with asking people.  I wish I knew who had written full prof letters for me.
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We started an IRA Roth for DC1

DC1 made money this summer at hir internship.  A little over $2000 to be exact.

That means that DC1 is eligible to put a little over $2000 into a Roth IRA retirement account this year.  Starting retirement savings at 15, even if it’s a small amount, even with the stock markets being volatile, could have a nicely positive impact on hir retirement funds, especially if the stock market continues its pattern of returning more than inflation takes away over the long-run.

We’ve left the $2000 in hir savings account (zie isn’t eligible for financial aid right now anyway because DH and I make too much and have too much unprotected wealth– if this wasn’t the case it might make sense for college financial aid purposes to put hir money directly into protected retirement savings since colleges are greedy with student assets) and have taken $2K of our money to put into an IRA for DC1.

It turns out that it is not as easy to open up an IRA for a minor as it is for an adult.  If you try to set up an account online it will say no!  In the end, we had to do it over the *phone* with Vanguard.  But the Vanguard person took care of things and walked DH through what needed to be done.  (This would have been more annoying if I had to do it myself.)

Once the account was open, it was attached to DH’s main Vanguard account.  At some point that will have to be disentangled, but DC1 will still be under 18 for a few more years.  If you don’t already have a Vanguard account and you want to set up an IRA for your child then you will probably want to do this with whoever your actual provider is.  (If you don’t have a provider, have you considered getting yourself annual IRAs?)  (Disclaimer:  We are not financial advisors– speak with a financial advisor with fiduciary responsibility and/or do your own research before making life changing money decisions.)

DH had them direct money to their money market account.  After it posted, we tried to buy VTSAX, the Vanguard total stock market index, with it, but they said no!  You must have at least 3K to do that.  So instead we bought VTI which is the Vanguard Total Index ETF (exchange traded fund) which didn’t have a dollar minimum amount.  The ETF tracks the Index, so hopefully it provides about the same outcome 50+ years down the line.  No trading fee for this with Vanguard which was nice.

Hopefully the magic of compounding tax free will turn this $2K into a good start on healthy retirement funding for DC1.  Though just having an account and getting into the habit of maxing out retirement savings will have an even bigger return down the road.

When did you start saving for retirement?  Did you have a summer job as a kid?  If applicable, do/did your kids have earnings under the age of 18?

RBOCollege Applications

  • DC1 spent some time listening to Yale admissions podcasts about what not to do in personal essays and went to a Pomona webinar that directly contradicted everything the Yale people said.  What’s in right now (but not at Yale) are essays that start with hooks.  Like the Pomona example of an excellent essay started something like:  “Watermelon.  I wasn’t to know that day that the pink-red and green fruit was going to change my life forever.”
  • DC1, DC2, and I had a great time coming up with ridiculous sounding hooks.  ‘”How did I get into college at all without an essay hook,” my mother wondered.’  or ‘”Perhaps this is why I didn’t get into Williams!” my mother gasped while reading advice on essay hooks.’  DC2’s suggestions were more off the wall and had a fish theme.
  • Eventually we gave up trying to help DC1 brainstorm and hired someone from Outschool to help brainstorm.  It seemed to be less painful for DC1.
  • I am of two minds about this– on the one hand, I never thought I would be one of those people who paid someone to help with college admissions.  I am a big believer in finding a good match for a school and DC1 is in a range where a good essay will help some places but a mediocre essay won’t kill hir chances.  It’s possible there’s some amazing essay that would make hir a shoe-in, but being honest, all hir life experiences are privileged White upper-middle class (but not like, directed a movie as a teenager kind of privileged like one of Angelina Jolie’s kids) and are mildly interesting.  On the other hand, she just seems to be doing the whole brainstorming thing we were doing before but with more knowledge about when an idea isn’t great (only she says it positively, DC1 notes) and without the feeling of pulling teeth.  Zie got more done in a half hour session with her in terms of just putting ideas out there than zie did in half a day with DH and me tag teaming.  (Although it did help that DC1 had done some of the exercises with us before– they’re commonly suggested on the internet/in how to write college essay books.)
  • It’s not even the writing that DC1 is having problems with.  DC1 just has a really hard time choosing or having opinions.  (This is a common theme with DC1– hir only big opinion is that we should always have sushi for meals, and never have raw tomatoes, but also zie would rather have me pick which sushi.) For the questions that are very specific for the State School application that zie has already turned in, zie didn’t really have that much trouble.  But this whole “you can write anything for the common app” is just too much.  Especially since hir first idea would be identical to HMC’s new essay prompt.  (This is the, “I know what I want my career path to be” style essay.)
  • After one session, DC1 had a much better idea for the HMC prompt that zie had already made good progress on, but was still stymied on the common app essay.  So DC1 asked for more sessions.  Which we will pay $50/30 min for once a week until DC1 feels comfortable with hir essays.  I feel #richpeopleguilt about this, but also I’m hoping it will save everybody’s time and my frustration.
  • The even richer economists I know hired actual people not from outschool to give full service college navigation.  So… we’re not really there yet.  (DC1 didn’t even do SAT coaching because I assumed zie wouldn’t need it, which zie didn’t.  Though zie did take some practice PSAT/SATs from previous years and brushed up on forgotten math based on those.)
  • It’s crazy to me how much DC1 hates introspection because when I was that age, if the internet had been more developed, I would so have had an angsty live-journal page.  (Actually I probably wouldn’t have because I was already super leery of aol chat and IRC– my roommate (not #2) hung out on channels that seemed to be mostly gross people looking for under-aged girls to sext. So I was pretty leery even then.)
  • Though to be fair, my common app essay wasn’t particularly introspective– it was about how implicit discrimination by K-12 teachers hurt girls and Black kids and how insisting that the teacher use a quantitative measure for my 4th grade math-pullout sessions (we had Wednesdays off to volunteer or do internships at my boarding school) added really smart Black and Hispanic girls to my group, and it was heartbreaking how they’d been overlooked before. And I wanted to study education and put in systemic changes to help kids like these girls.  In retrospect, probably too white-savior (but I was only 17! I can cut myself some slack!), but I did get into a top SLAC, even if it wasn’t Williams.
  • My sister’s common app essay was amazing.  It was about how physics informed her dancing and vice versa.  She’s still mad at me for her not applying to Stanford even though I suggested she do so.  She said that I was too negative about her chances because I’d seen so many top people not get in and told her it was all random after a certain level.  (Again, I was like 22, what did I know?  But I still stand by the, “it’s random after a certain point.” But even if I was wrong, she shouldn’t still be holding a grudge about it.)  Still she got into lots of amazing schools (all of the ones she applied to, including an Ivy) and loved her college experience, so …

