DH’s Delta Trainer Review

DH decided it was time to start working out again.  He’s done a number of different things, but they’ve all had drawbacks that keep him from continuing.  Often he’ll just get bored and stop doing it.  We’d often talked about him getting a real in-person trainer, but then the pandemic happened and an in-person personal trainer did not.

He was making noise wondering what he should try next when I watched this WheezyWaiter video:

Basically it’s a sponsored ad for an online app called Delta Trainer.  (This blogpost is not a sponsored ad– Delta Trainer has no idea who I am and I don’t want to deal with an affiliate link.  I guess you can use WheezyWaiters’ link?)

What intrigued me was that WheezyWaiter (or should I call him Craig?  I don’t think we’re on a first-name basis, so maybe not) talked about exactly the things DH was complaining about.  DH doesn’t like to have to think about what exercises to do or remember where he is in some list (like the ladders), and he doesn’t like to have to keep track of how many of something he’s doing.  Remembering and counting are boring.

So, he looked into this.  And he looked into the Peloton app that lots of women talk about a lot.  And he decided this was better for what he wanted, even though it’s a bit more expensive (~$60/month give or take).  He’s not that interested in live classes, which seems to be the main benefit of the Peloton app if you don’t have their bicycle.

On top of that, with Delta Trainer, there’s someone, an actual real person, who is expecting him to do these exercises.  She provides him feedback after each session and there’s a little back and forth.  That’s an accountability partner right there.  He says that usually with exercise, if he misses a class or stops doing regular exercise, he tends not to come back until he gets the exercise bug again months later.

When you sign up, you get a two week free trial which starts after you first meeting (facetime) with the trainer.  When you sign up, you either tell them that you have an apple watch, or they will send you a refurbished older model apple watch.  You also pick a trainer from three people that they suggest. DH took the one who was interested in health (Kris) and avoided the one who said he was all about weight-loss.  The third looked fine.  In his meeting, they talked about his goals for Delta trainer, and he said he just wanted to be healthy but wouldn’t mind a bit more muscle, but was mainly interested in cardio, flexibility, and strength combined so that he would feel well-rounded. She asked about any injuries or things he was worried about and he mentioned RSI, and that hasn’t been an issue.  (With pandemic yoga, RSI sometimes became an issue.)  He initially said he wanted to work out 5 days a week but she suggested starting at 3 and said he could add more later on.  They’re flexible on the scheduling.  Three days seems to have been the right choice to start with– initially he was kind of sore the next day, but after a few weeks that stopped and he’s no longer sore after exercising and is thinking of adding a weekend day going forward.

Every Sunday the app populates with the exercises for the entire week so he can see what days they’re on and what exercises they are, what equipment is needed, and how much weight and time and how many reps etc.  (Some things are time-based and some are repetition based).  Initially they were all calisthenics, but after he got weights, she added weights to the routine and he’s also got jump-rope exercises now.  There’s also instructions from the trainer about how to do things, why things are being done, and so on.  He can click on each exercise and it will show a little repeating video of someone doing the exercise so he knows what it is supposed to look like.  If he’s not sure, he can also talk with the trainer and she’ll send her own instruction video.  The app has a chat with video built in which is really useful.

When it’s time to do the exercises, he opens the app on his watch, taps on the workout and hits start.  On his iphone he tends to listen to audible which is fantastic because he doesn’t have to think!  Previously he’s tried watching shows while exercising but he couldn’t either exercise well or watch the show well, but audio works.  Because it’s on the phone, it quiets when the delta trainer app talks so he can hear instructions.

Then he does the workout and if it’s too hard, he modifies it himself and then at the end tells the trainer that he modified it so she can adjust the next workout accordingly.  There’s a rating page after where he can provide feedback about the specific workout and the app and can type in comments.  He usually uses the chat to talk with the trainer separately.  The app also has some other things like calories burned and his heartrate overtime and so on.  The heartrate graph also includes the exercise you were doing at each point.

He says it’s nice for him to just have someone who knows what they’re doing to talk with about these things.  He wouldn’t have bought weights and would never be doing any of the weight exercises because he’s just not familiar with them.  But after talking with the trainer and getting instructions from her, he feels comfortable with them now and it’s something he’ll be able to continue doing in the future, even though he never would have started without her.

He was also worried about overdoing certain exercises and hurting a specific part of his body, like straining his lower back, because he’s done that in the past.  But he’s actually been doing more work and harder work than he would have set for himself, but it’s been feeling good, not stressful.  His back feels healthier and stronger. The trainer really does seem to know what she’s doing.

