What are we getting people for Christmas this year?

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DC1: A laptop.  I thought we would pair it with a backpack, but it turns out hir current backpack is on the recommended list for college kids and other backpacks we were considering are good for travel (they hold a lot of stuff) but too heavy for walking to classes, or are too small to add class stuff in addition to a laptop.  I had been thinking about a slide whistle but also think that might be a punishment for the rest of the family.  After a lot of discussion (that included DC1), DH realized that his laptop from his previous company that went out of business is really powerful and we know it works, so … I guess DC1 is getting some hand-me-downs.  Zie previously had asked for a drawing tablet for Christmas and I was like, oh, here, have my ReMarkable that I don’t use, you can have it now.  We’re also making hir an additional user on my credit card.  But that also did not cost us any money.   I think DC1 is also getting a really nice hand-me-down monitor because DH is getting himself a very fancy new monitor.  I guess we will make up for all the buying we’re not doing now in August or September next year when zie goes off to college.  (The Amazon wishlist for relatives includes:  Headphones, a wallet, Akata Woman, the latest What If book, drawing pads, a classic music composition textbook, some AP study guides… if relatives don’t come through on those we will buy them.  The in-laws are getting hir a luggage and a soda stream.)

DC2 is getting a bunch of books.  Zie is getting more Bad Guys books and Keeper of the Lost Cities books.  Also we’re switching DC1’s awesome socks subscription over to hir because DC1 doesn’t really need another 12 pairs of socks and DC2 has definitely been jealous.

My sister:  A fish spatula.  More jellyroll pans for roasting vegetables (she requested dark, otherwise I never would have bought non-stick).

MIL:  We got stuff off her amazon wishlist, which also happened to coincide with notes we had made from last Christmas, in that she added one of those fancy apple peelers to the list.  We pounced on it before Thanksgiving as soon as she added it since we were planning to get her one anyway.  Then a kitchen stand, wind chimes, and a personalized mailbox cover for her favorite sports team.

FIL:  Cabela’s gift card, same as usual.

The rest of DH’s extended family continues to be just the kids, though DH gets something for his brother anyway.

Nephew-in-law 1:  Speks geode and another Speks thing.

Niece-in-law 1:  From her wishlist:  Sailor Moon playing cards, How to draw cute food, The art of drawing manga, Kawaii origami.

Nephew-in-law 2:  lots of Bad Guys books, a game off his wish list

Niece-in-law 2: Nate the Great, a Henry and Mudge book, Frog and Toad books, this camera off hir wishlist.

Nephew-in-law 3:  The truck full of trucks was on a lightening sale off the wishlist.  SIL also requested books on vehicles/machines/etc. and instead of buying some we’re handing-me-down some since we need to get rid of books that DC2 has outgrown.

Niece-in-law 3: This toddler piano that was actually on the nephew’s wishlist, but they’re twins and toddlers and all the stuff on her wishlist is still toy cleaning stuff and toy makeup.  SIL also requested books on animals, and instead of buying some we’re handing-me-down a lot since we need to get rid of books that DC2 has outgrown.  As DC2 noted, too bad neither of them is going through a dinosaur period right now.

Are you getting anything interesting for folks this year?

New limits for retirement accounts in 2023

The limits for IRAs and IRA Roths increases to $6,500 ($7,500 if you are age 50 or older).

For 401k/403b/457, the limit is increasing to $22,500 ($30,000 if you are age 50 or older).

If you’re maxing out this year, don’t forget to update for 2023!

Ask the grumpies: Will your kids be paying a portion of their college costs?

bogart asks:

[Are] people are planning to have their kids pay a portion of college costs and if so, how much.

Background: I have 1 kid and expect to be able to afford to send him anywhere (this is more a function of an employer’s tuition benefit than household wealth, though we are not comfortably off). Both I and my stepkids (whose college I also helped pay for) graduated college with some debt, not an obscene amount (let’s say 1/3 of our first year’s anticipated salary had we gotten an entry-level college-graduate job). I’m inclined to expect roughly the same for my DC, with him either working summers (or whatever) and/or taking on (sensibly financed) student loans. But at this point that’s just a vague notion, not an actual plan. I’m interested to learn what others’ thoughts are on the pros/cons of college kids investing some of their own current/future $$$ on their education, with a note that I definitely know that needing to work lots while in college creates lots of problems for lots of people and don’t want that for DC. And also whether DC does or doesn’t cover what I’m (vaguely) thinking of as a reasonable amount isn’t going to have a big impact on our household’s financial well-being one way or the other. And that I realize I’m lucky and frighteningly privileged to be able to say that.

