(Not?) seeing family

Since DH’s sister was expecting (and has since had) twins, DH’s mom has gotten an apartment in her town. Her plan is to spend most of each week there so she can help SIL out with the four kids, now so that SIL can drive to the hospital BIL’s town every other day to be with the babies and give them her breast milk, and in the future with the babies since SIL has very little maternity leave. and will have to go back to teach a limited number of special needs students in person in December.

DH’s mom is high risk for covid complications.  She has diabetes, she’s missing lymph nodes from metastasized breast cancer, manages with medication high cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. etc. etc.  Just a whole host of health problems.  DH’s dad is in pretty good shape (he’s a hunter with no major health scares in the past other than a bum knee and back problems), but they are both over 65.

Before the babies were born, MIL had said that we’d probably want to not visit at Christmas because it would be too high risk for the babies, but maybe we could do something after Christmas.

Since then, the babies have been born and MIL has noted that SIL’s family has been taking zero covid precautions.  They act as if there isn’t a pandemic going on (Update:  I don’t think this is entirely true because SIL sent pictures of nephew at a boy scouts meeting wearing a mask… though also she sent a picture in front of the elementary school first day with neither of the older kids in masks, so…).  And to be fair, they live in a small town with very few Covid cases, so this is probably rational.  Because of this MIL has said well, maybe we could all do Christmas together in SIL’s town.  But not at SIL’s house because it is too small.

DH countered that even though it’s pretty safe in SIL’s town, we’re still in a Redzone and he would feel terrible bringing Covid up from the South and infecting someone from the midwest.  The only way he could think to make it work would be to travel to BIL’s town and rent an Air BNB and then just quarantine there for a couple weeks before seeing his family and that didn’t sound great.

This weekend, BIL noted that they’d spent a lot of time this past week doing boyscout activities and their (legally blind) daughter was back in person school although their son is still doing virtual schooling.  Out of curiosity, I looked up their covid rates and… they’re pretty much the same as ours.  (They’re also in a town with a state university.)  On Sunday they drove over to MIL’s apartment and spent the day with her.  We would be no bigger risk to MIL than they are… possibly less so, assuming we manage to avoid picking up an infection while traveling to the midwest.

Drive between SIL’s town and MIL’s town:  4 hours
Drive between BIL’s town and MIL’s town: 3 hours
Drive between SIL’s town and BIL’s town:  1 hour
Drive between us and MIL’s town:  12 hours (flight + driving is generally 5-8 hours)
Drive between us and SIL’s town:  16 hours (5-7 hr flights + 3 hours driving)
Drive between us and BIL’s town:  15 hours (flights, 7-14 hours, very little driving)

I’m still concerned about toilet plumes.  There’s still, of course, risks to us.  It’s possible I shouldn’t be worried since DH is in good health (knock wood) and as far as we know kids aren’t that affected (though we still don’t know about long-term complications).  But if anything happened to DH I would be devastated.  I’m somewhat high risk with the PCOS, but not as much as MIL.

So I don’t know what to do.  I have no real need to see DH’s family (though also I don’t have any problem with it– they’re good people).  DH is very worried that he will inadvertently kill his mother.  Especially since when she’s gotten a regular cold or the flu over the holidays from the grandkids she’s gotten very sick from it.  I can’t think how to make the logistics work since it’s such a long drive, unless we stop in MIL’s town for the night, which adds 3-4 hours to the total drive.

How are you handling the holidays this year?

Ask the grumpies: Could you revisit 529 plans?

Minnesotan asks:

Can you please discuss 529 plans again? Do you still have your kids in Utah’s plan? My state now has “parity” and will give some income tax deduction for donations to any state plan (still need to read more on this). Should I go with Utah, or is another state the best option now?

Disclaimer:  We are not financial professionals.  Please consult an actual financial professional and/or do your own research before making important financial decisions.

