Using children as labor

I had a Monday deadline.  What with one thing and another, my (new) RAs didn’t finish or didn’t correctly finish turning my color figures into consistent black and white figures in Excel before the weekend.

Since I hadn’t actually finished writing the paper yet at that point I wasn’t going to have time to do it myself.  So I thought… I bet this is something DC1 could do.

I asked DC1 if zie was interested in learning excel and fixing up some graphs for me and said I would pay hir, though I didn’t yet know how much.  Zie said sure.

So DH showed DC1 how and we decided the exact shades and dottings and markers that we liked, and DC1 finished over the weekend in less time than I had expected (~3 hours total) and did a great job.  Zie had really nice attention to detail, something I haven’t had in an RA for several years.

My mom never let me help with her rote grading or other work activities, even when it was mindless stuff I could easily do.  I did do some data entry and cataloguing for my father for various of his self-employment ventures.  It is legal to employ a child in a family business.  Is my research a family business?  This particular deadline comes with a check and I do have my own EIN.  If I don’t have to do it, is it a hobby?  If it is legal, is it ethical?

I salivate at the thought of my brilliant, careful DCs running Stata code for me.  We’re not there yet, but man, that would be awesome.  I know economist children of famous economists who grew up doing RA work for their parents and other economists for cash, and they seem to think they picked up useful skills, especially when that first non-economics major didn’t work out.  A person who can code can make a tidy sum.

Did you ever help your parents out with their work?  If you have children, have they helped out with your work?

Money, Love, and Food

This is a repost from 2010 back when we had great blog posts but few readers to appreciate them!  Feel free to comment as if it’s new since there weren’t many comments to begin with.

Thought provoking post at GRS, for anyone with children or who grew up with parents.

To sum, a woman grew up with a father who told her they were wealthy but would not spend or let her spend on things.  Now she feels guilty whenever she does spend, despite having a healthy (100K) emergency fund in place.

The comments contain a lot of conflicting arguments about how we’re destroying our kids.  It seems like parents can’t win.

The things her father said to her sounded a lot like the things my father said to me.  I had many of the same experiences growing up.   Yet I did not take away the same lessons and overall I am very happy with my relationship with money.  Sure I felt guilty spending on luxuries when we had no money and we were trying to pay off DH’s college debt, but once we got into a comfortable place, I got comfortable with spending on things I could afford.  Take care of myself and my family first, then spend on luxuries without unhappiness.

Over the past couple of days my mind has been grappling with the question about what’s the difference between my situation and hers.  At first I thought it might be the autonomy I was allowed with my own small allowance (nobody made me save it– though I did learn to save on my own for larger items).  But I don’t think that was it.   It also isn’t talking about money as a family or not talking about it.  Or knowing the parent’s financial situation or not knowing the parent’s financial situation.  It definitely isn’t being denied an ice cream cone out or getting every wish granted.

The real problem is when we associate tools with love. The poster and most of the commenters are taking for granted that how money is spent is a sign of where love lies.  That isn’t the case.  Money is just a tool.  After basic needs are met, you can spend nothing or spend a ton aligned with your family values about what is important, but that is not love.  The child in the post perceived the soda or ice cream as lack of love.  As a child I perceived it as not wanting to spend money on an item that my father did not value.  A commenter talked about how he felt guilty when told that they couldn’t go on a vacation because they were saving for his college.  As a child I saw that as information that my family valued education over trips to Disney World (not that we didn’t travel– we went on countless road trips, but generally on the cheap and often to visit family) and that my future was important enough to delay gratification for (and corporations are really good at getting people to spend money).

There’s a reason I’ve never understood the women who want their husbands to buy them expensive jewelry to prove their love or to apologize for an argument, especially at the expense of quality time as a family or true financial security.

In my family, we were also encouraged to ask questions and test limits.  I think my father was proud when we made a counter-argument about how we were willing to pay the additional money to get a cold drink *now* or that the ice cream in the small pint is better quality than the ice cream in the large tub and we don’t need a large tub’s worth anyway.   It was most important to him that we understand why and how we were spending our money– not to be skin-flints but to truly understand frugality and value.   For my own parenting, I think we don’t have to worry about the money messages we’re sending if we talk them out, encourage communication and even disagreement, and let our children know if we’re worried they’re taking the wrong message. It’s like teaching undergrads, if you encourage students to ask questions in a safe environment, teacher mistakes can become valuable teaching moments rather than a disaster. They can lead to more rather than less learning.