Related posts: Should parents pay for their childrens’ college?  You can read this deliberately controversial post for why we think the argument that people won’t care about their own education unless they’re paying for it themselves is not a great one.

We are planning on paying full tuition, basic living expenses, and textbooks/etc. expenses for our kids in college.  Probably we’ll also pitch in for one of those overpriced refrigerator/microwave units for the dorm room.  If there are any loans, we will take them on.

I figure they can pay for any extras (meals at restaurants… not sure what else… concert tickets?  plane tickets to visit significant others?  stuffed animals?) out of their earnings, either summer earnings or work during the school year.  My friend whose kid is at Brown is paying for full dining hall PLUS multiple restaurant nights a week, though she just had a conversation with him about that.  (But Mommmmm, the restaurants are so good here!)

Not sure about masters degrees– we will cross that bridge if we come to it.

I graduated with my parents paying the 0% interest subsidized loans they’d taken out on my behalf (we were very low income).  DH graduated with 10K of unsubisidized debt at ~8% interest that we scrimped like crazy to pay off ASAP.  I worked for spending money for extras during the school year and DH worked over the summers.

Paying college tuition is a great way to transfer money to the next generation while avoiding gift/inheritance taxes.  It also doesn’t have the problem of creating more expenses like giving someone a house downpayment would nor does it teach people to live large when they can’t really afford to like giving them cash or a fancy car would.  So if you can afford it, why not?

Leah adds:

I was super grateful that my mom helped me graduate debt free by picking up extra shifts nursing. I think the path to take depends on your family. I totally understood the value of what my mom did for me. I worked hard in college. I had a work study job, got extra scholarships each year, and worked for the school newspaper. There’s more than one way to teach being fiscally prudent. Do what works for your family.

Grumpy Nation:  Those of you who partook of higher education, who paid for it?  If applicable, what do you plan to do/did you do for your kids?

A paypal scam

We recently got a legit-looking invoice in our email from paypal requesting payment for a $1,600 apple phone.  The only weird thing was that it said to call a phone number in the invoice and at the bottom of the invoice (from the paypal boilerplate) it said never to call phone numbers within invoices.  After checking with me to see if I had purchased said phone (I had not), DH did the right thing and ignored the instructions on the email about calling and instead logged in directly to paypal through his paypal account.

The invoice was in the paypal account.  It seemed like a legitimate invoice because it was invoiced through the paypal system.

But it was also a scam because we did not order anything through paypal and should not have been invoiced.  I’m sure if we’d paid the invoice we would not have gotten a product(!)  If we had called the number on the invoice, it is likely they would have tried to get us to install evil software or somehow gotten access to more of our financial info.

The only thing to do is to not pay the invoice.  DH was able to cancel it, but had to message the scammer to do so(!)  DH did not use the expletive-laden language I suggested, but instead kept it to, “You are a scammer.”

The really irritating thing is that there is no way to report the phishing scam.  You can only report if you actually lose money, not prior to losing money.  Bad look, paypal.

Here are some other recent articles on this scam.



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Ponderings on college costs and savings (t-1)

  • As of this writing (which is a month or two before the posting [update: the stock market has dropped more since then]), DC1 has $237,800 in hir 529.  This is a drop from a high of $275,000 last November (and a drop from $258,000 the last time I posted about it), but also it’s the same amount that zie had in there last February, so it’s only market gains that got lost.
  • It’s so weird thinking about “real” vs. not “real” money.  Like, it’s real money when I put it in there because we earned it.  And it’s real money when it comes out, because I can like, use it and stuff.  But while it’s in there… not real.  That’s the only way to stay sane with the stock market I think.
  • I’ll have to think about how to withdraw the money next year, if we get a choice about that.  Like it would make sense, I think, to withdraw from the stable income and let the stock market stuff float, maybe?  But I haven’t really given it much thought.  It will also matter if we’re planning to withdraw everything within 4 years or just a portion and leave the rest for DC2.  (Which will depend on what schools DC1 gets into.)
  • DC1 says it’s a requirement for high school for hir to fill out the FAFSA.  Which is a great idea and totally understandable, but there’s no way that we’re going to qualify for financial aid at any school.  We just have too much cash, on top of having a combined income that doesn’t qualify most places.  Maybe if we move to a blue coast and buy a 2 million dollar house (thus having a monthly mortgage and getting rid of our taxable money).  But not now.
  • Estimated cost of Harvey Mudd over 4 years:  $339,584.  Though that does include living expenses.
  • Huh, the deluxe meal plan only covers 16 meals a week.   I guess they assume people sleep through breakfast?  I feel like I was on a 19 meal plan when I was in college (3 meals/day M-F, Brunch and Dinner on weekends), but maybe I’m misremembering.
  • I’m already mentally planning nuts.com care packages for DC1.  I really hope zie ends up at a school with a good dining hall because I am not convinced zie can feed hirself otherwise.
  • Estimated total cost of state school over four years:  $120K (but probably actually less than that because living expenses seem pretty inflated in their estimates).  Not including living expenses it would be under $50K.