Ooh, great question, and great benefit.  Let’s take a look at this parity thing…

From savingforcollege.com:

Minnesota taxpayers now have the option of claiming either a tax credit or deduction for contributions to any state’s 529 plan…

Deduction:  Up to $3,000 for a married couple filing jointly or $1,500 for all other filers for contributions made to a qualified 529 account…

Credit:  Credit can be claimed on half of contributions up to $500, subject to phase-out starting at a federal adjusted gross income of $75,000…

Calculator for which is better In 99 percent of cases, however, they’re going to be better off using the credit if they’re under the $100,000 income threshold…it’s safe to assume above and below the $75,000 and $100,000 income levels that they should take the credit or deduction, respectively.

So that’s cool.  The question then becomes, what state’s 529 plan should you use.  It seems like the answer should be the same as for people who don’t get any state income tax deduction from being in a 529 plan.  And for that, you want places with (1) low fees, (2) reasonable investment options, (3) reasonable customer service… and probably in that order.

Let’s see what the big financial sites are saying now.

Forbes:  Rates Maine, Nevada, and Utah as best options.  (They also like Alaska, but note it has higher fees.)

Investopedia:  Ohio, Utah, Illinois, Virginia, New York

Morningstar:  Illinois, Virginia, Utah, California, though they intend to put out new numbers using a new methodology sometime in October that emphasize fees more.  You will probably want to check this out before making any major changes/investments.

Kiplinger:  Utah

So… to answer your question, yes our kids are still in the Utah plan.  Although some years another plan may match or even beat Utah’s fees, those plans don’t tend to consistently have the lowest fees.  Although Utah doesn’t always have the lowest fees every single year anymore, it has always been competitive for non-resident plans every time I’ve looked.  That consistency over time is why I don’t regret picking Utah and sticking with it given that we don’t get a tax break only from using our own state’s plan.  Past performance doesn’t predict future performance, but there is something to be said for having a steady track record with fees over time.  You’ll probably also want to take a look at Illinois and Virginia and maybe some of the other states listed above and see what you think.

Grumpy Nation, if applicable, what state is your 529 plan from?

It was nice being high income while it lasted

For a little while, DH and I were making joint more than what Obama/Biden’s campaigns considered “middle class” (we never did make it above what Biden/Harris consider their cutoff for tax increases, but that’s an insane number).  It was really nice.  Like… money just did not matter at all.

I was just about to start living like someone who makes a lot of money– sending DC1 to a fancy summer camp, going on a vacation that wasn’t family or wedding or work-related (what can I say, I dream small), and then the pandemic happened.  So we went back to spending like we were upper-middle-class meaning buying whatever we wanted at the grocery store and maybe a bit less comparison shopping.  And we’d hit that point a long long income ago.  Other than deferred maintenance and replacements we didn’t actually DO anything with the money, but boy did I dream.  Kids need more Spanish?  Maybe we should spend a month in a Spanish-speaking country one of these years.  Or the kids could go to Interlochen, which my cousin went to but my family could never come close to affording growing up.  (Are my dreams too small?) But.. pandemic.

So I don’t really know what it like to spend as if one is making more than 250K/year– we never got there with spending.  The money just kind of piled up and I put it in IRAs and donated some and finally got nice countertops for the kitchen, replaced our grad school and first-year-with-a-real-job cars, and did a bunch of home maintenance stuff that suddenly came up because we’ve been living in this house for well over a decade now.

And then the money ran out at DH’s company.  So they got furloughed.  And then it turns out there was less money than expected, so the layoff that was supposed to happen in December is happening in November and the grant that was supposed to happen in January got rejected on a paperwork issue and the other grant that could have happened in January wouldn’t actually happen until April if it gets accepted.  And the company owner is getting closer to 80 and really wanting to wind down and retire for real.  So… this might be the end of this job that DH really enjoyed.

Now, with just my income, after two hard-fought raises to get me closer to market value, we are still upper-middle-class.  We can still buy whatever we want at the grocery store.  With the money I’ve kept in cash once it became clear that DH’s company was having problems we probably don’t need to make any major changes to our lifestyle or purchases.  If DC1 goes to a fancy college with a big endowment, we may be eligible for some financial aid, whereas with DH working we would not be.  (And we might have to take out loans depending on where zie goes instead of cash flowing what the 529 doesn’t cover.)

DH probably doesn’t ever have to work again so long as I keep employed.  He can be FIRE, but without the money-making blog, just living as a house-husband.

