DH researches cooktops

Here is his final report:

TL;DR: gas cooktop, Samsung NA30N7755TG @ ~$1400.

Note that reviews do not seem very useful. Professional review websites do not review all the options, e.g., only reviewing 36″ cooktops, not 30″ cooktops, or they tend to parrot back Consumer Reports, or they have a clear bias without seeming to cover all aspects (e.g., everyone should go induction). Reviews on online stores (e.g., AJ Madison, appliancesconnection.com, amazon, and Home Depot) are not in high numbers, tend to be copied from each other, often are acquired through promotions, do not go into great detail, and are either 1-star due to failure or 5-star because there’s no failure. All cooktops seem to have failure issues…sometimes broken out of the box, other times completely failing after months or 1-2 years, but it looks like gas cooktops have fewer quality control complaints than induction cooktops.
I mostly used the above-mentioned four websites to shop around.

I would rather go with my gas cooktop top pick over my induction top pick, but the electrical engineer in me wishes that wasn’t the case. If we decided to re-wire that outlet for a 40 or 50 Amp circuit (it is currently 30Amps), then I would want induction instead.

The deciding reason between my two top picks is that the gas cooktop’s layout is just so much better, with a good burner in the front-right (the big burner is in the very center so I’m not as worried about scorching the wall). In comparison, the induction cooktop’s two front hobs are each only 6″ diameter, and our normal pans are 8″. So with the induction cooktop we would end up cooking on the large back hob 90% of the time. I am pretty sure I will find it very annoying to have to reach back to do stir-frying, flip pancakes, etc. I do wish the gas cooktop was only 4 burners, instead of 5, but I guess if they’re going to put the big burner right in the center then they may as well put burners in each of the corners.

Both of the below cooktops have the power I want. Neither seems to stand-out in terms of quality or brand-name. Both would fit (though we may want an extra half-inch of countertop front-to-back for the gas cooktop). Gas has open flame which I’d really rather avoid, while induction has a fan/noise which I would somewhat like to avoid. I am mostly ignoring the fact that we would need new pans for the induction cooktop, because it would be so much easier to keep clean that I would be happy to get new cookware. An unknown about induction is whether or not we would be ok with the controls (on/off/power setting etc)…I’m guessing we wouldn’t have a problem but some reviews are negative about induction cooktop controls.

Gas:

For gas, there were three main points.
First, I wanted just 4 burners. Second, I wanted a high output on at least one burner, at least 18+k BTU. These two wants are hard to find together. Nice 30″ wide cooktops (i.e., ones with a high output burner) almost invariably have 5 burners, while 4 burner systems are almost invariably low-output. I care more about the high output, so that wins out over the number of burners.

The third main point was that space/installation constraints prevented several models from working…primarily spacing constraints to the back wall, or from the top of the counter to the top of the silverware drawer under the cooktop. The top of our silverware drawer is 5″ below the top of our current counter.

It would also be nice to have dishwasher-safe grates.

My final pick was:
Samsung NA30N7755TG (black stainless steel) or NA30N7755TS (stainless steel) for ~$1400. 5 burners. 22k BTU center burner. Dishwasher-safe grates (according to Home Depot– Samsung says not so much). Explicitly requires less than 4″ from countertop down to the top of under drawer. Comes with griddle and wok grate.
Note that it requires 2&7/8″ from the back of the cutout to the back wall.
It does not state how much countertop is required from the front of the cutout to the front of the countertop…we should be fine with the current countertop size but would probably be better off with another half-inch of countertop.
Consumer Reports gave a 36″ Samsung gas cooktop its top rating…and it looks like this is the newer version of the 30″ model that corresponded to that 36″.

My runner-up was:
Cafe CGP95302MS1 for $1400. 5 burners. 20K BTU center burner. Dishwasher-safe grates. Explicitly requires less than 4″ from countertop down to the top of under drawer. Comes with griddle. This model was roughly the same price as my top pick, the same layout, and the same space constraints, but it has a bit lower output, and it requires a total of ~5.5″ of counter-top behind and in front of the cutout, which means a total countertop depth of 19.5+5.5=25″, while our current countertop is only 24.5″….that’s probably not a big deal since an extra half inch of countertop might be nice anyway.

Induction:

For induction, there are four main concerns.
I want just 4 burners or as close to that as possible.
I want a high output on at least one burner, at least 3500 kW with boost, and I wanted that burner to be 10-11″ diameter.
I want to be able to fit the silverware drawer, which is currently 5″ below the top of the countertop.
I want to keep the current 30 Amp circuit breaker, which eliminated most of the high-end (i.e., high output and large diameter burner) options. If we relax this constraint we get a lot more good cooktops to consider, but random websearching suggests that would add a few hundred dollars to installation.