We started an IRA Roth for DC1

DC1 made money this summer at hir internship.  A little over $2000 to be exact.

That means that DC1 is eligible to put a little over $2000 into a Roth IRA retirement account this year.  Starting retirement savings at 15, even if it’s a small amount, even with the stock markets being volatile, could have a nicely positive impact on hir retirement funds, especially if the stock market continues its pattern of returning more than inflation takes away over the long-run.

We’ve left the $2000 in hir savings account (zie isn’t eligible for financial aid right now anyway because DH and I make too much and have too much unprotected wealth– if this wasn’t the case it might make sense for college financial aid purposes to put hir money directly into protected retirement savings since colleges are greedy with student assets) and have taken $2K of our money to put into an IRA for DC1.

It turns out that it is not as easy to open up an IRA for a minor as it is for an adult.  If you try to set up an account online it will say no!  In the end, we had to do it over the *phone* with Vanguard.  But the Vanguard person took care of things and walked DH through what needed to be done.  (This would have been more annoying if I had to do it myself.)

Once the account was open, it was attached to DH’s main Vanguard account.  At some point that will have to be disentangled, but DC1 will still be under 18 for a few more years.  If you don’t already have a Vanguard account and you want to set up an IRA for your child then you will probably want to do this with whoever your actual provider is.  (If you don’t have a provider, have you considered getting yourself annual IRAs?)  (Disclaimer:  We are not financial advisors– speak with a financial advisor with fiduciary responsibility and/or do your own research before making life changing money decisions.)

DH had them direct money to their money market account.  After it posted, we tried to buy VTSAX, the Vanguard total stock market index, with it, but they said no!  You must have at least 3K to do that.  So instead we bought VTI which is the Vanguard Total Index ETF (exchange traded fund) which didn’t have a dollar minimum amount.  The ETF tracks the Index, so hopefully it provides about the same outcome 50+ years down the line.  No trading fee for this with Vanguard which was nice.

Hopefully the magic of compounding tax free will turn this $2K into a good start on healthy retirement funding for DC1.  Though just having an account and getting into the habit of maxing out retirement savings will have an even bigger return down the road.

When did you start saving for retirement?  Did you have a summer job as a kid?  If applicable, do/did your kids have earnings under the age of 18?

How to determine you need an equity increase and how to argue for one at a US state university

Disclaimer:  We are not financial or legal professionals.  Consult with an actual professional who has your interests in mind and/or do your own research before making any important decisions.

If you work at a state university in the US, your salary information is public information.  For many state universities, the data are available online– you can just google the name of your school and “salary” and click on the links.  For schools where the information is not online, and even those for whom it is, you can also get salary information by asking the university librarians.

If you don’t know what the other people in your department are making compared to you, try googling and see what you find.

Note that not all of the places online report data the same way.  Some report 9 month salaries separate from summer money.  Some include summer money in the numbers you get.  If you get summer money you can look and see what they think your salary is, otherwise you may have to ask someone or just or just skip directly to the library.  Some online places report calendar year instead of fiscal year salaries which is annoying.  The university library should report the fiscal year salary and will separate out 9 month from additional earnings even if the online places don’t (and for some states, there are multiple places that report salaries and the different websites sometimes report them differently!).

Once you have an idea what your salary is compared to people in your department… are you underpaid?  How do you compare to people who have worse cvs than you do?  How do you compare to the people making more than you are?  Are you a research active full professor making less than an associate professor?  Comparisons where the other person has not gotten an outside offer are especially compelling, but you shouldn’t let outside offers stop you– if a person has a higher salary from an outside offer and they’re not as productive as you are, you can still make the argument that your salary should be higher.

Who you compare yourself to is important– in my case, there’s a guy who never had an outside offer who was hired the year after I was who has a less impressive cv, fewer citations, fewer papers, equal quality etc. etc. etc. and it was very easy to use him as a comparison.  (The argument being that his best papers hit during years with raises, and my best papers hit during years without raises.  Or maybe they’re sexist.)  But my friend in a sister department has used several comparisons, some with outside offers, some without.  That way she could say, yeah, this person had an outside offer but this person didn’t, this person was hired a different year, but this person wasn’t.  And it made it very clear that her salary was the one out of whack, not a single comparison person.