After a month the app suggested he have a video check-in with the trainer and he hasn’t, but it is nice that they do that.

Some frustrations:  Sometimes the app doesn’t track when it should, and it will not realize he’s started or it will think he’s stopped when he hasn’t and then it will just go onto the next set.  He hates that.  Sometimes the app will tell him to go higher or lower, but he’s already as high or low as he can go.  Basically, the apple watch doesn’t always track perfectly.

Overall:  DH says he would recommend Delta Trainer.  He’s doing exercises he wouldn’t have done otherwise and he’s glad for it.  He’s kept up with it for a longer stretch than almost any other exercise stretch and he says that he just feels better.  He loves not having to think about it and how flexible it is in terms of when and where to do it. If you have an extra $60/month to spend on exercise, this seems like a good choice.

Dealing with saying no to getting half the childcare tax credit doled out in monthly checks

This weekend I discovered that the IRS is sending people checks for half their child tax credit monthly.  Right after I learned about it, I discovered that *we* somehow qualified by getting a check for $333 in the mail, even though our last year’s income was still upper-middle-class even with DH unemployed (we’re in the phase-out range).

I do not know why they decided they had to send us a check when they HAVE OUR DIRECT DEPOSIT information.  Maybe to make it more salient?  I don’t know.  (One of my friends thinks the check was a mistake since they were supposed to honor direct deposit preferences.)

In any case, we don’t want it!  We are in the situation in which we would likely just have to pay it back at tax time (dual earners with similar incomes => not enough taxes withheld plus dividends) and it is seriously irritating to have to remember to deposit a check every month.  Back when our reimbursements came as checks this would have been less annoying, but everything is direct deposit nowadays.

So according to the IRS page, in order to either set up direct deposit or to opt out entirely, you (AND your spouse if you’re married filing jointly) have to (each) get an ID.me account.  Which seems kind of sketchy– you have to give your social security number and everything on your drivers license or passport to a third party.  If Trump were in office I would be 100% certain that this was a scam to get our personal information.  Their terms of use say they don’t sell it and they’re only providing the info to the IRS, nobody else.  Hopefully that’s true and they don’t get hacked and the people who work there are trustworthy…

DH went through and got pictures of his drivers license, then when their software couldn’t find his face, he cropped the sides of the picture so only the license was showing.  That seemed to work.

For me, I didn’t have any problems with uploading pictures or it finding my face, but at the end they said they didn’t believe I was who I said I was and I would have to show additional documents and talk with a live person.  First it let me try again with my passport, but that still didn’t work.

Once I got to all that, it put me on web-hold and when I got to 1 minute it started asking me every 10 seconds if I was still there.  After me pressing that button 6 times, it took me to a video screen.  Every few seconds it would tell me that I was waiting for the conference host to join and if I was the conference host to entire my conference number.

The conference host never joined.

Eventually I went back to the previous page and reloaded and it took me to a new video screen (the old one was still going, but I muted it) and a person showed up right away.

He took my information and a bunch of webcam pictures of my documents and me and I was able to login to the IRS page to say no thank you please hold my quarter of the child credit back with DH’s quarter and the half you’re already keeping.

I get that spreading the money out now is likely good for lower income folks, but what a hassle for the people who neither need nor want it!

Would you prefer to get your tax refund doled out in advance over the year or all at once when you file?  Or are you like us and usually paying estimated taxes?

Ask the grumpies: Ethics of being “our level of rich”

Cloud asks:

I struggle a bit with the difference between my wealth now and how I grew up so a post on the ethics of being our level of rich would be really interesting to me. For instance, my husband thinks we should buy a second house and rent out the one we’re in and I can see why this is a good idea but I really struggle with the fact that we could afford two houses in our expensive real estate market and whether we’d be making things worse by doing that.

I also struggle with this.  I grew up in an extremely frugal household in which our income was uncertain and every penny spent could end in screaming.  But we always had food and clothing and housing even through lengthy bouts of unemployment.  Genteel poverty.  There have been a lot of sea changes as we go through these different wealth levels.  I gain new levels of understanding of how the next chunk of income will make our lives different and how it won’t.  (Turns out, above the # mentioned in that previous post– frugality starts getting thrown out the window because it is less costly to just buy something than to think about it and I started thinking about all those things that kids I knew with high income parents got to do like fancy summer camps and travel.  Many of my colleagues have built their own 4 and 5K sq ft houses or bought vacation homes which makes them feel artificially low wealth, but we think 3K sq ft is plenty big for us and don’t want the hassle of owning more real estate when Air BNB is a thing.)  There’s less fear of bag lady syndrome.