Spacing from the front of the countertop, and from the countertop to the wall, can also be an issue…but it’s less of an issue than for gas cooktops.

This is a good FAQ: http://theinductionsite.com/selecting-induction.php

This website had a good collection of info
http://theinductionsite.com/buildin-residential-30-inch-induction-units.php

Induction cooktops have built-in fans that automatically turn on to keep the circuitry cool. They can also make noises due to motion and flex in the pans. They also require space for airflow in the cabinets below the cooktop…that shouldn’t be a problem for us because that volume is mostly empty and open.

My final pick was Bosch NIT5068UC for $1500.
https://www.homedepot.com/p/Bosch-500-Series-30-in-Induction-Cooktop-in-Black-with-4-SpeedBoost-Elements-including-Two-3-700-Watt-Elements-NIT5068UC/304812437

Runner-up:
-Bosch NITP068SUC for $2400, which meets all the requirements above, and has a somewhat nicer layout than the NIT8068UC…but $900 is a big price difference.

Comments, Grumpy Nation?

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Ask the grumpies: how to find an HSA provider

FF asks:

Do you have any thoughts/advice on choosing an HSA provider?

I already have the ACA plan figured out. I first check whether my doctors are in-network. Next, I come up with a detailed list of what I expect to need based primarily on my expenses for the current year. I then calculate what I would pay for the entire year under each plan I’m considering, taking into account both premiums and OOP expenses (including before/after deductibles and copays). This can get very complicated. I also calculate the worst-case scenario (total premiums plus OOP max). This year, for the plans I was considering, the answer was the same for both the expected and maximum scenarios. Plus the HDHP + HSA will have further tax advantages.

What I’m concerned about now is the Health Savings Account, which is not offered via the ACA, but separately through financial institutions if you have a compatible health plan. So far, the most useful information I’ve found is from Consumer Reports: https://www.consumerreports.org/health-savings-accounts/how-to-choose-a-health-savings-account/

People who have high deductible health care plans (HDHP) are allowed to put money into a Health Savings Account (HSA) which functions basically as a super-charged IRA that can only be spent for medical purchases.  By supercharged, we mean the money isn’t taxed going in and the earnings aren’t taxed going out.  It’s pretty amazing.  (Note that these are different than Flexible Savings Plans, which are sometimes called Health Spending Accounts just to be really confusing– these have to be used up each year or the money goes back to the employer, just like a dependent daycare account.)  By IRA, we mean an individual retirement account that functions as a tax-advantaged bucket for retirement savings.  (FF already knows all this.)

Back when I last looked at HSA, there weren’t a whole lot of options– you basically went with what your employer offered you because that was what was available, and most employers offering HDHP also put money into the HSA themselves because that money came with tax benefits for them.  Having outside HSA didn’t make a lot of sense because there was no market for them.

Today there’s a market for HSA outside of individual employers, which means that there are a lot more options for HSA.  Many places that you can stash an IRA will also let you do an HSA.  What you should be looking for in an HSA is similar to what you should be looking for in an IRA provider, with a few additional wrinkles.

First off:  If your employer offers an HSA contribution, chances are that’s going to have to go into the HSA account that they have chosen.  According to that consumer reports article FF linked to, you can keep that HSA account open, let the employer money go into it, but then transfer to an outside HSA account if you want.  I have never found it easy to move money from work accounts to outside accounts, but depending on fees, this may eventually be worth it.

Second:  As the consumer reports article notes, you need to know if you’re going to need the money long-term or short term.  If you’re credit-constrained or have high medical expenses, then you will need to use the money right away.  That means you need an HSA account that has things like savings accounts or certificates of deposit for safe money.  If you’re not credit constrained, then it makes sense to just think about this as another retirement account, which means you want something that has access to low cost index funds in the stock market and maybe in the bond market too, depending on what’s available in your other retirement accounts for diversification purposes.  So, if you need short term then make sure the HSA has short term options.  If you need long term, make sure there are long term options.

Third:  Compare fees.  This part is just like with an IRA.  You want the lowest fee funds.  Watch for hidden fees.

So… that’s pretty much all of my thoughts on the topic.  The consumer reports article you linked to looks really good to me.  It’s not saying anything stupid AFAIK and covers everything I thought of.

Grumpeteers who have purchased HDHP for use with your HSA, what do you recommend?

