RBOC

  • I hadn’t updated our net worth calculations in I don’t know how long.  (I literally do not know how long– if I did this would probably be a full post instead of a bullet).  But, since the time I updated it, it has increased 50%, meaning that it was X before but now it is 1.5 X.  The stock market alone seems to have been responsible for much of the increase.
  • The reason I updated things was because I was curious to see what our stock portfolio looks like in terms of stocks/bonds/etc.  It’s mostly stocks.  There’s some bonds.  My accounts that are just Target Date funds and my university Fidelity account are both currently ~85% stocks and 15% bonds.  The rest… pretty heavily stock.  Mostly US stock (though both Target Date and university Fidelity accounts have emerging markets and foreign markets).  Some accounts are entirely S&P 500 because that’s the lowest fee in an otherwise high fee work account.  So I think I need to focus on adding more foreign markets and emerging markets, and maybe more munis.
  • My father has been sending increasingly deranged emails.  (Most recently he sent DH a very fragmented email that seemed to be telling DH that DH had to contact my father NOW in order to protect my children from their narcissistic mother, aka me.  We think that’s what it was saying, anyway. Previous emails have attacked my mother and sister as gaslighting or narcissists etc.  Once he cc’d the author of a book on narcissism.) But he’s refused to get an evaluation and my mother won’t force him to.  She’s also somewhat in denial or attributes it all to a potential stroke he may have had a few years ago.  They are adults, and my mother still seems to be in full control of her faculties, so not really anything my sister or I can do at this point.
  • One of my colleagues says his age 80+ mother is engaged to a much younger man (like 50+ years younger) that she met online who seems to be interested in her money.  I will probably end up not getting an inheritance but at least the money my parents have saved is likely to either go to my sister or to actually worthy charities and not someone who preys on older women.
  • My MIL has started Christmas shopping already.  I just got a copy of Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny’s new book from her!  (Also, fairly clear she’s ignoring the “kids only” rule, but as long as we don’t tell SIL nobody need know. We’re either getting her a sewing machine or we’re taking her newish memories book to the local printer to get copies for the kids, depending on if she’s finished filling out the memories book yet or not.)
  • We have zero idea what to get for DC1 for Christmas + Birthday.  At first we were like, how about a ukelele, but then realized zie probably doesn’t want one given zie hardly has enough time for piano, violin, and theramin as it is!  I have fidget stuff on hir wishlist for relatives and a few fiction books, but we’re mostly drawing blanks.  We may have to resort to SAT prep and AP prep guides.  There’s always money, but it would be like, “Here’s $100” then a few days later “Here’s another $100!” and zie doesn’t actually use it.
  • Speaking of AP exams, DC1 is taking 4 AP classes this year.  Zie is probably not going to take the Physics 1 AP because zie will be taking Mechanics and E&M next year.  Zie will have to decide about Spanish soon.  Zie will definitely be taking the BC calc exam.  Then there’s psychology… It’s hard to know what is optimal for a junior whose scores might affect college admissions positively or negatively.  It seems ridiculous to decide these things Fall semester when the exams are pretty late Spring semester.
  • I’m not really sure how DC1 ended up so not consumerist.  DH likes shopping more than actually owning/using.  DC2 is delighted with new things. I’m a bit of a pack rat. But DC1 is just a natural minimalist.  Zie also listens to hir hunger and will stop eating say, an ice cream, if full.  Zie has been this way since a baby.
  • I bought more pens I didn’t need from jetpens and I’m really enjoying them.  These vintage color Sarasa pens from Jetpens (not an affiliate, I’m just addicted) are perfect for writing postcards to voters this fall.  VIP Voters in Ohio got in the Blue-black this past week.

I have no idea what I would do if I retired early

Regular readers know that I am not as happy with my job as I used to be and I really want to leave this state.  DH’s job is flexible geographically, but it’s at a start-up and could either go big or go out of business in the next couple of years and there are only 3 cities in the US where it would be fairly easy to find a new job in his specializations.

Our married and adult life we’ve followed my job.  If we changed to follow DH’s I might have to leave academia entirely and I’m not entirely sure if I would be able to or even want to make a transition to industry.  (It would be very easy to transition to government but I SO do not want to be a government policy analyst.)

We could have me do the RE part of FIRE.  DH’s job isn’t as stable as mine, but we could probably handle the time it takes to find a new position, and it would be faster to find a new position in more expensive cities.