How does this juxtapose with Donna Freedman’s wonderfully sweet column on material gifts from her mother?  It’s the gesture, not the item.  But the gesture need not be a thing at all, and it need not involve money at all.  It really is the thought that counts.  Maybe it’s ok to think of buying a soda as an act of love (though it’s an odd thing for most Americans where soda flows more freely than water), but it is never ok to think of the lack of buying it as a withdrawal of love.  There are many ways to show love, and a homemade toaster cozy or a timer that brought order to a mother’s life are examples of things where the thought is much more important than the money spent.

For me this connection is more obvious with food– emotional eating.  Culturally this is a big problem for us… chocolate chip cookies do cheer someone up when they’re down.  I love it when my husband bakes me a batch.  It reminds me of vacations with my late grandmother or brownies from my mom.  But it is important to separate the thoughtfulness of making the cookie from the cookie itself.    And maybe the few extra pounds is worth it for immediate comfort.  It’s when that emotional food connection becomes a problem, or that emotional money connection becomes a problem that we really need to remember that love is love and money is a tool and food is something to eat.

Do you intertwine love with money or with food?  Do you have healthy or unhealthy associations with money and/or food?

Ask the grumpies: PF blogs?

Rosa asks:

Are there any PF blogs, not on your blogroll, that you recommend?

As you note, we read the ones on our blogroll.  From miser-mom, one of us reads Planting Our Pennies.  From Donna Freedman I’ll often click on Ipickuppennies.

Feral homemaking doesn’t update anymore, but her blogroll is pretty active, so sometimes it’s worth clicking on that.  Most of the stuff on her blogroll is about living on a lot less, which really isn’t our thing these days.  Standouts include Non-consumer advocate and the frugal girl, which is kind of the opposite of non-consumer advocate in that it often has sponsored posts.  I find I really can’t read a lot of the other blogs like I used to because I feel guilty for having so much when some people have so little.

I used to read a bunch of stuff off of femme frugality‘s blogroll, but she got rid of the blogroll so I only rarely catch up on savespendsplurge or budgetandthebeach and similar well-heeled formerly 20-something bloggers.  If she still had the blogroll I would probably read more of their posts when the titles were interesting.

Other regular reads include:

A Gai Shan Life, but she’s not solely PF.

nzmuse, similar to a gai shan life in terms of not being solely pf

Occasional reads include:

Afford Anything – she posts about once a month and her posts are really interesting– usually she’s only talking about real estate investing which I have less than zero interest in (like, you would have to pay me a ton to get me to do real estate investing), but despite that, I still find it fascinating.

Leighpf – every post that Leigh does is a gem, but unfortunately for us she’s been posting *less* than once a month.  We are grateful that she still comments on other people’s blogs!  I’d say she’s the one PF blogger that I still learn things from.  I would be interested in knowing what PF blogs *she* finds useful.  (Note:  sometimes she points out good posts on her twitter feed.)

a windy city gal sometimes posts about finances

solitary diner sometimes posts about finances

stacking pennies updates once or twice a month

retirebyforty  doesn’t really have anything for me, but I’m vaguely interested in Joe’s financial life

club thrifty  Their posts are mostly PF 101 or travel hacks, so I only stop by occasionally these days.

evolving pf  Only posts about once a month now and mostly only life updates.

Financial Sam –  I suspect that many of his posts are just trolling, but occasionally I’ll stop by out of morbid curiosity.

yuppiemillennial —  She posts somewhat sporadically or I’d read her more regularly instead of waiting for her to comment here.  I did read her engineering PF blog regularly but she took it down.

I would read more middleclassrevolution.me formerly oilandgarlic, formerly etc.   But either she’s on a hiatus or she’s moved to another blog that I haven’t figure out yet!

Blogs I don’t read often but (I think) are still around:

There are a bunch of bloggers who used to comment on our blog but no longer do.  Whenever I stop by out of curiosity, I notice that their posts tend to be PF 101 stuff, so there’s not much incentive to stop by regularly.  People who are just starting (probably not Rosa) would probably find them more useful.  These include folks like squirrelers, budgeting the fun stuff, step away from the mall, retire by 40, little house, etc.  (For all I know some of these may have been sold.)

From time to time I’ll look at frugalwoods, but I dunno, before they moved I started to find the blog to be pretty repetitive and after they moved it became less interesting.  When the headline on Mr. Money Moustache is interesting, I’ll read that off Miser mom’s blog roll.