Like I said in the comments before, as long as you actually rent out the second house, it’s likely ethical.  But you still don’t want to be a landlord because if you get unlucky it can cause no end of grief and anxiety.  There are much more peaceful ways to earn additional money.

Ethics:  Part of me feels like we should be giving half our incomes away instead of stock-piling it. We do donate strategically to a lot of causes, both activist and charity.  And we’re generous with tipping and pay people who do work for us either what they ask or more.  But it is nowhere near what would leave us with only a reasonable upper-middle class income (that is to say, once we have a few of DH’s payments under our belts again– we have been living on just my salary and unemployment for quite a few months).  We’re stockpiling for an uncertain future and because I’m worried about income inequality increasing in the US and want to make sure that our children and our children’s children (if they have them) have a safety net if the US is no longer going to be able to provide one.  I’m like, I want to take care of our own first.  And that’s selfish and money can do so much more for people who have less of it.  But… they’re my children and my potential grandchildren.  And we need structural change and I will fight for that.  I would feel much better about having less of a nest egg if I could trust our government and our society.  But I can’t.  So we need to stockpile money to stay “Haves” even if the “Have nots” need it more and I hate that.  I want everybody to be Haves.  I want all kids to have stability and opportunity.  But fear keeps me stockpiling.

It’s crazy to me that you have to be in the top 2% of household income or higher to be able to afford a high quality full-time legally documented dedicated personal assistant or housekeeper that you’re not married to ($150K/year give or take, themselves in the top 20% of income), but when you get to the top 1% of income, you can afford many such people.  That’s a huge concentration of wealth among a very small percentage of the population.  I think a lot of rich people think they’re not really rich because they can’t afford servants, especially when they remember being middle class back in the day meant having a woman come in to cook and clean and “do for you”– but back then people didn’t really think of the women who “Did” as people themselves.  I don’t want servants, except mechanical ones.  Though I do think it’s great when people have businesses that do a specific task for a large number of different households.  That seems efficient.

Which is to say:  I think hiring people is ethical, and hiring cleaning people and yard work people and so on is ethical.  But it’s not ethical to have a lowly paid personal servant (remember Alice on the Brady Bunch?)– if you want someone like that, you must pay the price for them, and at our income that is not a price we can afford.  We can afford college students or underpaid undocumented labor but the former is a crapshoot and the latter unethical, so it’s best to avail ourselves of whatever services are available.  For us that’s just yardwork because I hate the way cleaning crews cost money and get in my space and don’t clean things as well as I was brought up and grumble about how we don’t preclean before they get there.  (We’re currently not happy with our yardwork either, but have yet to find anybody who is happy with theirs– the crackdown on undocumented labor has really decreased the quality of this kind of service.)

Grumpy nation:  How do/would you deal with income and ethics?

Retirement ideas from reading Bogleheads Guide to Investing

I figured with our current money situation, I could do with a refresh on retirement planning ideas.  You know, things that I used to ignore because we weren’t there yet like what to do with long-term money outside of retirement accounts or how to get more diversification once you have room to play with things that aren’t just the basics.

So I checked out Bogleheads Guide to Investing (all amazon links are affiliate).  (I actually own Bogleheads Guide to Retirement, but it is more scattered and not as useful.)  I skipped several chapters because like… I know low fees are important, I understand the basics of diversified portfolios using a small number of low-cost indexes etc.  Those are important, and they’re really all most people need to know– once you have that down and have enough money to put it into action, you’re likely going to have a nice retirement.

But right now we’re at a point in which adding to a Target-date fund doesn’t make sense– we have enough money set up for safety.  (I’m not saying that we could stop contributing to retirement, but we are at the point where if we keep doing what we’re doing we will be fine.)  And we have possibly too high of a percentage in the US Vanguard Total Stock Index because in some of our retirement accounts that was the cheapest broad-based fund in a sea of expensive alternate options.  (It’s also a really great choice on its own!  But a little more diversification at this point would not go amiss.)