We were thoughtless this year

We thoughtlessly set our 2018 Christmas presents for DH’s family at $50/nibling/sibling and $100 each for Nana and Grandpa, give or take (the Braille book subscription we give a niece is actually $100 and we donated another $100 to help defray the costs).  I’m not sure why we did this, that’s just what seemed like the right amount of books when we started with the youngest cousins.  In terms of monetary expenses for us these days with both of us working and the house paid off, this is not a big deal.  Our December expenses are high, but our January expenses are usually lower than usual so it works out fine (also in the last paycheck this year we got a little boost from no longer having to pay SS tax).

But then DH’s brother’s family spent the same amount on us(!) which seems really excessive on the receiving end.  DH’s brother’s wife doesn’t have an income and both their kids are special needs.  But DH’s brother does have seniority in a union job so maybe it doesn’t put a crunch in their budget either?  They have a very nice house that is packed with toys and other stuff and an SUV and so on…  In terms of consumption, they seem to be doing well.  (They never opened up 529 plans for their kids and eventually we gave up nagging them about it, so we can’t stealth-give there.)

I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to figure this out.  Since we’ve started being able to afford stuff, most of my anxieties about gifts have just disappeared… I no longer care how much we spent or if I get crappy gifts (though I still do prefer things off my amazon wishlist).  DH’s sister’s family is much lower income than we are (though as she’s been gaining seniority and step-raises, they’re above median household income now) and I would have noticed if they’d started matching what we spend and felt bad right away, but she’s started giving etsy-level crafts (among other things, she’s got some kind of setup where she can make designs for t-shirts– one of DC2’s favorite presents last year was a shirt that you can color in with washable markers and then wash and re-color… she also made Disney-themed family vacation shirts for everyone last year) which I think makes everyone happy.

Anyhow, I told DH to bring up that they don’t need to match our spending with his brother sometime when they were alone over break and to let him know that they really don’t need to spend the same amount, or if they prefer we could cut back on them.  (The problem with that being that we actually enjoy getting stuff off their wishlists because DH wants his brother to play those games and I want SIL to read those books because she has good taste in books.) DH did and said that BIL basically brushed it off, so maybe it’s ok?

What do you do about spending on presents when there are income disparities in the family?  Do you feel like you have to match what the other person spends, or is it more about your constraints?

An unexpectedly high bill

The other week DH’s relative called DH at 10pm on a weeknight in a bit of a panic because kid #4 had signed up for community college next semester unbeknownst to him (she’s graduating a semester early and we are impressed with her initiative!) and the bill was due. Was our offer to pay it still valid? DH said sure, no problem, and we went back to sleep.

The bill turned out to be for $1,800!

So we said, we can pay this, BUT we think it’s really unlikely that you actually have to pay this much given that daughter #1 was free and #2 was something like $300/semester after financial aid. (This is more like the bill we would expect should one of them go to a 4 year school.)

Looking closer, it appeared that financial aid had not been included in the bill, even though they had done the FAFSA and everything else. Kid #4 also said two of her friends had gotten similarly scary bills. So something was messed up. (Also it turned out the deadline posted on the bill was a month earlier than the actual deadline!)

After several days of phone tag, DH’s relative finally got someone on the phone, but they said that they couldn’t talk financial aid with him, only with his daughter, even though she’s 17 and still a minor. She needed to come into the office to sign a bunch of forms.

So she went into the office, and instead of giving her forms, they emailed her forms. But they don’t have a printer, so she had to go back to the office (but the office’s printer cuts off the bottom of every page…). There was a lot more back and forth and in the end, the relative and his daughter both went into the office together. And a month later, everything got sorted out. All we have to pay for is books. Whew.

Our hope is that this daughter will get her SAT score up at least 10 points so she’s state school eligible and then go to a 4 year school (neither of her sisters finished their associates degrees because they dropped out after having babies and the oldest son didn’t start because he couldn’t drive himself… our hope is that maybe the 4-year college environment will be more appealing than dropping out… but we have learned we can only do so much nudging and we never truly know what the right thing to do is).  She’s interested in an education degree, but might change her mind.

So… I guess the moral is … if you get a bill that is way larger than expected, chances are something went wrong?