He’ll probably want to work again eventually, and I admit, I do like it when he brings in money.  That paycheck was awfully nice while it lasted.  Being high income is really really nice and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  But it’s also nice having someone completely trustworthy and intelligent around to just take care of things with the house and family, so long as he doesn’t spend all his time pulling weeds.  (We’re keeping the lawn service this time so he will not have an excuse to mow.)

So, I don’t know what will happen.  This job is probably done– most of the other members of his company can’t wait until April for uncertain income.  They’re likely to find work elsewhere.  And then there will be nobody in the company.  The company owner has paid salaries out of pocket before and taken out loans etc. but seems disinclined to do so this time around.  And DH really doesn’t want to do another systems architecture project to tide things over like last time.  We don’t really live where DH can do things based on his PhD (other than being an adjunct or post-doc which are low-paid and he doesn’t want to do if we don’t need the money).  His best option is probably to do contract work from people in his network.  We’ll see if that is forthcoming, though he wants to take a longish break before sending out feelers.  Most of his friends at the big companies on the coasts have left said companies and gone to work for less money at start-ups.

I don’t have a moral– this is just an update.  I’m about to get a house-husband which is very nice in many ways.  And our family will now just be bringing in lots of money rather than unfathomable amounts, and we’ll no longer be saving up insane amounts.  This won’t become a travel blog since we tried to go to Portland for our 20th anniversary and ended up with a Pandemic instead.  Obviously we were not meant to go anywhere.  The possibilities are no longer endless.  I won’t have obnoxious posts about what to do with all this extra money.

Money goes to:

My 403(b)
My 457b
My backdoor roth IRA
DH’s spousal IRA (starting in 2021)
DC2’s 529 plan
General expenses (which will be going up since I’ll have to add DH to all my insurances).

I don’t yet know if we will be taking out of savings or if we’ll just be living off my salary (I haven’t gotten paid yet for the year, but preliminary estimates suggest I take-home a little more than we spend in most years so long as we don’t buy two new cars and remodel the kitchen again).  I don’t get paid in the summer unless I have a grant, and I don’t have plans for submissions any time soon, so I will have to draw down from savings in the summer.  But we’ve got enough in there that we’ll be fine and will probably still have next summer’s emergency fund left by the time I get paid in October.

So… a bittersweet update.  But far better to have been temporarily insanely high income and to have saved it than to have never gotten those savings at all.

Again don’t let anyone tell you that money doesn’t buy happiness.  Boy is it nice to have more income than you could ever need.  It is lovely even if you put that money away to buy future security and future happiness.  I bet it’s even lovelier to be confident enough in that income stream to bump up spending.  (And we still can’t afford to buy a house in Paradise…)  I wonder if it’s good that we didn’t get used to that high income since we won’t really have to be cutting, or if I regret not having had those experiences we could have had (could still have if we spend down savings…)  And I feel a little sad that we weren’t able to give our kids the benefits of expensive summer camps and fancy travel and so on.  But they’ve still gotten a lot of benefits from growing up upper-middle-class (and occasionally traveling with me to conferences), and they have a lot of life left to live.  We have a lot of life left to live.

What should you do when your employer stops its retirement match?

Disclaimer:  We are not financial professionals.  Please do your own research and/or consult a professional before making important financial decisions.

Universities all over the country are temporarily suspending generous retirement fund matches.  Recently, the Fortune 500 company my sister works for decided to follow suit, which is ridiculous given that they’re not in dire straits and have been through worse.  (It makes sense when DH’s tiny company temporarily cuts the match, but a Fortune 500 company that’s built on keeping top talent with firm specific human capital AND wants to be able to gently let older workers go in a world without mandatory retirement… it’s ridiculous and very short-sighted.  I mean, maybe it’s helping them delay lay-offs… I would be more confident in their decision making if they hadn’t tried to make everybody come back into work in person after the initial quarantine was lifted even if they were productive at home or were in Covid danger categories.  But I digress.)

So what should you do if you are in this situation?