Then write up your justification for a salary increase using these comparisons.  Put in charts or tables to make it easy to parse and to make your argument obvious.  My friend and I included this with our annual progress reports, but there’s no need to wait until then if you just found out about the equity problem now for the first time.  Your department head or dean may need extra time to figure out how to get equity increases and to lobby on your behalf.

On the other hand, universities, particularly those who have been through NSF ADVANCE, may have a system in place specifically for equity bumps.  Our uni, for example, runs everybody’s statistics in each department (not publications or grant money or anything like that) and sends each department head a graph of a linear regression that makes it clear who the department outliers are.  The department head then can look at the underpaid outliers and decide if they are outliers because of low publications, for example, or if they want to request equity adjustments from the central university.  Department heads like this because they get money from the university, and there’s no system in place for lowering outliers from the other direction, so nobody gets upset at them.  The department head still has to write up a request though– if you write up that memo for them, it will make their life easier and they will be more likely to put forward the equity request.

I’ve also seen people who don’t have good comparisons at their own university (ex. people in interdisciplinary departments/fields) find comparisons at other schools of similar ranks to theirs (you may also want to include any schools your university considers to be “aspirational”).  Here again it’s important to determine if a salary listed is 9 month or 12 month, and you can either email the person in question or you can call up *their* university library– you don’t have to be at the university to have access to the internal salary data.

I’ve gotten 2 equity bumps in my time here, each about 10% (though I was still underpaid after, despite promises– it’s easy here for them to request a 10% bump but more difficult to request a larger one).  My friend just got an ~$50K/year equity bump and will no longer be underpaid.

University peeps at state schools:  Have you googled your salary info?  Are you underpaid compared to your colleagues?

We just remembered we needed to make Christmas travel plans

DH and the kids’ late summer trip made me think we’d already done all our holiday planning, but we actually hadn’t done any at all.

By the time I noticed that we hadn’t made any Christmas plans, the cost of plane tickets to visit DH’s family alone was going to be ~$2K, and there would still be plenty of driving on both ends of the trip and non-ideal travel dates.  So we decided to drive.  My car gets good mileage and it wasn’t so bad last year.  I’m looking forward to the next Dispatcher book.  And the next Andrea Vernon.  I think someone kidnapped the Big Axe at the end of last year’s car trip.

So we contacted DH’s mom and DH and his mom talked with his siblings to figure out what would work best with everyone’s plans and schedules.  They decided to see the cousins near where the cousins live rather than near where DH’s parents live.  So basically we would drive in to DH’s parents, then we would all drive to an AirBNB in his brother’s town.  DH’s sister would come for a day.   Last year DH’s brother hosted, but this year DH’s brother’s wife is getting surgery so we will probably get catering.

Then DH and his mom looked at AirBNB schedules.  They (mostly DH) decided on 2 nights in DH’s brother’s town ending on Christmas Eve (most places were already booked on Christmas, and the place we stayed last year is $500/night with a 3 night minimum now!)  DH’s mom is really worried about crime, so that let out a lot of the downtown Airbnb.  We found a place about a 20 min drive from DH’s brother’s place in a surrounding small town for ~$300/night, so $600 total.

So the plan is, drive to DH’s parents’.  Spend the night.  Drive to DH’s brother’s town, check into an AirBNB.  Spend the night.  Either host Christmas there or spend a day there and go to DH’s brother’s the next day after checking out.  Drive back to DH’s parents’.  Spend the night and either the next day or drive home that day.  But plans may change– the nice thing about driving instead of flying is the flexibility.  (The bad thing is that it takes a full day and then some to drive.  But DC1 needs highway practice!)

Gas was ~$100 round trip last time.  It will probably be a little more this time but not too much more.

I’m a little worried about catsitting– the person we used last year has moved to another state and the person we used last summer wasn’t available last Christmas.  It’s hard finding people around at Christmas, and our cat does not like being away from us for long periods of time (back when we had two cats, she seemed fine, but now she seems a little traumatized even when we do get a cat sitter).

The other expense will be our portion of the catering bill, though I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen there.  (One of the cousins has peanut allergies so they have to be careful.)  But I feel like my part in planning here is done.

But, all in all, not so bad price-wise.

Have you made winter break travel plans?