Recently Revanche asked what I would do if I retired early.  And had I given thought to what I would do if I retired at a normal age for retirement.

Honestly, no.

I don’t want to craft.  I’m allergic to most green things, so gardening is out.  I would probably end up taking a leadership position in activism and that would make me so unhappy all the time.  I do so much more good so much less unpleasantly by getting rid of my students’ math phobia.  (And I could teach K-12 but that also sounds pretty unpleasant.  And yes, I have done volunteer tutoring before… there’s a lot of sitting around waiting for someone to show up.  Teaching Montessori sounds up my alley, but it would pay so little and I would be so sick at first.)  I don’t want to write novels.  I do like reading them.  But…

I mean, I could retire and read novels and catch up on all the movies I haven’t watched since my kids were born.  I would make elaborate dinners.  And organize things around the house.  And gradually get lonely and depressed.  I would probably set myself strict schedules to make my days go by more quickly.  I might look into fixing up my health, but also I might not.  Whether or not I got out and spent time with other not employed people would entirely depend on where we were living– I do not at all like the SAHM around here.  I picked up books at the library the other weekday when story time was starting and it was a terrifying parade without a single mask.

I could also play video games which are really engrossing but make me incredibly depressed when I stop, unfed and unwashed with bleary and dry eyes, having spent the day and much of the night playing.  (I cannot have access to video games or that is all I will do.  I don’t even take restroom breaks until I really have to.)

I would probably try training service puppies.  I have the kind of forceful personality that dogs tend to respect.  And I LOVE puppies.  Dogs, not so much.  I mean, if it were my own dog, that would be different, but I’m really a cat person at heart.  So I do think I could train puppies and then give them back.  I mean, I trained my sister’s dog and then left.  Fostering kittens sounds like a lot of heartbreak (longtime readers may remember when #2 fostered).

But yeah, I would probably end up finding a cause and try to fix it and be unhappy and stressed.  That’s what I DO when I have too much time on my hands.  Having a career is a way of keeping me safe from that.  Also keeps me from being too controlling over my kids.

In terms of what about normal retirement?  I have not actually thought about it because it depends on so much.  Do my kids have kids?  How is our health? How much money do we have?  Are we both still alive?  So many things can change and it’s decades from now so, no haven’t done planning.

So… I think even if things are terrible I’m unlikely to quit my *career* if I can help it, though I might quit my job.  I’m hoping to have something lined up, preferably in one of those three aforementioned cities.  I’ve been thinking that a SLAC might be nice, so long as the teaching load isn’t too onerous.  (I don’t want to go above 2/2.)  I don’t know.

What would you do if retired early or on time (but were not super wealthy, like if you’re partnered your partner still had to work)?

Adventures in traveling for work to a state with a really bad Covid outbreak

This summer right before Delta, I got asked to give a talk in person in the fall.  I was feeling optimistic.  New cases were down to the single digits in my town, DC1 was vaccinated, and it seemed likely DC2 would start the vaccination process in early fall, maybe September.  So I said yes!  And I bought plane tickets.

Then Delta hit.  My county is getting 150-200/100,000 new cases a day (which may be an undercount because it is not always easy to get a same-day test).  DC1 has been exposed at school at least 6 times, maybe 7 (I literally lost count after the fifth time, plus I missed checking one day last week).   About 7% of the students in our school district have been diagnosed with Covid since school started.

But… the place where I was giving a talk had both a vaccine and mask mandate, so … safer than me teaching my class which has neither.

Still, I had to *get* to the place.

I chose to wear N95 Respokare masks  for the airplane portions of my trip.  These are extremely good but also expensive ($10/each for a disposable mask!).  When they’re fit perfectly I cannot smell my fancy Bath and Bodyworks hand sanitizer.  Even when not fitting perfectly, all smells are muted.  Except the smell of my breath, which turns out gets worse and worse as the day goes on without taking the mask off.  They are not incredibly comfortable– after removing it I definitely had lines on my cheeks.  The head straps can take some adjusting as well and don’t necessarily play well with pony tails.

During my day at the place I was talking, I just wore a much more comfortable Botn KN94 and did not have to smell my breath.  Everyone else was nicely masked indoors and mostly masked outdoors.  It was all really great and I felt a bit rejuvenated work-wise.

HOWEVER.  The rest of the world was not great.