A history of loving money: Our family crest

One of my cousins has been doing a bunch of genealogy work with the help of our relatives still in Europe.  Turns out my family has a crest!  This is from the 17th century when an ancestor was the local official overseeing a town building and decided to leave his mark:

The circles in the lower right are coins, which is not surprising given how important money is to this side of my family (we are all terribly crass about it!).  The cross-like things on the upper-right are supposedly lilies, and I guess they technically are similar to fleur de lis.  This is the side of the family that has won and lost fortunes in Europe (and various non-American colonies, where it is likely they did horrific things in the name of trade), as opposed to the stunningly middle-class American side (it’s unlikely that that side had fortunes prior to leaving for the new world either, though side branches that I’m not descended from have done well for themselves– I am very distant cousins with some rich old US families).  My mother’s family does not have family crests (indeed, my mom’s last name is one of those that got created upon an ancestor coming to the US).  My DH’s last name does, but only in the way that really common UK names that are also places do.  If you go back 4 generations down my maternal line (possibly not coincidentally, the line related to those rich distant cousins), we’ve got one of those as well according to places on the internet that sell such things.

Do you have a family crest?  What’s on it?  What would you put on a family crest?  I’d like to swap out that woodland creature for a book…

Should December babies (whose families celebrate Christmas) feel cheated?

(this draft is from 2011!)

December and January babies have to share their birthdays with the holiday season.  That means that it’s easy to combine their birthday presents with their Christmas presents, suggesting that overall they might get less stuff.*  And people with holiday birthdays have said they were not happy about getting one large gift in place of two smaller ones.  (As parents, we’d be happy with that!  Our kids get So Much Stuff.)

Getting less stuff isn’t a problem when there’s only one kid because one kid doesn’t know what the counterfactual would be, but when there are two kids, they might worry about fairness.**  My mom, with her early January birthday and 6 younger siblings feels very strongly that she didn’t get her due growing up.  My MIL, similarly, wants to be scrupulously fair to each grandchild.

What the grandmas do is they have a specific dollar amount they spend on each kid for Christmas and for birthdays.  They send separately wrapped packages, making sure that the birthday gift is not in Christmas wrapping.  This seems to be the best option that we’ve come up with.

Another popular solution is to celebrate a half birthday, though with the half birthday falling in the summer, that doesn’t help with other kids not coming to a birthday party.  Back in preschool when there were people around during school holidays we had more kids show up for a belated birthday party in early January than for our other child’s summer birthday.  So I’m not really sure that a half-birthday is a great solution, though I suppose one could just pick a time in April or May.

But these solutions focus on fairness as some kind of dollar amount.  Stuff.  The focus shouldn’t be on who gets the most stuff as presents.  Presents are optional and not an entitlement.  They shouldn’t be the focus.  Insert your favorite complaint against rampant consumerism here.

But the true concern comes when the difference in stuff given is taken as a signal for something else.  Stuff shouldn’t be a proxy for love.  It’s easy to take it as a proxy, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  That’s probably why there’s so much focus on which wrapping paper is used on the presents– not because it actually matters but because it is a proxy for whether or not the kid’s birthday is special.  That link doesn’t have to be there either.

What is really important?  A kid with a December or early January birthday needs to feel that their birthday is just as special as a kid whose birthday doesn’t correspond with the holidays.  Both of our kids get to pick their own birthday cake (this year DC1 wants a cookie cake) that we make, and they generally get a birthday celebration with my in-laws (DC1 over Christmas break either on hir birthday or the night before, DC2 whenever we do our summer visit) and my sister (some weekend in the city) in addition to their home celebration.  It’s a lot of us showing that we think they’re special, even if they don’t get actual parties anymore.  Even if we only give them small gifts.

What are your experiences with holiday birthdays?

 

*There’s also a possibility with holiday sales that they’ll get more stuff, or if they’re the extended family over their birthday they’ll get stuff from people they wouldn’t otherwise get stuff from, but more likely it’ll be less.

**Though given that most of the first kid’s stuff gets passed down to the second kid eventually, what does fairness even mean?

Ask the grumpies: Do you know anything about where your political donations go?

rose asks:

How is money raised by political campaign’s spent? Why does Congressperson in state A ask for donations for someone in State B? Are they buying power like corporate lobbyists? How can you tell if contribution money is going for family-hire-salaries or to pay off people who are claiming sexual assault/harassment? Why can a judge/congressperson pay off such claims with taxpayer money? How much of ‘Swing Left’ type organization’ money goes to overhead and how much to campaigns? How can a person judge which organization is the best impact for the dollar to contribute to? Are any organizations looking at this?

We really don’t know.  If it were a charity, you would have charitynavigator.  Back in the day there used to be a lot more regulations for things like PACs, but now the regulations are laughable.  Still, it turns out there is a nonprofit that tracks what is trackable if you know what to look for and how to analyze it.

Here’s the open secrets website from the Center for Responsive Politics.  You can search Swingleft within it and it will give you spreadsheets and stuff.  (Look, Paul Graham donated 250K)

There’s no ratings, but you can get the raw numbers.

Other than that, we have no idea.