What happened to cause this decision to go back to basics?  We had some extra money in savings that we hadn’t spent down when DH got re-employed, so I figured we should put it in taxable stocks since there wasn’t really anywhere else to put it.  I was like, maybe I should get more Nasdaq because historically I’ve tried to balance riskier stock indexes/ETFs with safer ones like the Dow or just the S&P 500.  (Back in the day!)  But then I had a hard time finding a cheap index and didn’t feel like dealing with the ETF aspects of QQQ (which is really just simple math– this is me not at all being logical).  And then I was like, if I’m going to have to think about this at all I might as well do a little more thinking.  So I thought… hey, this is a taxable fund, why don’t I buy some tax-advantaged Muni Bonds.  Which is adding LESS risk to the portfolio instead of more!  But also, I didn’t have any tax-advantaged bonds in taxable accounts, and it seemed reasonable to get some at this point since we have a sensible retirement plan locked up in our retirement accounts.  So I bought a Vanguard municipal bond fund.

At that point, I thought… I should get some rhyme and reason to these additions.  I shouldn’t be in a situation in which I go in to buy Nasdaq and end up buying municipal bonds instead.  That makes no logical sense.

So while I am really not wanting to go through all of our different accounts to figure out what’s small cap vs. large cap and so on, I really ought to at least figure out what we have in domestic vs. international, what we have in emerging markets, how much we have in bond funds and what kind of bond funds etc.

And it’s time to start thinking about increased diversification through funds that don’t just track the US stock or bond market and about increased tax advantaging via asset allocation.  Bogleheads makes it clear that these things are *OPTIONAL*.  If you’re not yet maxing out your retirement accounts, just stick to a Target-date fund or a mix of a total stock index and a total bond index based on your predicted retirement date and preferred asset allocations.

So things to think about:

munis (We now have some!  Bogleheads doesn’t seem to limit the amount but they do say that only people who have maxed out tax advantaged retirement should even consider these.)
REITs (They suggest no more than 10% of a portfolio should be this– currently our house is more than 10% of our total savings, so maybe we’re not ready for these yet.)
TIPS (we will probably never do this, but they recommend up to 40% based on where you are in retirement)
International funds (I have dipped into this, but I can’t remember where or how much.  Bogle says no more than 20%, but the book authors say 20-40%.)
Tax loss harvesting– I’m never going to do this myself because I will stick with broad-based indexes, but it is magical when it happens.  Still, it might be worthwhile looking into tax-advantaged funds to put in my taxable accounts.

I’m still not sure if it is better to have low yield/safer bond funds in taxable or tax-protected accounts.  The argument Bogleheads makes is that taxes on stocks that have been held a long time are currently capped at 15%, but they’re not capped for bonds.  The counter-argument is that the earnings on stocks are going to be a lot larger than the earnings on bonds, so it will be 15% of a larger number vs. whatever your tax rate is on bonds of a smaller number.  (And one’s tax rate in retirement could be 15%!  It’s hard to predict the future!)  Buying munis and putting those in taxable means that you’re not paying federal taxes so that kind of allocation is pretty obvious.

Several sections of the book have slightly different charts with most tax efficient vs. least tax efficient investments.  High yield bond funds (like junk bonds) should definitely only go in tax-advantaged (I think it is unlikely we will ever buy junk bonds since I prefer bonds to decrease, not increase, risk).  Then they say REITs should go in tax-advantaged, so that’s something I would eventually want to think about in terms of what Fidelity has to offer since that’s my work account.  Then balanced funds.  Then active stock funds (presumably because managers can realize losses?).  Then all the various stocks you can think of become more tax efficient, and finally low yield cash or cash equivalents.

Did you know that IRAs don’t get a step-up in cost-basis at death like taxable stocks do?  I did not!

Anyhow, this is just initial thinking– I do not have any recommendations for anybody yet including myself.  I do think that I need to come up with a plan though, otherwise cash will just sit in my saving account accumulating no interest until next summer.  I don’t get paid until October so I have a while to set out a strategy and I should do that before school starts up again while I have the mental space for it.

Next steps:
1. Update my asset allocation numbers (I have a spreadsheet, but I only tend to update when I log into the respective website, so I don’t have a snapshot of everything at any one point in time), especially the stocks vs. bonds percentages and the domestic vs. international percentages.
2. Think about how often I want to put money into taxable. Do I want every other month no matter what is in there? Do I want a benchmark of 10K or 30K over what I need for summer savings? I will also need to make sure we have enough for our backdoor Roths come January since those are tax-advantaged.
3. Related: I should figure out how much to put in the dependent daycare account for DC2. What will zie be doing next summer? I have no idea! Daycamp options in town aren’t the best for middle schoolers.  [Update:  decided just to go with the after school care costs and if daycamp happens we just won’t get tax credit for it.]
4. Figure out an investment strategy going forward based on diversification and what to put in taxable Vanguard vs. tax-advantaged Fidelity. (DH’s retirement option sucks so it’s all in their lowest cost S&P 500 and then my 457 is in its own weird thing we don’t have any choice over.)