So I really don’t have anything new for you!  I bet there’s not a single name up there that you don’t recognize.

But maybe our readers have suggestions?

Auto-payment

I just switched our gas bill to auto-payment.  I’d let our email go for a while and when I finally got around to looking at it, I saw that our gas bill is due in a couple of days.  The gas bill is paid by credit card for no additional charge so I figured, why not just auto-pay it.

Usually I like to keep our energy bills paid manually even if I pay them via credit card online because I like to keep an eye on our energy and water consumption and to make sure nothing weird is going on.  Our regular utilities that cost the same every month (internet, netflix, etc.) no matter what I’ve been happy to let automatically charge the credit card bill.

But lately I just haven’t had as much time or attention.  So… hopefully I’ll notice any unusual gas bills when I go over the credit card statement.

I’ll still manually pay bills that come from our bank account or that charge extra for credit card billing.  But who knows, maybe I will relax that in the future.  We’ll see.

How do you decide which bills to automate and which to pay manually?

What happened when I rage bought the $450 laser hair removal thing

As predicted, one day I had enough of plucking my chin and went to amazon and bought this home laser hair removal thing.

You’re supposed to use it once every two weeks.  I’ve been using it once a week instead because my ability to remember something every other week is pretty bad and also I don’t think I’ve been using it as intensely (overlapping zaps) each time as the instructions say to do, so a second treatment probably doesn’t hurt.

There are five levels.  They say to use the highest that you are comfortable with.  I started out with level one, which was a light tingle.  Two weeks later nothing had really changed.  Level two hurt more and Level three was unbearable.  I had to ask DH to take over because I was flinching too much when I tried to do it myself.  Level two did seem to help some.  Then I had a conference and plucked for that.  When I got back, level three wasn’t so bad pain-wise.  I think the difference in pain was because there were fewer hairs to kill given the plucking.  I can also tell a big pain difference between heavily populated follicle areas and areas of sparser hair density.  Level three works much better at killing hairs.  Chin hairs die and fall out over a two week period after use.

I’m not done with the treatments yet, but I have a lot fewer chin hairs at this point.  There’s still plenty, but if I stopped now, it might be a manageable plucking number (at least for this hair follicle cycle– apparently hair grows in cycles and you have to kill off each cycle).

So, on the whole, I’m glad I purchased it.  Of course, I wasn’t expecting all the hair to go away, just to get a decrease to more manageable levels so I don’t spend 20 minutes or more plucking hair every single day.  And that decrease seems to be happening.

And that’s my mid-use update.

We’ll see if I can remember to keep it up once school starts!

What is culture for?

I am extremely cultured.  I know history and philosophy and I’ve read most of the classics (and can fake many of the ones I haven’t read).  I enjoy opera and theater (but not ballet or symphony, though my sister loves ballet) and old movies and classical music.  I can swim and play the piano and embroider and cook (though I was never able to get over my complete lack of artistic talent when it comes to drawing or painting or my complete boredom with ballet lessons).  #2 and I can trade Gilbert and Sullivan or PG Wodehouse jokes with ease.  I know which silverware to use at a fancy restaurant (pro-tip:  start with the outermost) and how to pretend I know what I’m talking about with wine.  Sadly I only speak two languages (English and Spanish), but I know enough French and Italian to get around as a tourist or to get most literary references without Google translate (ditto Latin).

I used to think that I had all this culture because my parents were sharing what they enjoyed, and culture was something to make it easier for me to entertain myself.  (And part of this is true– my father is a European immigrant who grew up in a fancy US coastal city, so his love of operetta patter songs is as real as his love for Jacques Brel or the Beatles.)

But a couple years ago I was rereading Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (free on Kindle).  In addition to being shocked by the casual racism and animal cruelty that I did not remember from my initial childhood reading (from my mother’s childhood hard copies), I was struck by a passage.  Penrod, who is established as having been from a middle- to lower-middle- class family, takes ballroom dancing and etiquette lessons.  A public school kid, this is the only time he rubs shoulders with the private school children of the town elite.  His mother wants to social climb.  His parents, I realized, are trying to help him advance.

Recent readers of the blog may also be aware of my current turn to regency romances.  In regencies (and in steampunk), women have “accomplishments”– somewhat useless entertainment skills such as embroidery or harp or watercolors that are class markers.  Wealthy tradespeople could send their daughters to finishing school so as to marry up into the aristocracy without embarrassing their impoverished future sons-in-law.