The airport in my state wasn’t so bad– there were some noses, but not a whole lot of flagrant violations of not wearing masks except for people genuinely eating.  And these folks were pretty easy to avoid because there was a lot of space.

At the Hilton hotel in the state I went to, none of the front desk workers were wearing masks.  The only employees who were wearing masks were minority women (mostly cleaning staff, but also the woman at the concierge/parking desk outside), and nobody else was masked.  The white woman who seemed to be in charge got pretty angry at me “I’m fully vaccinated I do not need to mask” (silence from me) “FINE” when I asked if there was anybody working the front desk with a mask.  She went back to find a mask and never came back after yelling at me.  I’m not sure if I’m actually checked out of that hotel.

The taxi driver at the airport was masked, but the one from the hotel was not.  I asked him to put one on and he did.  I should have taken an uber!

The big problem was the airport in the other city.  At least 40% of the people there were not masked or were wearing masks inappropriately.  I could not find any place to sit down that was not within 6 feet of an unmasked jackhole.  Literally.  I would find a gate where a flight had just left and sit down, and a few minutes later, some guy would come by and then sit behind me and take his mask off.  Or a woman would sit next to me and then take her mask off to talk on the phone.  I started swearing at people.  I saw that one masked woman found a single spot lonely on the floor near where they were doing construction (far from any gates) to sit unbothered, but I didn’t want to bother her.  I took a picture of some asshole employee who was walking all over the airport wearing her mask well below her nose and she took the entire mask off and smiled at me and thanked me for taking her picture.  It was terrifying and exhausting.  And of course my flight was delayed.  Usually I’m able to sit down at an airport and read a novel and just kind of chill out.  Constant vigilance is NOT FUN.

Did I mention that the other city has one of the highest covid rates in the country right now?  I did not move my mask even to drink until I got to my home state airport.

Readers, I will not be traveling to an airport at any point in the near future.  I will probably continue to not leave my home/work/library front desk routine.  And after DC2 is fully vaccinated, I will likely limit my air travel to places that aren’t terrifying.

RBOC

  • I almost impulse bought a bidet.  But it looks like the $30 version might have too much water pressure and cold water sounds unpleasant.  The $450 version requires some research since it’s a full seat and lid (will it fit our toilet?) and requires electricity (our outlet is across from the toilet instead of behind it).  So in the end I didn’t.
  • I did, however, buy $100 worth of bougie low quality toilet paper from who gives a crap.  Look for a review after it gets here!
  • I’m pretty sure these are all supply chain anxieties– I don’t want to run out of toilet paper again!  Why not load up on nice (admittedly bad for the environment) tp?  Well, we would *use* it.  We’re more likely to not run low on the bad quality stuff.  And these do have pretty wrappers.
  • The dehumidifier we got seems to be working on the formerly musty cupboard.  I don’t think we can stop running it though– there’s probably mold there between the shower and the cabinets just waiting to be activated by moisture.  But we can’t have anybody come in to do anything about it.  Also we think this is probably going to be a demo job.  It would be nice to replace the plasticky gold shower stall, but if we did that the rest of the master bath would look bad.  If we take out the cabinets, we would just replace them with identical cabinets.  I’m not really sure what to do if there’s no way we can get between the two with bleach (and it looks like there isn’t.)  We need to talk to an expert without actually letting an expert into our home.  Not sure what to do.
  • Dehumidifiers heat up a room.  The bathroom is super toasty.
  • All these “libertarians” complaining that people don’t want to work aren’t actually libertarians because true libertarians KNOW people don’t want to work.  It’s in econ 101.  It’s why people have to get paid.  It’s why we have labor/leisure tradeoff models.  Econ 101 models cannot conceive of a world in which people get value from labor– if we did we would call it leisure!
  • The dean came in to talk to us about why students aren’t wearing masks in class.  He was, not surprisingly, unmasked.  Because he believes that people can’t hear him if he has a mask on.  And that it’s ok for the person lecturing to be not wearing a mask if all the students are.  But the students don’t have to wear masks, so…  After my outburst last faculty meeting, everyone else in person (including the chair) put masks on, but only after they’d finished eating lunch.  The secretary did not eat.  She is immunocompromised and should really not have to be in there.  He also noted that our department has had a covid positive professor.  (I don’t know who.)
  • We decided on just gifts for the kids for Christmas, but DH’s sister with the 4 kids (the rest of us have 2) is still a little unhappy about this.  We’re not really clear on what the unhappiness is– is it that she wants less stuff or is it that she feels guilty that she’s giving 4 gifts and everybody else is giving 6?  It’s hard to know, especially since this is all second hand (third hand for me through DH) from MIL.  MIL also mentioned that SIL has too many kids books and her bookcases are full… which was that directly to use because we usually get books for the kids?  I don’t know.
  • One thing I really don’t like is that she has put up her amazon wishlists for the four kids and both girls (a one year old and a five year old) have make-up kits and toy vacuums and stereotypical girly girl look I’m just like my mommy who has an unequal marriage toys, but both boys have super cool gender neutral toys.  I’m going to let DH deal with this since it’s his family, but I can’t imagine getting things off the girls’ wishlists even if that’s what SIL wants (and maybe the 5 year old wants 4 different make-up kits, but I doubt the 1 year old has given that preference).  There are a couple of books for the older kids still on the wishlist so maybe it’s not a complete moratorium on books.  DH always calls her up and asks if she’s ok with what he’s getting them anyway and she has said no about things they already own.
  • Unrelated:  SIL’s husband just got diagnosed with covid.  Really I’m surprised it took them this long.  At least SIL is vaccinated even though the four kids aren’t.  And they let MIL know right before she got to the house to visit them instead of after so MIL was able to turn back around.