How do you figure out your asset allocation?

I bought an iphone 12 mini

In what should come as no surprise to regular readers, I finally replaced my iPhone 6s with a newer phone.  After DH’s first paycheck and several reimbursements, the phone would just get hot and it lost an additional 2 percentage points of battery power (from 84% of full charge to 82% of full charge) and I said screw it, I’m not waiting until the iPhone 13 comes out in September.

I have small hands, so my choices (assuming I didn’t want to research another brand) were basically an iPhone 12 mini or an SE.  Because we’re rich again, I was like, enh, I’ll get the more expensive one.  Hopefully it will last longer.

In a burst of whimsy I went with a pastel color instead of my usual black.  It will match my wardrobe and be easier to find on my desk.  128GB not because I think I’ll ever use that much, but because I don’t want to run out just in case.

Tom’s guide to hardware said the best case was the Apple clear case ($45), so I got that instead of the Spigen cases we usually get.  One stop shopping at the apple store…

I also needed new earbuds (for traveling) since the old ones don’t have the right kind of plug– I got the cheap Apple kinds again for $20.

As per usual, we got glass covers for the screen.

I also had to get a new SIM card because the old one didn’t support 5G.  (Usually $1.00, but they sent it for free when the one on my old phone didn’t work.  Yay Ting!)

All told it was just under $1,000.  Which is a LOT for a phone!  I had better not lose it.  Argh, if I’d remembered I could lose it I would have gotten an SE!  Oh well.

My hope is to take my current iPhone 6S once it has been wiped to the non-authorized apple store in town and get the battery replaced so that DC2 can use it in the future.  I think we’re going to start hir with a dumb phone (these are surprisingly hard to find!) and if zie is responsible with it for a few months, then zie can use my old phone.  We’ll see.

So far I like the 12 mini, though there were some troubles getting the dual authentication program for my school to transfer, but I eventually got that resolved.  The phone itself is skinnier than the 6S which is a little uncanny valley but I got used to it pretty quickly.  It claims to have a bigger screen, but I think for youtube and other similar videos it does not because those videos don’t fit the entire window because the window box, while longer without the borders of the 6S, is still skinnier.  I am enjoying the battery not dying after an hour of internet surfing and the way that it’s just faster at everything.  I also feel like the autocorrect is slightly less stupid, but my IRL friends say I’m just imagining that.  I’m getting used to swipe-typing instead of hunt and peck typing.

(Also in a burst of whimsy when I was buying the kids the next size up in tennis shoes, I got these for me even though the last two times I tried to order nice shoes online it was a disaster and I swore I would try them on in a store the next time.  But they worked this time!  And that’s a really good price for Pikolinos boots!  And my old brown boots, also Pikolinos Le Mans but half boots, are literally falling apart at the heels, so these won’t go to waste.  Not a sponsored link.)

Are you gonna get an iPhone 13?  Do you like big phones or small ones?  Apple or something else?

What to wear at work?

DH’s new job is remote but they do a LOT of zoom meetings.

Recently DH’s boss instituted a meetingless day of the week and he asked everyone if they enjoyed it.  The lead programmer said she really liked not having to style her hair or worry about what shirt she was wearing.

DH chimed in to agree– he has also been agonizing over what to wear from the waist up.  Right now his summer shirts only come in button-down (programmer-blue) and various types of t-shirts.  He has exactly one polo with his department name embroidered on it from when he was a professor.  There’s nothing in between!  (Oddly, he has a LOT of nice business casual programmer long-sleeve stuff because his mom sees him for a week every Christmas and that’s what she buys for him because that’s what he takes to the frigid Midwest with him because that’s what he has.  It’s a cycle.)  The boss was like, wear whatever you want I will not notice!  (I suspect the boss will notice changes even if he doesn’t notice the baseline– people are used to me being slightly unkempt which means they only notice when I’m made up for tv or have just gotten a really nice haircut.)

I recently realized that I cannot actually go into work 5 days a week in the fall unless I lose weight or buy new clothing.  (Neither of which sound particularly appealing to me.)  In my current obese size I have plenty of business clothes to teach in and plenty of ratty workout clothes to work from home in (with various levels of t-shirt niceness if I I have meetings) but I have one pair of dockers shorts and one pair of black dress pants that fit.  I don’t think any of my skirts currently fit, just dresses.  UGH.

