DH and the kids are going on a real vacation

sort of…

We do a lot of traveling, mostly for work, which means we haven’t really been on any vacations that aren’t connected with a conference or someone getting married.  Almost all of our vacation time is spent in DH’s home town (population ~3K and falling) at the grandparents’ because DH needs to see his extended family at least once a year or he starts getting maudlin and depressed.  So essentially everywhere we’ve been, someone else is paying for our housing and often part of our meals or some of our travel.  Or there’s been a wedding.*  When we’re low on cash, we spend a day and another one back driving to get to DH’s home town (it is a very long day).  When we’re flush with cash or miles or rates are especially low, we will fly instead which cuts the time spent traveling by about 2/3.

This year DH’s parents are both retired so we’re going to try something different.  Not, you know, too different.  But still a little different.

Last year, DH’s brother’s company transferred him and he ended up moving near DH’s sister.  So last summer DH’s parents rented a couple of cabins in a state park near the town DH’s siblings live in and they spent a few days there as an extended family.  This year, DH wants to join them with the kids.  So after some discussion (and realizing that everybody in the world wants to visit peak tourist places like Yellowstone during peak tourist season which drives the prices way up), they decided to go to the same place as last year and DH and the kids will fly in to the nearest big city, rent a car, and drive down to the cabins.  After a few days there, they’ll spend a night in the city and fly home.  (Me, I will be staying home getting work done because I have to go to TWO conferences the next week.  :/ )

It’s like a real vacation!

When this was initially discussed, we talked about splitting the costs for the cabins, since DH would be adding an additional family and we want to subsidize his less-flush siblings.  Plus we’d just found out that DH would indeed be working in April and May so we were going to have more money than we’d anticipated.  AND DH’s dad is retiring and his parents are going to have to start budgeting again for the first time, so there’s no need for them to shoulder the entire expense.  But DH’s mom is being difficult about it (we finally got a “we’ll talk about it later” from her) so we’re going to have to figure some way to pay/subsidize.  Maybe we’ll pay for the hotel the night in the city and DH can pay for food purchases if she won’t let us write a check to her for half the cabins.

With some research, it looks like they’ll be paying $450/night (plus tax) for 3 nights = $1350 for the cabins.  We’re going to try to pay half of that:  $675

Airfare for DH and two kids came out to= $937 (We don’t have enough miles on the right airlines to make it worth while to use miles for this trip.)

Then there will be one night in a big city (estimated) = $250/room (if we go for near the touristy stuff rather than near the airport– airport hotels are closer to $150/room)

Car rental + gas for us (estimated) = $350 (though we may find a better deal closer to the time)

Food (estimated– a total guess because who knows) = $200

So total cost (not including incidentals):  $2,182

Which seems like a lot of money for 5 days for 3 people, but also not a lot of money for a vacation compared to what we see when people go fancier places than a Midwestern state park.  (Going on a weekend would have cost double the cabin fee!)


*We honeymooned in beautiful London… Ontario (the one in Canada).  Which is kind of like honeymooning in Ann Arbor if you could daytrip to Niagra Falls from there.  We did not have a lot of money.

What do you do for vacations?  How often do you go on them?

How often do you have to buy new plates and glasses: Musings on breakage

We recently stopped at Target and bought some new glasses and a Corelle set to replace those that have been broken lo these past few years.

How many years, you ask?  I can actually tell you that because deciding to buy Corelle caused some internet drama when I realized it would be foolish to get a nice set of Lenox or Wedgewood to replace the brave floral plates that had fallen over the years.  That post was up in Summer of 2014, so it seems like it takes 3 years for 2 children to force replacement purchasing.  Given that purchase happened in 2014, I can also calculate that it takes 6 years for one child (and two sleep deprived parents) to force replacement purchasing. (We initially had another set that we got rid of because life is too short to live with dinnerware that is not microwave safe).

Last time we picked out tumblers that were most like our previous glasses.  Fortunately for us, this newer style is still in stock after 3 years.  So we’re down to one tall glass and two shorter tumblers in the old style along with 8 tall ones in the new style and too many of the shorter tumblers to fit in their special place in the cupboard.  I guess the tall ones are more likely to break even though we never give them to small children.

For china, last time we bought more we decided we wanted plain white easy-to-replace difficult-to-break Corelle.  Even if we could afford something fancier.  Corelle is nice because it is much more likely to bounce safely than our previous higher quality porcelain.  Sadly, when it does break it shatters into a zillion thin shards rather than the two or three large pieces that nicer china falls into, which means after sweeping and vacuuming we still have to mop the floor just to be sure.  The choice of plain white seems to have been a good one as it is still available and I didn’t shed too many tears getting a new set.  Of course, now we have way too many coffee cups as they never seem to break and they come with the Corelle set.