Ask the grumpies: Realistic numbers for a 529 plan

First Gen American asks:

What’s a realistic number as your max for 529 savings per kid? Is it 4 years at a state university or something different and why?

Disclaimer:  We are not financial professionals.  Please consult an actual financial professional with fiduciary responsibility and/or do your own research before making any life-changing financial decisions.

This is going to depend on a whole lot of things–where you think your kid will end up going, how much financial aid you think you’ll get, whether there are younger siblings, how much you can afford to contribute, and so on.

If you’re high income and you think your kid might go to one of your state universities, then yes, 4 years at a state university seems really reasonable.

I don’t like our state universities– our graduate students from our state schools (even ours) often come in thinking only in terms of black and white and multiple choice one right answer.  Students often don’t know how to use the library system because they never had to.  Many of them can’t write essays with topic sentences.  Our students from regional midwestern schools are generally better able to think in terms of shades of grey.  So… that’s not going to be an option for our kids.

We also have two kids, so anything leftover from DC1 can go to DC2.  Also, DC1 and DC2 have both skipped a grade or two, so it might make sense to just do a masters degree before going into the workforce just to be closer to a normal age for that.  With DH employed again, we’re back in the “not eligible for financial aid” category.  Not even at Harvard, which is particularly generous to high income parents.  (Here’s the Harvard calculator)

So what we did was try out a few calculators for various colleges that DC1 might be interested in going to.  Here’s some older posts on that.  Ponderings on college costs from 2015.  College savings are hard to plan from 2017.

I think I will revisit those posts…

DC1 currently has:  $253,277.50 .  DC2 has about $130,000 (we plan to re-start saving for hir once we know if DC1 will have any leftover).

I have assumed the full tuition cost of DH’s Alma Mater (a private “regional ivy”), which is around $55K tuition give or take, plus the calculator’s default for room and board.  I don’t think Harvey Mudd (our most expensive potential option) is going to happen.

This calculator says we should be saving about $500/mo more for DC2.  We’re going to wait on that.

This simple calculator says we should have a surplus of about $3K for just DC1.  If we do, it will go to DC2.

Basically, if we oversave for DC1, it can go to DC2, but if we oversave for DC2 then it is not as easy to deal with.  Someone has to use the money for some kind of education or we will need to pay a penalty.  Now, education could be a professional degree or a fun class for us, but I’d rather not have to come up with something in order to use up money.  It’s also possible that we could transfer the 529 to a child who could then use it for a grandchild, but we can’t predict the future and our kids may not have kids.  We could do something similar to transfer it to a nibling, but I don’t know that we have any plans to pay for our niblings and there are 6 niblings from two siblings so I’m not sure how fair transferring to just one person would be.  (I don’t think there’s a safe direct path to transfer to the relatives we are paying for and they’ll all be in their 30s and 40s by the time DC2 finishes college anyway.)  You can get money put into a 529 back without penalty if your kid gets scholarships for the amount of the unexpected scholarships.