The current department head has mandated business casual for the students which means we can’t come in in workout clothes (except on casual Fridays).

What do you wear at work?  Has the pandemic changed that?  What will you wear going forward?

RBOC

  • A 10-15+ person silicon valley startup is different than a smaller established SBIR mill/Consulting company in many ways.  It’s interesting how the processes are much more modern but also there’s a lot less stuff figured out.
  • This company calls for a lot of video meetings, whereas the old one did skype but with the video always off.  DH moved back into the guest bedroom (he also has a desk next to mine in the office next to our bedroom) which has a much better setup for video and we can both have zoom meetings at the same time.  (One day a week, all 4 of us are zooming in different rooms at the same time).  I miss him.
  • DH decided to decorate the guest bedroom to make it more his office and less a guest bedroom (he’s left all the pictures of waterfalls up– my whimsy suggested decorating it like a mid-level hotel room–Gen X does cliché ironically).  His mom got him one of those fake street signs that has his name on it so now the little bathroom hallway that separates the Great room from the guest bedroom is called “[DH’s first name] Rd”.  The guest bathroom is a little alleyway or cul de sac off the main road in this scenario.
  • He bought a standing desk and a new monitor and a new keyboard/mouse setup because the guest bedroom setup isn’t perfect.  He’s contemplating getting a new chair, though I’m actually the one who needs a new chair and he can take my old aeron once DC1 (who I traded chairs with) is back in school.  We’ll see what happens.  Money is a little part of it, but the big thing is me wanting to actually go and *sit* in chairs.  When you’re spending $1K on something you want it to be perfect, or at least not to cause back pain!
  • DH has decided to raise his allowance an additional $720/year for a total of $3,600/year.  Not all of this is going to jetpens for fountain pens and ink.
  • I know the whole point of an allowance is to spend on what you want without anybody judging you or saying no, but I did tell DH that I would not feel comfortable with fountain pens that cost over like $500 being in the house.  So he bought this one to add to what is now a collection (if you have three of something, it becomes a collection). It is substantially pricier than his other two.  But he’s had the other two (and his space pen) for at least 2 decades, maybe more, so I trust him to take care of it.
  • DC2 requested a fountain pen for hir birthday, so zie will be getting a platinum preppy that DH will be installing a converter for hir so zie can use his inks instead of just cartridges.
  • Part of me really wants to buy a fountain pen that matches the iPhone I plan to get just because it matches.  But then I remember that I don’t actually *like* fountain pens all that much (I like paper that makes fountain pens feather) and would not choose a fountain pen over a nice gel pen or rollerball.  Plus I would feel *terrible* losing a $25 pen.  (I think I can handle losing a $5 pen these days.  My beloved Clena is $3.30.)
  • None of those jetpens links are sponsored.  I just like the company.
  • My aesthetic is mostly black, but there’s something appealing about getting a light purple phone.  A touch of whimsey amid the darkness.
  • I have been learning a lot of new pen jargon from watching jet pens videos.  They don’t always explain the terms but I’m starting to pick them up anyway.
  • RBOC two weeks in a row– I think that matches my currently scattered personality.  I really need to do some deep work on two of my papers (my current two important papers) and instead I’m just futzing around on minor things.  Bad bad me.

Dipping back into being high income

With DH re-employed, we’re back to being high income.  (Not 1% high income, but more than anybody really needs high income.)

You will recall I had just started loosening up on spending and was buying travel not connected with a conference, visiting DH’s parents’ house, or a wedding for the first time *ever* and then the pandemic hit taking our 20th anniversary trip to Portland, OR with it.  And then it sounded like DH’s job was going to go away, so I started stockpiling, and then it actually did go away, and my income was back to my take-home pay just about exactly covering our expenses on average (though some lumpy expenses, like summer camp etc. came out of DH’s unemployment and summer money/honoraria for me).  I was careful to buy the on-sale things at the grocery store and didn’t go too crazy with my jetpens habit.

To be honest, I felt more comfortable on just my income.  High income is freeing, but I definitely feel guilt along with it.  And uncertainty– I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with it all.  Is it stupid not to spend?  Should I be saving?  How much waste is moral?  Should I be buying more ways to save time?  Laura Vanderkam would not approve!

And now we’re back to DH’s take-home being higher than mine (I have more retirement account options) and us being able to live off just his take-home pay.