Part of the answer depends on how secure your job is.  If you’ve got tenure and you don’t think your uni is going to go completely out of business, or if you’re not in danger of being laid off from a large firm, then you need to make up the difference and contribute more to your retirement account.  If you’re worried about losing your job and being unemployed for a while and don’t already have a good emergency fund, then you might want to contribute the same or less to your retirement account (though if you are in this situation, you should see where you can cut spending and do a financial fire drill before you sign anything that decreases your retirement contributions– you need to take care of yourself in the future too).

How do you contribute more?  The first way is easy:  if you haven’t been maxing out your 401K/403B ($19500 in 2020), then up that to the amount that you used to be matched.  So if your uni gave you 5K if you put in 3K, then up your contribution to 8K (or as close as you can get).  If you had a 100% contribution, then double what you’re currently putting in.  If you put in 10K and your company put in 5K, then contribute another 5K.  (And if the match comes back, you can still contribute the full 15K– your company is allowed to contribute something like $37,500 on top of your own contributions.)

If you’re already putting in $19,500 each year and have lost the match the first place to look to put in more money is into an IRA, up to $6,000 additional.  If you’re able to put in $19,500 to a 401K/403b plan, chances are you are only able to contribute to a backdoor converted Roth IRA because you’re making a lot of money.  But if you do make less than the income limits , you can contribute to a regular IRA Roth or Traditional IRA without having do a backdoor conversion.

If you have already maxed out your IRA space, check to see if your company allows Backdoor Roths with their 401K (these are less likely with 403b, since they are a way for high income people to hide said income from taxes, but who knows, maybe the fed has them).  If so, you can contribute up to $37,500 tax advantaged in one.

If you don’t have any of these options but you want to protect your future self, think about other places that you can put the money you are losing out from losing the match.  Do you have debt (including mortgage) you could pay down?  Do you have a high deductible health insurance plan with a health savings account?– That money is tax advantaged twice!   If you are planning on paying for your kids’ college– maybe the 529 could use a boost?

The truth is, if you are getting your retirement match cut, you are getting a pay-cut and you need to adjust your spending/savings if you can.  If you are in a precarious situation, then you need more money in short term savings even if it means a spending cut.  If your situation is more stable, then you need to make up for the future loss from lost retirement savings, preferably in a way that is tax-advantaged.

Have your benefits been cut this year?  If so, what are you planning on doing as a response?

Ask the Grumpies: Where should I donate for Activism if I only have a little money?

K asks:

If I only have say, $5,$10 or $25 right now where is the best place to donate, in this present life or death election?

I do not know the answer, but maybe someone from Grumpy Nation will.

If you are someplace in which the local elections matter and aren’t obvious (so you’re not trying to decide between two amazing options), your local elections are probably going to give the most bang for your buck.  A little money will go a long way.  And that money won’t be wasted sending you thick envelopes asking for more money (ugh).  You could also probably pick up a yard sign for someone local for $5 or $10 from your local dems office or from their campaign hq.

If you’re *not* in that situation, I’m not sure.  I’ve been doing a lot of $25 donations to close races in my state that aren’t ones I’m allowed to vote in.  There’s also a lot of small campaigns where you can donate post-card stamps and post-cards.  Or you can combine your small $ with time and write letters to voters (you provide paper, printing, envelopes, stamps) with votefwd.org or write post-cards to voters with a number of organizations (of which postcardstovoters.org is one)

There are also things you can do for free.  Call up your local dems office and/or local (or less local) indivisible office and get on their email mailing list. I find out about lots of important opportunities for giving or doing from mailing lists from a couple of Indivisible groups in nearby cities.

My sister says doing phone-calls this year is way nicer than in previous years– people are happy to talk.  Similarly, there are texting campaigns (I’m not crazy about a lot of texting campaigns, but I do like the “get out the vote” ones).  For many of these you can either use your phone or you can use your wireless internet to actually do the contacting, so if you’re on a limited data plan for your phone you can use the internet instead.

A very simple thing you can do for free is to get your friends and acquaintances to check their voter registration to make sure they’re registered.  Ask folks about their plans to vote– if voting absentee, have they ordered a ballot yet?  Then let people know if/when early voting starts and other deadlines.  You can also call up your local electeds and tell them you are not interested in fascism.  Tell them to impeach Attorney General Barr and to make Postmaster DeJoy resign.  Ask for bipartisan legislation to protect the USPS.  Ask your governor to allow and expand ballot drop boxes.  Ask Congress to support nation-wide mail-in voting.  Demand an extension for the US Census.  And on and on (scripts for these are all available from https://5calls.org/ ).  You can also follow celeste_p on twitter for up-to-date actions.