So, to sum, for us we saved for an expensive private school for DC1 using a number of different online calculators (that take into account parental income) and then less than that for DC2 (who is 6 school years behind).  We have stopped at this point after doing a couple of lump sum contributions and will rejigger once we know where DC1 is going and how much that’s going to cost.  We have the ability to cash-flow things if necessary and can also take out parental loans if that seems like a reasonable thing to do.

As a reminder:  Max out your retirement savings first– 529 money counts for financial aid purposes but retirement savings does not.  If I could go back in time, I would have maxed out our retirement first.

Grumpy Nation, what is the max that you would save for your kids’ college?

Ode to our air filter

This post is from 2011 (hanging out in unfinished drafts)– Our Austin air filter is still going strong, though we’ve had to replace the actual filters several times.  Austin Air has no idea that we exist.  Also, 2011 was 10 years ago– there are a lot more good options for air filters than there used to be.  Here are wirecutter’s recommendations (their upgrade pick is only $300 and is a Blueair purifier, which they like better than the Austin filter because it is less expensive, prettier, and quieter).

I am allergic to almost everything that grows– grasses, most trees, and all the stuff that normal people are allergic to like ragweed and goldenrod and mold spores.  I’m also highly allergic to a lot of crawly things like dust-mites and *shudder* cockroaches and so on.  (Also mildly allergic to cats, though I’m more allergic to some cats than others.)  I can’t do much about the things that give me hives, but I can do something about the allergens that make my nose drip or that clog up my sinuses.

Back in 2011 I bought an Austin Air Filter for around $500.  There are now more options and they range from $750-$1000.  Not cheap!  The replacement filters are also not cheap– you could get a new Blueair purifier for about the same price these days.

For me, it was Worth Every Penny.  Having a good air filter on high in a room is better than most anti-histamines (though Zyrtec is still my new best friend).  It just clears everything up.

Here’s a post from Schlock Mercenary describing the experience of filtering out a room for the first time (back in 2007).  It’s what convinced me to get a super expensive air filter instead of the cheap small walmart/target ones we’d had before.

*heart emojis*

Do you have an air filter?  What kind do you use?  How much do allergies suck?  How do you deal with allergies? 

Ask the grumpies: Roth IRA contribution max the gross or take-home income?

First Gen American asks:

Your child can open a Roth IRA if they have earned income. I am still unclear if the max contribution for that calendar year is equal to the gross or take home income.

According to the IRS, it is “your taxable compensation,” so that is going to be neither gross nor take-home, but taxable… it’s probably easiest to see this on the pay stubs themselves.  There should be a line on there.  (For me, it’s absent my pre-tax health insurance and other accounts, but not absent taxes!)

(Standard disclaimer:  We are not professionals, please consult with an actual professional or do your own research before making any life-changing decisions.)

Adventures in rolling over a previous employer’s 401k plan

For the first time, DH has left a company (it went out of business) and the 401K provider won’t let him keep his IRA with them.  (He still has a 403b with Fidelity at the university from when he was an assistant professor.)  All of the money is in a traditional 401K, not a Roth.

When you’re in that situation, you have four options.

  1.  Take the cash and pay a penalty
  2.  Roll the 401K into your current employer’s plan
  3.  Roll the 401K into an IRA
  4.  Roll the 401K into a self-employment retirement plan

Taking the cash and paying a penalty is a bad idea for most people, unless it is a very small amount of money and you need it. If it’s a large amount of money you probably want to keep it in retirement because if you declare bankruptcy it will be protected.  This is the kind of thing you’d want to do some serious research on before doing (as opposed to letting it just happen like #2 did once because it’s the default).

Unfortunately, DH’s current company hasn’t listened to DH’s friend and coworker yet who got DH’s last company to switch over to Fidelity (with DH’s help and my urging) so the fees on the plan are ridiculous.  We don’t want to roll over to them.  (It seems to be a very popular retirement company for start-ups– they suspect it’s super cheap for the companies and puts all the cost on the employees.)

Ideally we would roll over into an IRA.  IRAs are great because you have control and you can use any firm you want, like Vanguard!

There’s another wrinkle though– since we want to be doing Backdoor Roths every year, all that IRA money needs to be Roth money, not Traditional.  Unfortunately, DH’s 401k is all traditional (probably because the expensive original firm didn’t do Roths and then I was protesting Trump by switching everything from Roth to traditional).  So that means that on top of the IRA rollover, we also need to move everything from traditional to Roth and pay taxes on it.  If we don’t, then doing a backdoor Roth will be complicated.  Basically we would end up pre-paying some amount of the taxes owed on the traditional IRA each time we did a backdoor Roth (this is called the pro rata rule).  In theory, the taxes on the principal would come out the same in the end, but having to figure out what to pay each year sounds unpleasant.  It could also increase our tax bracket for the year and we’d eventually be paying taxes on earnings too.