If we stay here forever, we’ve hit our savings goals.  Our house is paid off.  Our retirement accounts are being maxed every year.  We finally renovated the kitchen.  Our cars aren’t very old.  DC1 will have to pay full-freight for college.  But we’ve also got a LOT saved in a 529 already and although we will probably save more for DC2; we won’t know how much more until DC1 actually goes to college.  It’s not really clear where extra money should go.

That said, we’re in a shakier position than we were before.  DH’s job may not last longer than two years.  We both really want to leave this state and move someplace where the government isn’t actively trying to kill people.  We want to live in a Blue state with high taxes and expensive housing. I’m not sure I can get an academic job, especially one with tenure.  Is there age discrimination in Tech?  I don’t know.  Will DH be able to keep getting jobs?  Probably if he’s willing to move (or if he’s willing to do something outside of his main focus– everyone is shocked at how good a programmer he is)… but will they pay enough to live someplace fancy?  We don’t know.

We would need another 3 million dollars in savings to safely move to one of these fancy blue cities and not worry about employment or health insurance or housing (less with jobs lined up).  That’s a LOT of money.

I asked DH what he wanted to do now that we’re rich again.  He said he wanted freedom most of all.  So maybe we should aim for that 3 million.  I don’t know how long it would take to get it, but the more we put away now, the longer it has to grow and the more freedom we will have if DH’s new company goes under or he gets laid off or I move without a job or etc.

But also he wants fancy J. Herbin fountain pen ink (emerald) and either the Peloton app or that fancy online personal trainer thing Wheezy Waiter is always talking about (he picked the latter, and just bought $300 of dumbbells).  And a workout mat to put in his office ($200!  except then amazon said just kidding it’s actually backordered and he got a cheaper one).  I think we can handle those.  And upgrading my iPhone 7 to a newer model with a working battery (I will do this before school starts in the fall).  And maybe even upgrading my ancient computer (though DH may upgrade his and I’ll take his as a hand-me-down).

But I really need to start some kind of monthly savings plan where I just put money directly into Vanguard instead of letting it pile up in savings where it just kind of stares at me and makes me forget its true value.  (I start saying dumb stuff like, “DH, we could totally just buy this $32K house near your parents so everyone has a place to stay at Christmas.”  Narrator:  We should *not* buy a fixer-upper house in a rural area that we will go to maybe 2 weeks out of the year.)

No questions, just being obnoxious.  Commentary accepted even without questions! 

Ask the grumpies: Alternatives to Amazon

Heavyhands asks:

Thank you for answering my ballpoint pen question last year!  In case you were wondering, I decided on the Dr. Grip and it has been working out really well for me.  Thank you, Grumpy Nation!

My question this time is about alternatives to Amazon.  I know Amazon is a terrible company with monopoly power that treats its workers terribly, and I know I should use them less.  But I had a hard time doing that until recently when all of a sudden I was paying for Prime shipping and not *getting* Prime shipping.  At first I thought it was a mistake (this just happened starting in June 2021, so not a covid thing, but maybe a not wanting to pay workers thing), but after being on the phone with several customer service people and getting a really irritating letter from them saying that Prime shipping has NEVER been getting something in 2 days, it’s always been 2 day shipping after the item is sent (not true!) … it’s now less convenient for me to use them and this might be the push I need to cancel Prime and start supporting other businesses. . . within reason.  I’m not rich and I can’t always afford to pay shipping and handling that costs the same amount as the item does.

So, it’s been hard to figure out alternatives.  Most recently I’ve been trying to find a new Bloom Daily planner and birdseed (since my local grocery store no longer carries birdseed).  I’m out of the habit of knowing where to shop if it’s not Amazon.  What are some alternatives?

Does Chewy.com carry birdseed?  That’s where we’ve been getting our cat supplies if the grocery store doesn’t carry them.  If you buy enough stuff in one order, s/h is free.

Walmart.com is also an evil company, but it does carry Bloom Daily planners.  I feel like it’s not quite as evil as Amazon (but maybe I’m wrong?)  Like, it’s evil, but a lot of the damage was done decades ago when it killed local businesses and now it has to compete with online shopping?  They’re still bad.

I do a lot of shopping at Target and Home Depot.  Also big companies, but I can either get stuff delivered directly to me or to the store.

Etsy sometimes has off-the-wall things that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere other than Amazon.