Grumpy Nation:  Where do you think small donations are best used?  What suggestions do you have for low cost or no-cost actions?

Getting a gift-card for DC2’s teacher was even harder this year

DC2’s virtual dual language teacher continues to be amazing.  So we thought, why wait for teacher conferences (and will we even have parent teacher conferences this year?), let’s donate to her classroom now.  And since there’s only one teacher instead of two, we’ll just give her the full amount.

I figured we’d just go to giftcardmall (not sponsored) and order two $500 cards as per usual, but alas, they only allow up to $250 now.  There is one company that does still allow $500 cards, but Walmart doesn’t accept purchases over $50 from them and the internet is full of complaints about numbers being stolen and the cards being made useless.

We emailed the principal at the home school for the teacher and confirmed that gift cards are still the best way to donate and that we could donate anonymously through her.  Yes and yes.

After a lot of going back and forth, I decided that the risk wasn’t worth it and paid the extra money to get 4 cards for $250 each instead of 2 cards for $500.  That also meant I had to pay extra for shipping, but shipping was safer.  The cards came a few days later.  I stuck all 4 giftcards into one of the greeting cards they sent, added a note explaining, taped up the greeting card envelope, stuck it in one of those pronged envelopes which I also closed and wrote the teacher’s name c/o the principal’s name on the outside.  Then DH dropped it off at her home base elementary school.

Shipping + fees = $34.75.

I feel really silly for having to do this– four cards seems silly.  Spending $35 to convert money into (riskier) plastic money seems silly.  But… doing it this way does allow the teacher to circumvent having to use approved suppliers or get bids.  And I’m so short on time this semester that I was willing to pay it just to stop having to think about the best solution.

This will probably be the last time we do this since 5th grade is in middle school and there are multiple teachers.  Donations will go back to being in the form of kleenex/paper towels/wipes, assuming there’s a vaccine by then.

Adventures in Garage Door opening

Our 25 year old garage door opener remotes suddenly stopped working when trying to close the door.  They still work with garage door opening, which is good, but not closing.  Every once and a while it will allow a close, but mostly not at all.  Otherwise it works fine, and the base garage door button works to open and close all the time.

So we looked online and Google (or in DH’s case, Duck Duck Go) was like, you can do this yourself, but do you really want to?  Google said, expect to pay something like $250 for parts for a top of the line opener and $250 for labor.  More if you want to change out the springs and rollers.

So we brought someone out for an estimate.  He said $1K.  Less for a cheaper opener (so, $850 for a $150 opener).  More if we want to replace the entire system.  (He also said probably the reason we’re having the problem we’re having is someone in our neighborhood got a fancy new electronic gadget that interferes with our signals, which isn’t really fixable– you just have to replace the entire thing).

$1K is definitely over-charging.  There is another place in town with no reviews but DH decided rather than call them out, he’d just make this a fun labor day weekend bonding experience with DC1.

So he ordered a new garage door opener from Home Depot (not sponsored) and picked it up curbside.  After some contemplation he decided he wanted an opener that is quieter and opens faster even if it requires annual maintenance (I would not have made this choice– I would have gone with doesn’t require me to do anything even if it’s slow and loud).  Apparently he got a screw drive, which is the quickest of three types and quieter than the chain (the belt drive is quietist):  chain, belt drive, and screw drive.  He also says he likes screw drives because they’re used in his 3d printer and in robots and although he is not technically a mechanical engineer, he sometimes has played one professionally and in graduate school and he appreciates the technology.  Appreciating the technology drives a lot of our big purchases in Casa Grumpy.  (I would have picked the chain because we’ve got a chain and it seems pretty durable.)  Total cost:  $235.