How much money are we talking about?  $232,000.  That is not chump change, and from what I read, that entire amount would be added to our income for the year if we did a Roth conversion, much of that in higher tax brackets than we usually face (even with DH’s unemployment this year).

So… for a while it seemed like the best option was 2, and we would just eat the additional 0.7% fee they add on to everything until DH and his friend can convince the company to move to Fidelity.

But then DH did some more digging into that option 4– and decided it was worth trying out.

DH looked into the solo 401k, because he had self-employment income as a sole proprietor this year.

There was a concern that 401k plans that do not get contributions can become dormant, and may even be considered non-qualified by the IRS. However, according to this page:

The IRS considers a sole proprietorship once established to continue until the death of the sole proprietor. Section 401 explicitly considers an individual with earned income from self-employment in any prior year, even if there is no earned income in the intervening years, a self-employed individual eligible for a 401k. Only the termination of a business entity that is the sponsor of the 401k requires the termination of the 401k plan.

This is the difficult official language about Discontinuance of Contributions:

Consider all of a case’s relevant facts and circumstances; but generally, in a profit-sharing or stock bonus plan, consider the issue of discontinuance of contributions if the plan sponsor has failed to make substantial contributions in three out of five years.

Vanguard didn’t used to accept rollovers from other plans into their Vanguard Solo 401k, but they do now.  So we went with them.

So after all of this research to make sure that DH could create a Solo 401K and didn’t need to contribute to it every year and could rollover, the hardest part was being on hold with Vanguard waiting to talk to a representative.

Once DH got off hold, the representative answered his questions double checking that he could do a rollover and could open the 401K and didn’t need to make additional contributions or anything like that.  DH answered some basic questions like he’s the plan administrator, that I was the beneficiary rather than whoever he happens to be married to at the time of death (thanks, DH! but let’s not get divorced), and a fund to start with (he can decide on other funds later, which he will do later once it’s made).  There’s a fee per fund, but it’s waived because we have lots of money with Vanguard already.  The guy said it would take a few days to get the account (technically a plan for the company and an account for DH, the sole employee) created after DH requested the account and signed some forms online and we should get an email from Vanguard when it is ready.

After the account is done, he should be able to contact his old plan, Fidelity, to tell them that he’s rolling over to this new Vanguard account.  We’re hoping this will go smoothly and there will be no mailing of checks involved.

The Form 5500 will have to be filed annually once the plan is $250+k.

We will update if anything goes wrong!

DH notes that when you get the notice about plan termination, you may only get a month to figure out how you’re going to transfer and to get the transferring done, which is plenty of time if everything goes smoothly, but isn’t plenty of time if it doesn’t.  So don’t sleep on it!

Have you ever rolled over a previous employer’s retirement account?  What options did you pick?

Passion Planner review

Over the past few months, I’ve taken my daily planning systems and to-do lists and consolidated them all into a single Moleskine notebook plus a small weekly calendar (which is technically a planner, but I don’t think of it as such as I only put appointments and deadlines in it).

I really love the Moleskine, but I wish I didn’t have to write out the times each week.  I explored washi tapes and stickers and stamps, but nothing seemed right.  And there are a ton of planners that have the times already listed out.

So I read a whole bunch of planner reviews on the internets and looked at a whole lot of different blank spreads and decided that the Passion Planner (not affiliate), weekly, Monday Start, was the best match for my current planning setup.  I wanted something that had the times laid out, but also had space for my to-do list post-it and my projects post-it and just space around for other things.  And I wanted a little space for deadlines above the hourly set.  I was also looking forward to having monthly calendars in the same planner as the weekly calendars instead of (alas, I will likely still be printing out google calendars and stapling them together :( )

There’s a bunch of passion concept map stuff that I will generally be ignoring.  I love the major weekly project goals, but otherwise I don’t have much use for reflection, at least not the monthly reflection the book has space for.

Weekly spread

Weekly spread with identifying information craftily obscured by two of DH’s fountain pens.

Things I like:

The weekly spread is great– exactly what I wanted.