My parents would just pick up bits and pieces from other people’s former sets at garage sales and didn’t buy a new matched set until both children were off to college and no longer washing dishes by hand.  We don’t really have time for garage sales, so $40 every few years at Target seems like a reasonable purchase for us.

How long does your china and glassware last?  How do you replace it (new sets or single pieces?  same design or different?)?  Is your cupboard full of mismatched former sets waiting for the final piece to break like ours is?

Big expenses coming up in the next few years

We’ve been out of graduate school for ~10 years now, which means a lot of the stuff we own is now ~10 years old.  We’re now at a point where the probability that something big is going to need to be replaced is pretty high.

Our cars are 10 and 11 years old.

Our 12-year water heaters are 10 years old.

Our roof is getting on about 12 years.

Our refrigerator is something like 15 years old.

Our w/d are 10 years old.

Our dishwasher is 9 years old.

We’re not really sure which of these things is going to break down, or even how many are going to break down.  We shouldn’t need the cost of all of these in our cash emergency fund, but the longer time goes on, the more plausible it is that we’ll need to cover two or more of these in a short time frame.

We’re pretty sure we can cash flow water heaters.  Our cash emergency fund can handle one car, but not two.  Or not one car and a new roof.  Plus I’m kind of hoping that we can do solar with the next roof replacement (we’ll see!) — even if there aren’t government incentives, DH likes new technology and I like the idea of lower a/c bills in the summer (even if we don’t actually save money), which would add considerably to a new roof expense.

I feel like if we have enough in savings to  get us through the unpaid summer should DH permanently lose his job and to handle a major expense like most of a new car, then we should also be ok for the future, even though it might mean having to take on a temporary loan or to sell stocks.  I don’t think we need to have a targeted savings account for each of these major expenses as hopefully we’ll have time to replenish the emergency fund after one comes due, but maybe I’m wrong.

How do you deal with big lumpy unexpected but still kind of expected expenses? Does everything expire around the same time for you or have you spaced things out?

Liberty Tabletop Review: We bought cutlery

Review is not paid, we get no bonuses, Liberty Tabletop doesn’t know we exist.

As we noted before, we had been using the same set of cheap silverware since we were in graduate school.  One day while having my spoon bend eating ice cream out of a pint, I decided I had had enough.  I am middle-aged, I told myself.  We are professionals with a healthy retirement account, I said.  Even if DH is going to be taking some time off, we can still afford to get grown-up silverware.  (And to be perfectly honest, getting grown-up silverware has been in the back of my mind since we visited the in-laws last Christmas and I marveled at the heft of their cutlery.)

It turns out that buying fancy new cutlery has become more difficult in the past few years.  Oneida and Lenox have moved their operations overseas and it is clear from looking at reviews (even on Oneida’s own webpage) that quality control has slipped considerably in the past few years.  Old sets are still going strong, but new sets are not always what they claim to be– complaints about rusting and magnetism show up with unnerving frequency on recent reviews for pretty much all silverware manufactured in Vietnam, Indonesia, or China.  Mind you, not all modern sets are bad– it seems to be a problem with quality control, not average quality.  Basically, manufacturers are not paying attention so you might get a dud set made with worse quality steel than advertised.  Or, according to one complaint, slightly different patterns across the set when half the set is made in Vietnam and the other half in Indonesia.  Prices for 18/10 silverware are a lot lower now than I remember them being as well, so it seems like in equilibrium the market is now willing to take its chances.  We live in a disposable culture.

What makes quality in stainless steel silverware?  Basically you want steel that is 18/10.  Our original set was 18/0.  18/10 steel won’t rust and it isn’t magnetic (maybe… see below).  And you want a pattern you like and a nice heft.  Serrated knives will be an exception– the blades cannot be 18/10 and still do a decent job of cutting, but the handles should still be 18/10 if they’re made in two pieces.

So what are your options?  Ikea seemed to have pretty reasonable reviews but we weren’t that crazy about their limited style choices when we bought a basic set for four for use last year in Paradise (we left them in Paradise).  Henkels also seemed to be getting pretty consistently good reviews, though people complained about the cutlery being too big which is our main problem with Ikea flatware.  So… we kept looking and noticed that the old Oneida plant in the US now houses the US’s only manufacturer of flatware, Liberty Tabletop.  They seemed to have good reviews and they let you pay $8 to test out 3 different designs (or $16 for 6 different) before you commit, and they also had one of my favorite designs (the Martha Washington with the little flowers– my other favorite is the Japanese star design which seems to only be available used on ebay) so we thought we’d give it a whirl.