One of my mother’s refrains has always been, “to make you a more cultured person.”  And “to give you opportunities I didn’t have.”

I suspect that many of these skills and much of this knowledge that was poured into me may have been for the same reason we were pushed into math and science.  To improve our lot in life with the next generation.

But… Penrod was written in the 1910s.  By the time he was an adult, the parlor manners he resisted being taught along with the formal dancing would be archaic.  In Regency novels, the landed aristocracy of the early 19th century would be replaced with the age of industry and business would supplant tenant farming.  Eventually, stenography would be a more important skill for young ladies than the harp.

I always thought, growing up, that once I got to college I would meet people who were passionate about opera and history and so on.  (Note, this is one of the reasons that #2 and I hit it off right away in high school.)  But even though I went to a top small liberal arts college, that was not the case.  I would even occasionally have to explain literary references to professors in college and graduate school.  I did spread my various loves to my friends (especially those with cars!) and in return picked up passions for anime and Asian food.  High school also provided me with nerd culture in abundance adding, for example, the entire Monty Python library to my repertoire.

As an upper-middle class citizen approaching middle-age, I haven’t found my elitist skills to be particularly useful.  They still provide me joy, but to be honest, they are not shared by many people.  I don’t have much outlet for them away from the city.  When I am in a city partaking, I’m surrounded by professionally coiffed white hair.  These elite class markers are markers of a previous generation.

Times change.  Social class markers vary.  The approaching-middle-age elite who we rub shoulders with today are also first generation wealthy and formerly from the midwest.  They are not from East coast old money.  And so, my esoteric knowledge that my mother worked so hard to provide me with, those classics I was forced to read to “be a more cultured person,” were not as useful as the love of math and ambition that she also fostered.  In fact, I’m a bit out of place with them– elitist in many eyes.

But fortunately, even when it is lonely, cultural knowledge still provides personal entertainment.  It still makes jokes more funny and deepens appreciation of even modern media (since people in the film industry who direct and design are remarkably cultured themselves).  So maybe that itself is enough in this ever-changing world.

We still think this is the polite way to go…

DC2 had another birthday.  The in-laws were extremely generous again.

Unfortunately, with DC2, unlike with DC1 (who is the oldest grandkid), they’ve been getting hir (grandkid #5/6) a lot of what we consider to be inappropriate stuff or just stuff zie doesn’t want.  When DC1 was younger, there was always too much, but it was generally appreciated.

We think this is because DC2 has a same-gendered cousin who is about a year older whose parents have, without going into detail, very different viewpoints about uh, bringing up children.  So DC2 has started getting things that DC2’s cousin loves but that DC2 is either completely uninterested in because zie’s not into that kind of tv show, or that we are not interested in because we teach the opposite of those values.

Initially we were just giving the former to DC2 because we were often wrong about what we perceived to be DC1’s interests, but in DC2’s case, we were right–those toys would be opened and played with once and then never again.  The latter we’d send back to Amazon if we could or put in the gift closet for future birthday party gifts if we couldn’t or if it wasn’t worth sending back.  Last Christmas they gave DC2 4 different versions of the same toy (all of which were displayed prominently on hir cousin’s amazon list) and all of which we gave to toys for tots because DC2 wasn’t playing with the figure zie already had.

This birthday when MIL asked what DC2 wanted, I made an amazon list.  DH told her that DC2 is really into Batman and My Little Pony and Powerpuff Girls and Bubble Guppies.  (But did not explicitly say, no, zie is really not into the shows that hir cousin is into.)  And some of those items made it into DC2’s haul this year, but so did unwanted items, and this time a couple of really expensive such items.

Since we make a lot more money than we used to, it no longer bothers me to get a $45 toy that is both age inappropriate and our-values inappropriate.  It just gets saved up for toys for tots come Christmas time.  [It used to get saved for birthday parties (though I’ve always felt a little embarrassed about that since these are things we would never buy for someone), but there’s been a lot fewer of those lately, and when they do happen they’re “no gift” or “give to this charity” parties instead.]

On top of that, when we remove the unwanted items from the gift pile, DC2 is left with a much more reasonable number of gifts.  So it’s not like we want replacement stuff instead of the expensive unwanted stuff.  Just, you know, less stuff.

We don’t know how to bring this up to the in-laws, so we don’t.  Beyond saying what DC2 actually wants, putting together an amazon list, highlighting gifts zie’s enjoyed and not much mentioning the rest, I don’t think additional feedback is really wanted.

How do you deal with extraneous or unwanted gifts?