The paper is REALLY nice.  The mokeskine has a thick creamy paper that is prone to feathering, so I love using my small tipped Clenas on it.  But the PP has a smooth bright white paper that LOVES a fountain pen.  There was something sensual about borrowing DH’s fountain pen with his fancy sparkly J Herbin ink and moving over regular appointments for the first time.  I *almost* want to get my own fountain pen, but… like a swimming pool, I’d rather have someone else own it and do the maintenance on it so I’ll likely borrow DH’s from time to time and otherwise use gel pens.

It has an elastic strap to keep it closed just like the Moleskine.

There’s free pages at the back that I will be able to use to take notes at meetings.

Monthly calendar

The month of August (anonymized with DH’s vanishing point fountain pen).

Things I don’t like:

I didn’t realize it was soft cover instead of hard cover.  It looks nice and it’s probably lighter with the soft cover, but I just prefer the Moleskine hardback.  This reason by itself is not enough for me to seek out other planners.

Instead of having all of the monthly calendars together at the beginning of the planner, as I assumed they would, instead each month starts with the monthly calendar for that month followed by the weekly planner pages.  I don’t plan by the month so this is not helpful for me– I need to see what’s happening a few weeks in the future at any point in time or else I get surprised by deadlines or mess up homework assignments for the students.  I do plan by the week, so the weekly spreads work.  But I also plan by the semester, not the month, so having those months separated by 4 weeks of weekly spreads is just irritating and I probably just won’t use them.  Another possibility is that I will print out their monthly spreads from their webpage and paste them in over the used weekly spreads once I’ve finished with August.  Or I might get small tabs that make it easy to flip to month spreads. We will see.  This problem won’t stop me from using the planner the entire year, but next year when summer rolls around I will be looking to see if there’s another planner out there that better suits my needs.  Maybe I’ll pick something less pretty that has rings so I can move pages.  (Or maybe I’ll try the Jibun Techo though I suspect it doesn’t have enough space for me.)

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how this works for me once school starts!

I already asked you all about your preferred planning systems so… um… I have no questions?  But feel free to comment anyway!  Or tell me about your preferred planning systems if you didn’t last time.  It’s all good!

Ask the grumpies: Simple retirement portfolios?

30s-something-investor asks:

When investing, I know index funds are important. Is it better to do a diversity of different index funds, or is putting all your money in one fund with low fees okay? If a diversity of funds is better, how should one go about picking funds?

Disclaimer: We are not professional financial planners. Please see an actual professional and/or do your own research before making life-changing decisions.

This is a great question– first let me strongly recommend The BogleHeads Guide to Investing. (All Amazon links are affiliate, though it has been a long time since we’ve met their minimum payout amount.) It goes into great detail about your question.

The short answer is: You can just buy a Vanguard Target-Date fund with one retirement date picked and it will take care of EVERYTHING for you.  One stop shopping based on your retirement date and you never have to worry about rebalancing or dealing with changing your ratios as you get closer to retirement.  Vanguard has a very cheap Target-Date fund.  Check the fees on whatever your provider is to see how their fees compare to the fees of the component parts of the target-date fund (you should expect the fees to be a little higher because of transaction costs with rebalancing etc., but not much higher).

The slightly longer answer is: You can make yourself a cheap two fund diversified portfolio just by getting the total stock index and a broad-based bond index (Bogleheads has recommendations for the specific Vanguard funds). The bond fund will have slightly higher fees than the total stock index fund. The bonds are because they don’t co-vary with stock prices so they add more stability to your portfolio. When you’re young you can do without, but as you get older you should start adding more bonds (unless you’re so rich that it doesn’t actually matter where you put your investments because you’ll never spend it all anyway, which is equivalent to saying you could handle a 40% drop in stock prices with no problem).  The general heuristic for most (but not all people) is to have (100 – your age) in stocks and the remainder in bonds, but you will want to jiggle with that based on your risk tolerance, how much money you have, and various online calculators.

A slightly different answer is:  The Three Fund Portfolio is also popular.  This portfolio also adds an international index to give you more international exposure.  There’s disagreement about whether international exposure is necessary given how much of the world economy the US stock market is, but who knows what that the financial world will look like 50 years from now.

So– you do not need a huge amount of diversity of index funds– just a few broad-based index funds that match different markets.  Or, if you have access to a reasonably priced Target-Date fund, you just need the one and you’re set.