When he started taking the old opener down, he realized that the builder made a mistake in terms of reinforcement in the middle of the garage door– they misjudged where the middle was, so the studs/joint were too far to the left.  The previous garage door installer just bolted it into the left side and left the right side completely unbolted.  So DH added another piece of wood with wood glue and a bracket (there are physics involved).  He plans to reinforce later.

There were a number of other problems.  Bolts that were put in super tight.  Wires that were too short that he had to extend (he soldered one and capped the rest).  The new opener is a different size so the brackets had to be swapped out and moved. He forgot a screw after putting it in and had to take it out and put it back in again.

All told it took about 7 hours.  DC1 helped off and on, which should be a good learning experience(?)  And now we have a working garage door opener!

DH is thinking about changing out the rollers but not the springs later.  Rollers would be like $25.  We’ll see if it happens.

The new opener is definitely faster than the old one.  DH says it isn’t as loud, but it seems plenty loud to me.

Have you ever had to replace a garage door opener?  Did you pay someone or do it yourself?

RBOC

  • I did not get a raise this year, but I was also not expecting one!  I’m just glad that I didn’t get an implicit pay-cut by having my retirement match cut like lots of other people are (more on that in a future post when I get some time).
  • I am way behind on reimbursements.  At this point I’m not even entirely sure what I’ve gotten reimbursed and what I haven’t.
  • I WAYYYYY overpromised things this year.  I think I have 3 separate papers that have not yet been written that I have promised to… 5 different conferences.  Fortunately the one that’s been promised to 3 conferences has an active coauthor who is taking the lead.  I also have a bunch of papers that are *almost* done that are not being presented anywhere and just need to be cleaned up a bit and submitted.  But those last few robustness checks, or last rewritings… can take a while.
  • If I think about everything that I have due between October and February I get really panicky.  But if I just focus on the next two deadlines it isn’t so bad.  This will probably no longer be true when I hit the third paper deadline (unless I have finished one of the first two!)
  • I’m expecting to have a bunch of papers out this next year, which is a little annoying since we have merit raises and my publications tend to be lumpy.  (This is one of the reasons I’ve had to get equity adjustments– I tend to publish way above average in years that there are no raises.)  Annual merit increases that vary each year because of how the state is doing based on publications in the previous year… not really the most equitable thing.  I could try to time things better, but that seems like a waste of scholarship (especially since publication isn’t always guaranteed in a timeline I can predict).
  • DC2’s virtual school is starting a synchronous component soon.
  • Why is yeast extract in EVERYTHING?!?!
  • SIL had her babies last week.  3lb 9oz and 3lb 5oz.   They’re in the NICU.  I don’t really know anything more, though her due date was some time in October, so they have a pretty high survival probability (like 98%).  It’s hard for us to keep up with what’s going on with them because they’re all so busy helping (SIL is recovering from an emergency c-section and being with the babies, MIL & FIL have the two older kids, other SIL is dealing with virtual learning for her own kids and hosting SIL since they live in the town with the NICU, both BIL still have to work full-time) and we live far away.  So we’ve been getting something like 2x weekly updates from various sources and we don’t want to push since there’s not much we can do from here.  I mean, I want to send casseroles but that’s not realistic (we sent a gift card to a pizza place when she was just on bedrest, but now that she’s staying with DH’s brother’s family and the other kids are staying with the in-laws, more food doesn’t seem appropriate until she gets back to her home).
  • Instacart continues to do worse and worse for us.  I think we’re now getting completely inexperienced people who don’t even know the grocery store very well.  So we’ve mostly switched over to the grocery store that has their own people doing curbside shopping.  At least the curbside grocery store has really good ice cream.
  • I’m a bit fragmented with everything going on, so expect fragments on Wednesday as well.
  • I should really do those reimbursements.  Money is good.  Filling out forms is such a pain.  I kind of wish I had a personal assistant, but not enough to actually find and pay for one.  So many things take longer to explain than to just do.  So… I should just do it.

Simple meals that feel really fancy: Brunch at home edition

It has been a LONG time since we’ve been able to go to a fun brunch place in the city.   DH has been baking up a storm, which helps with the bread situation, but even if he wasn’t, one of our groceries in town makes decent bread from its bakery (not great bread, but you know, decent), as does one of the sandwich shops that does delivery.  With decent bread it turns out it’s relatively easy to make a few restaurant quality, or at least nice coffee-shop quality, foods that I often pick when I’m ordering from a trendy place in the city.