Those are big companies.  You can also go the exact opposite direction:  Do you have a Buy Nothing group?  Freecycle?  Craigslist?  Nextdoor?  These won’t help for planners or birdseed, but maybe for things you don’t mind getting used.  For us, these worked well when we’ve lived in cities, but not so well where we live now.

Similarly you can buy directly from the company you’re trying to get the item from.  Though I’m also having the same problem with planners… I’m having a hard time paying $10-$15 in shipping (it varies by the day) to buy a Passion Planner from their website.  If they were in stock on Amazon, you bet I’d be buying from there to save on shipping.  I will eventually buy one sometime in July (they have an August start), but I suspect Amazon will have them in stock by then.  I may buy from the company anyway once DH starts getting paychecks and reimbursements.  (Though yes, we can afford $45 for the planner + shipping even before he gets paid.)

Grumpy Nation:  What are your Amazon alternatives?  Also, have you been having problems with their shipping suddenly being slow?

DH is employed again!

He did a bunch of lengthy lengthy interview processes from job openings former colleagues sent him which all ended with the companies saying, “you are amazing but we cannot have you remote” (even though he was always upfront in the first interview that we cannot move for a couple of years) and then finally got a job offer at a start-up where many of the workers are already remote.  TWO of his professional friends work there and one of them is the former colleague who left when DH’s last company had to temporarily cut salaries (and then left the next place he went when *they* cut salaries because of covid and that cut didn’t turn out to be temporary).  It’s a pay increase from his last job and he will be making about 10K more than I do.  (The first offer was pretty much identical to my salary but then he negotiated!  In theory we will be at par again after I’m promoted, but we will see.)

I’m not sure what to say other than that.  I will probably have really obnoxious posts about being rich again and that adjustment.  Though this is a start-up so it may not last long so DH wants to put a lot towards savings, which is smart.  (And if we move to a coast, selling our paid-off house would only provide a 20% down payment for another house.)  So where do we park that savings?  I guess you’ll find out in obnoxious posts after I figure it out (Vanguard index funds?  probably.  But *which* Vanguard index funds?).

Right now what’s more in my mind is the loss of time.  It was really nice having a househusband, even if he was spending 20 hours/week doing unemployment stuff (he’s now a six sigma yellow belt and has some project management thing, thank you unemployment commission).  I could just put any Ottonlenghi (sponsored link) meal I wanted on the meal plan and it would magically happen even if it took hours to make without me doing any of the cooking.  And you saw all the gorgeous baking DH has been doing.  Now I’m like… we need to eat more spaghetti with jarred sauce.  And when was the last time we had macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas (aka stovetop tuna cheese casserole)?  Also he could be first stop for any questions from the kids.  And he was just taking care of things.  Now we’re going back to 50/50 and it’s an adjustment, though thankfully the school year is over so I have some time to adjust.

The kids have a week off, so I’m having them meal plan for a week and put the necessary groceries on the list.  I’ve given them a budget of $250 which is more than we usually spend, but I didn’t want them to feel like they had to trade-off expensive fruit in order to get ice cream.  They’ve so far only spent $80 after getting our regular necessities (we have a list of bread/eggs/milk/bananas etc. that I put on before they started) and ingredients for 7 dinners, which suggests that DH and I really spend an awful lot on fancy cheeses and organic produce.  DC1 thinks we should buy restaurant sushi with the rest, but DC2 is lobbying for one of each kind of oreos.  (In the end DH and I added some things like pecans and cat litter and the bill got up to $125, give or take.)

Our state unemployment office is not letting him request the first week of unemployment benefits that they withheld that’s supposed to come to him automatically after getting a job (they claim he already requested it, which he did not).  He’s going to have to play phone roulette again to get that reinstated, but, fun story, he’s not allowed to call them about this until he is actually on the job, and he has to call during working hours.  And last time it took an hour of hitting redial before he was able to get through.  Talk about an ordeal mechanism.  And how seriously unfair to lower income people who cannot spend an hour during working hours the first week of a new job to get the bridge money they need before their next paycheck.  He hasn’t decided whether or not to make that call, since of course, we can afford not to.  But our government is just going to use that money to hurt Trans people, immigrants, and women, so…

So, yay DH!  He was definitely ready to be working again.  And he LOVES working with at least two of his colleagues and they love working with their other colleagues, so it should be fun.  Plus the head of software is a woman and that is ALWAYS a good sign.  (Women are like canaries in the Tech Coalmine– if there aren’t any, and there aren’t any in management other than project management, it is probably a hostile environment.)

… I don’t have any questions.  Being selfish and just enjoying the change.