Ask the grumpies: Where do I find family activities

First Gen American asks:

Where can I find new ideas for enrichment activities for my family. I have gone to every museum, zoo, etc in my driving radius.

Sometimes there are mommy forums that share this kind of information.  I have a friend who is from China and she finds things on the local WeChat and then passes them on to me.

There’s a lot of stuff available online these days.  We have been enjoying Outschool for DC2.

You might be interested in looking into things like the the Vanderbilt Mentorship Immersion program that DC1 did the other year and really enjoyed.   (They have other Programs for Talented Youth too, but some of them require residency.)  And of course, lots of summer camps and things like that that you can google.

Your kids might be able to do community college classes.  Or online classes at other schools.

In terms of one-offs, I’m not so sure, but maybe Grumpy Nation can help?

When did you or your children stop believing in the literal interpretation of folk figures?

Here’s another post from 2011.  I’ve updated it!

Dean Dad’s fifth grader has questioned Santa Claus.

When did you or your children stop believing (if at all)?

I don’t remember ever literally believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy.  I remember always thinking about it like the Land of Make Believe on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  I would never be so gauche as to stop pretending (especially since that might mean the cessation of gifts/money), but always in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of way.  I remember being disgusted when a fellow second grader announced to the class that Santa Claus is just your parents… duh! but you don’t SAY that out loud.  Magic isn’t real, but it’s fun to make believe.

DC[1] was just getting around to the concept of Santa last Christmas [age 3 or 4 back in 2011]… not sure how ze escaped it for so many years… possibly because Santa is overshadowed by grandparents in the gift department.  This year ze’s been reading a LOT of magic books, and we’ve had a lot of conversations about magic not being real but pretend… so I imagine this Christmas ze’ll make the connection, especially in conjunction with learning about Saint Nicholas at school.


DC2 didn’t get the concept and then vehemently didn’t believe at age 3, and then around age 4 we moved back from paradise for a last year of preschool and was completely indoctrinated by one of the preschool teachers regarding the Easter Bunny.  I believe at some point in this age 4 range zie asked us point blank if the Easter Bunny was real or if Santa was real and we asked what zie thought instead of answering.  DC2 only had a year of religious education (age 3) so none of that connection to the Catholic/Anglican saints thing.  I think once got to kindergarten we were back at the “not real” stage.

We’ve never really told our children either way.  We don’t really talk about Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy doing things, though I guess we do say “leave teeth for the tooth fairy” (DC2 response:  Daddy is the tooth fairy, and I’d rather keep my teeth).  But we also never contradicted people saying such things.  And we have been careful about making sure they know not to spoil it for other kids.

Grumpy Nation, When did you or your children (if applicable) stop believing in creatures like the Tooth Fairy et al.?