Finally got my promotion salary info

  • My raise was 13%.  I think that’s the 10% regular bump and a 3% merit increase (I got a lot of pubs and killed myself on service last year).
  • That means that for a brief time, I will be making slightly more than DH (he was making slightly more than I was before this raise).
  • DH’s company is supposed to be doing raises soon.  I hope he out-earns me again, because that means we both will be bringing in more money.
  • I never thought I’d be the type to just have completely shared finances, but it works with DH.  He says he likes it because he doesn’t have to think about money stuff and can just let me take care of it.  I also find it easier to manage.  This is all possible because DH gives himself an allowance and we’re making enough that we don’t have to sweat the small money stuff anymore.  Also it means that his larger salary is also my larger income.  :D  He likes it when I get raises too, though it doesn’t actually affect him much these days (see allowance and not sweating the small stuff already).  But it makes me happy.  #bagladysyndrome
  • I am now making more than 2x what my starting salary was.
  • If DH were making what I’m making, he would be making more than 3x his starting salary #trailingspouse
  • My house is also worth a little more than 2x what it was when we bought it, according to our property taxes that are updated every year.
  • According to an inflation calculator, total inflation has been 47% during that time.  So I guess we’re beating inflation, which is good.
  • We’re supposed to have annual merit increases, but that’s kind of broken because we’ve had so many years with no pay raise.  Sensible departments do raises on a 3-5 year scale, but ours only has a one year look-back period, so it’s easy to get bad luck with publication timing.
  • The crazy thing is, I’m still underpaid for an economist with my record.  I guess that’s what happens when you don’t get outside offers.
  • The good thing about having a lower than expected salary is that I am more movable in the eyes of other departments.  The bad thing is that it might lead to lower salaries even if I’m movable because they figure they don’t have to bump me up as much to get me.
  • When I was talking with people this summer about, “My salary is X, will my salary be a problem/would I have to take a paycut if I moved” nobody blinked an eye.  One person was like, yeah, we pay our untenured research faculty (which you could be) more than that, even prorated to 9 months.
  • This was the last big bump I was eligible for.  I’m hoping so hard that my salary won’t matter that much because I will be going someplace else next year.
  • My bursary seems to have completely disappeared.  I got denied a $50 reimbursement (Desk rejection means half price submission fees) because of insufficient funds.  Nobody seems to be able to tell me what is going on– they won’t even respond to my emails to acknowledge that they have gotten the question.  I have another fund to draw from, but it is going to run out in a year and I kind of have all that money ear-marked for research purposes.  (It also hasn’t refilled for this year, but I have some of last year’s money left because I did so little travel.)
  • More digging and more emails– they have confirmed that I have zero bursary this year.  Which is bad because I have made travel and RA and research commitments that involve having a bursary.  Seems like they could have told me something about it before I started getting payments denied.
  • More emails.  Apparently my bursary was tied to being an associate professor and when I became a full professor I lost it.  And like, nobody noticed I had no bursary.  Well, technically the people denying my reimbursement requests noticed, but they didn’t flag it as being unusual even though *everyone* has some kind of bursary.  (This loss was not the case for anybody else in this history of our department or our closest sister department– every single other person who has gone up for full has had an endowed chair.  I’m the only one without.  This is not because my research record is worse or because I have less service, because neither of those are true.)  They are in the process of restoring my bursary with unmarked funds, but it may take a while.  At some point it’s going to be too late for me to not request travel permissions, so hopefully it will be figured out before then.  In the mean time I guess I float reimbursements.
  • I applied for a job in the midwest that’s close to DH’s family.  Even though there’s a supercreep on the faculty.  (He preys on female freshmen and was fired from another institution for doing so.  He will tell you this proudly if you ever meet him.  He likes to say that they’re legal and he won his wrongful termination lawsuit.)

Big work plans for the year

Let’s see if they pan out!

  • Deep dive into my second focus area that I’m getting known for and asked to do keynotes for, but am not really a member of the community of (even though I do have training and publications)
  • Catch up on all the working paper and published journal abstracts I didn’t read since the pandemic started (>350 unread emails, each one a page full of abstracts)
  • Get out the Second Stage paper (September depending on coauthor)
  • Finish the systematic literature review and get it out (September depending on coauthor)
  • Keynote (October)
  • Three conferences (October)
  • ASSA panels (January)
  • Write the grant proposal I said I would write (January)
  • NSF main paper
  • HR paper
  • HA Name paper (RA-led)
  • Start two new projects
  • Prep new class I was supposed to create last year but didn’t
  • Stop getting so irritated with incompetence and willful making things harder for me on the part of administrative units (ex. IT).  (This seems to be easier with the idea that I am definitely going to leave as soon as I can.)
  • Apply for new jobs!

Do you have any big professional pie in the sky plans for this year?