We tried out 3 of their designs, the Martha Washington, the Champlin, and the Sheffield.  They sent a full-sized Martha Washington and salad forks for the other two designs.  We thought the Sheffield was a bit gaudy, liked the Champlin more than we’d thought and the Martha Washington not quite as much– the design is not quite as crisp as in their picture.  But after some discussion, we decided this was our best bet and ordered a 65 piece set for $359 (and a 10% discount because they frequently run 10% discounts if you look for a code… right now it is EASTER10) as well as four long-necked iced tea spoons (~$35).

The flower on the base is not completely consistent across all pieces– some are more well-defined than others, I assume because that part is hardest to stamp.  But that’s only something a person notices if they’re specifically looking for it.  The rest of each piece seems perfect.  They’ve got a nice heft, ice cream no longer requires straightening out a spoon after, they stack nicely in the drawer which my OCD loves, and they have yet to rust in the dishwasher.

Look, spoons!

We were pretty happy with our purchase.  Then we decided to do the “magnet test” that liberty tabletop (and many other pages not trying to sell things recommend) on their website.

All the forks passed with flying colors (unlike our old forks which would fly to the magnet).  As would be predicted, the knife blades were magnetic but the handles were not.  The slotted spoon that came with the set also had no magnetic draw.  But all of the other spoons were magnetic, although less so than our original set, with the bowls more attracted than the handles.  But the spoon handles could still be lifted with a magnet.

That there is the magnet lifting the handle.

The power of magnetism!

So we wrote to the company.

DH wrote:

I received the order and am very pleased about the design, appearance, and heft of the flatware.

Unfortunately, the teaspoons (12), iced tea spoons (4), sugar spoon (1), and serving spoon (1) are all significantly magnetic.

According to your website: “If you can lift the spoon or fork with a magnet then it is likely 18-0 or some lower grade of stainless steel.”  http://libertytabletop.com/18-10-stainless-steel/

Using a magnet, I can lift all of the items that I listed above.

The response:

Thank you for your purchase of our Made in the USA flatware.

All of our flatware is made from 18/10 stainless steel, with the exception of the knife blades.

When you cold work stainless steel, such as we do to raise the bowl of the spoons, it will become slightly magnetic.  Of course “slightly” would depend on the power of the magnet that you are using.  If you use the magnet on the rest of the flatware, or the handles of the spoons, you should find them to be non-magnetic.  Please let me know if this is not the case.

But the magnet does work on the handles of the spoons (DH sent the pictures you see above as proof):

Previously I had been testing out the bowls on the spoons, so I went back and tested their handles instead.  I can lift them with a rare earth magnet to an angle of about 45 degrees before they fall.

A standard fridge magnet will not lift them, but is attracted to them from handle to bowl.

In comparison, the slotted serving spoon does not attract the rare earth magnet.

Another response:

The more work hardening, the more magnetic.  Therefore, the lowest part in the spoon bowl will be magnetic. With slotted spoons, that  portion of the bowl is cut out, so you won’t see the same reaction to a magnet

To sum:

So based on the manufacturing/shaping process, spots of 18/10 can become magnetic.

The bowls of the spoons in my set are the most magnetic, but other areas are also magnetic.

Is it typical that a standard fridge magnet is attracted to the handles of the spoons in my set?…as long as the attraction is not strong enough to lift the spoon up by the handle?

and Fin:

That is not atypical for work hardened 18/10.

DH’s brother, who is a mechanical engineer who works on engines says that work hardening does cause magnetism (which is a problem for them– they have to demagnetize things in order to get rid of scrapes and fillings of metal when they clean a newly manufactured engine), and it seems more reasonable that the magnetism from work hardening the bowls has made the handles magnetic too than that Liberty Tabletop only used impure steel for their spoons and not their other cutlery.

So should you trust Liberty Tabletop?  I don’t know.  If we hadn’t done this check on our spoon handles, I’d be feeling perfectly happy.  But on their website they have scary blurbs about how magnetic handles can mean dangerous impurities introduced from using recycled steel (which they say they don’t use)… if I hadn’t read those blurbs, I would also be feeling more sanguine about having magnetic handles on my spoons.  If the company itself is the main cause of the paranoia, it seems like something’s a bit off.  And without that worry, our new silverware does “spark joy” during regular use or all neatly stacked in our silverware drawer.

What do you think?

So I guess DH will be working in April now? Maybe May?

DH really loves his job, but sometimes it is kind of ridiculous.

Remember how his company was taking a break from April – July?  Yeah, well, that’s not happening anymore.

DH was busily working on a grant proposal when the company CEO emailed to tell him that he’d signed DH up for a conference in April.  DH responded that he had been planning on consulting for my employer (technically for free for me, but he didn’t say that) in April because he thought the last pay period ended in March until July funding.