The first super easy thing is Ricotta toast.  A nice thick slice of bakery quality bread.  Then a thick smear of Ricotta from the dairy section of the grocery store.  Then I will usually put on a nice jam.  (We have been eating a LOT of nice jam).  That’s all there is to it, but it feels really fancy and it tastes so good.

Avocado toast.  We have been buying a LOT of avocados because they’re a way to up the fanciness of a ton of different foods.  Even the simplest version with sliced avocados on a piece of regular sliced bread toast is delish and indulgent.  But you can fancy it up by adding salad/tomato/cheeses/fancy seasoning/fancy sauces/eggs/etc.  There are tons of suggestions on the internet for things to add.

Burrata with tomatoes or grapes.  One of our local grocery stores finally started carrying burrata and I am in heaven.  (I got addicted to it in paradise and for a long time only got it at a couple of the fancy restaurants in town when we had speakers or job candidates.)  If you’ve got grape tomatoes, you can quickly cook them until their skins burst with some salt and balsamic vinegar, then place them next to the burrata on a plate and finish with some nice olive oil.  Or roast grapes for a different experience.  Then eat with nice crackers or breads.

Roasted vegetables and starches.  Roasting vegetables and potatoes and sweet potatoes etc. is just GOOD.  And when you have leftover, you can add them to other foods to fancy them up.  Leftover beets or eggplant or even roasted potatoes just add a special something to comfort foods that elevate them to something you’d pick off a restaurant menu.

Fancy grilled cheese.  Plain grilled cheese is great (especially dipped in tomato soup), but you can fancy it up just by adding things to the sandwich before grilling.  Put in your favorite veggies (especially roasted, or maybe a thick chunk of fresh tomato and/or avocado, or fresh herbs).  Fruit or jam is another direction to go.

Fancy quesadillas.  Same idea as the grilled cheese, except in a tortilla wrapper.  DC1 recently added fried potatoes and that was pretty amazing.

Random stuff in a pita.  Scalzi puts things in burrito wraps, but you can do the same thing with a pita and suddenly it becomes fancy.  Leftover vegetables (I often have beets) with feta, hummus or tahini or even just yogurt tend to go really well in a pita sandwich wrapper and just taste good.

Bake stuff on flatbreads.  Which is a fancy way of saying make pizza without baking pizza dough.  But if you use a nice flatbread and add herbs and a cheese and a vegetable (tomatoes, roasted eggplant, etc.) or onions or cooked potatoes.

Fancy salad greens with a fancy vinegar.  Grocery stores just sell fancy mixed greens that all you have to do is wash.  Add fresh mozarella and sliced tomatoes while tomato season is still upon us.

Flavored fizzy water.  Get some syrups, or if you don’t want the extra sugar, order fancy balsamic vinegars (with the money you’ve been saving not going out to eat…) to add to carbonated water.  Elderberry syrup is another good addition that is sometimes hidden in the homeopathy part of the grocery store.  Or just increase your La Croix and related beverages consumption.  (Bonus fanciness points for using a metal straw.)

Loose leaf tea.  Sometimes maligned as not being a cure-all, but loose leaf teas are usually better quality than tea bags and there’s a lot of flavors to try.  I like mixing hibiscus and mint, but my new favorite tea is definitely Tulsi (aka Holy Basil).

You can also just add things to your regular meals.  Open up your fancy spreads and dips.  Experiment with fancy hot sauces.  Now is the time to open random bottles that you’ve been saving in your pantry or the back of your fridge for the right meal or the right guest.  The right meal is now and you are the right guest.

Add avocados and beets and pistachios to things.  Or fresh herbs— we’ve been doing a lot of buying of cilantro and parsley since only mint seems to stay alive in our garden.  Parmesan flakes also elevate foods.

None of these things take that much time– they’re quick weekday style meals (even if we usually eat them on weekends out) and make great breakfasts and lunches (or quick dinners).  But they’ve been helping me when I feel like I’m missing out on eating out in the city.

What fancy quick meals do you recommend?  What have you been eating?