The CEO replied, “That’s news to me.”  So DH’s boss talked with the CEO and got an update.  Apparently they currently have enough money to get through May if everybody takes a 85% pay instead of the 90% pay they’re currently getting (with the CEO taking no salary and loaning the company money and DH’s boss taking a larger % cut).  But they’re also welcome to take some unpaid time off as well, which DH may do in June.  He has a lot of work to do in April (he no longer has to half-ass a month’s worth of work in the final week of March) and will probably have a lot of grant writing in May.  Plus the kids don’t get out of school until almost June.

On the one hand, I’m a bit bummed because I was looking forward to working with DH.  On the other hand, he likes this job and I’m a big fan of his salary.  So…

We’ll see what happens.  85% pay isn’t as compelling as 100% pay plus retirement.  He’ll be figuring out if/when he should do that in conjunction with his boss as it gets closer to June.

In the meantime, we’ll be getting a couple months more of his salary that I’m not entirely sure what to do with.  I guess we’ll just stick it in cash savings until we know more about what the future will bring.

Saving isn’t necessarily “easier” for people who save more: A deliberately controversial rant

One of those bloggers who makes a ton and spends a ton and is always complaining about debt/bragging about purchases/letting other people buy hir necessities often talks about how it’s just *easier* for other people to not spend money on luxuries and trips.  Other people just don’t enjoy such things as much as zie does.  Other people aren’t *really* sacrificing.  Other people don’t know what it’s like, having friends who like to go out and spend money, wanting to go on trips, wanting to buy nice things.

Every time I read something like this, I want to say @#$#@ you.  I mean seriously.  You are not a special snowflake.  @#$@# you.  Sacrifice is NOT fun.

It isn’t easier for me to not have things I want.  I don’t get my kicks from saving instead of spending.  I would *love* to take vacations and eat out all the time and live someplace amazing and buy all sorts of fancy stuff.  But I don’t.

Why don’t I?  Two main reasons:

First:  That feeling you’re always complaining about?  The one where your budget comes up short and you don’t know where the missing money is going to come from?  The one where you’re getting lots of sympathy from your blog followers?  That one.  I HATE that feeling.  I hate it so much that I have something called an emergency fund.  I hate it so much that I set my fixed expenses low enough that there’s some extra every month.  So much that we’ve never had consumer debt and we paid off our loans ages ago.

Second:  You know how your family bails you out when you don’t have money for a broken appliance or the kids’ tuition or a whatever the latest emergency is?  Yeah, I don’t want my parents, my parents who make less money than I do, to be bailing me out as an adult.  I don’t want them to @#$3ing sacrifice their wants because I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my own.  Emergencies happen on a pretty regular basis and you should plan for them.  If you can’t, then you can’t really afford those trips with friends.

So yeah, @#$@ you.  Sacrifice sucks for everybody.  That’s why it’s called sacrifice.

And maybe it’s easy to spend less for people like Mr. Money Moustache or Frugal Woods, but you don’t have to be an early retirement extreme junkie to be responsible with your finances.  And even with MMM and FW, it may just be that their values for the environment or for early retirement are stronger than their desire to spend.  That doesn’t mean they don’t have a desire to spend, just that there’s something more important to them than spending.

It’s not easier for other people to not spend.  It’s easier for you to let people bail you out or to have those regular feelings of panic than it is for the rest of us.

Why DH’s retirement account sent us a check for >$3000

Shortly after DH’s company switched from a high cost retirement provider to Fidelity (which is a better choice for small companies than is Vanguard because Vanguard charges small companies pretty high fees, in case you were wondering), DH got a check in the mail from Fidelity for >$5K.  As a distribution.  Even though DH is well under any possible age for required distributions.

It wasn’t a mistake.

On the back of the statement, it said, “It has been determined that you had an excess contribution…due to your plans non-discrimination testing…”

The problem, as explained to DH by the company’s finance person and also in this post I found online is that DH’s company doesn’t compensate its less highly employees as well for retirement as it does its highly paid employees.  And the highly paid employees are contributing to retirement compared to the less highly paid employees in too high a ratio.  So they failed a non-discrimination test and send money back to highly paid employees so that the overall firm level of contribution no longer fails that test.  It is our understanding that we will pay taxes on that money as if it is income in the 2017 tax year (though it is income from 2016).

So, DH can’t put away the full 18K + employer match (which is going away for the foreseeable future anyway) each year for retirement, but some number less than that.  So it’s a good thing that I can put away large amounts in my university 403bs and 457 plans.

There is a way to make it so the company doesn’t have to pass the non-discrimination testing, but figuring that out and pushing for it didn’t seem worth looking into given the way that DH’s company is laying everybody off at the end of the month.

So, that’s one of the fun things about working for a small company.

Have you ever gotten a 401(k) distribution because your company didn’t pass non-discrimination testing?