Are there any costs to fostering kittens?

If you foster a cat for a verified nonprofit shelter, you can claim it on your taxes.

We know that #2 had extensive experience with taking in stray cats & kittens and getting them to good homes.  Good on ya!  #2’s experience was very expensive and someday she’ll post pictures of the kitten-destroyed master-bathroom that cost ~$600 repair (on top of vet and food bills).

#1 has started a slightly lower-stakes fostering experience with a no-kill cat shelter that ultimately has responsibility for the kittens.  Yes… kittens!

They are mostly-black, which makes it hard to take good photos…. here they are in their crate…

a pile of kittens

and little faces…

4 little kitten faces

There is another one, but she is sick and so she is with the foster coordinator right now, getting extra meds and care.  These ones are on antibiotics, which are supplied by the shelter.  The shelter also supplied some chicken baby food to mix the antibiotics into, although I will have to buy some more.  They supplied me with several weeks’ worth of crunchy kibbles and about a week’s worth of kitten-safe litter (I have already bought more).  I have to bring them back to the shelter periodically for free check-ups and vet care.  They are actually 2 litters that were put together.  I think they may be around 6 weeks old.  Don’t know what happened to their mommies.  They weigh, on average, about 1 pound and 4 ounces each.

They come in this big crate (it folds up) where they sleep and play.  The shelter provided the bed, blankets, litter box, and water dish.  They also sent a scale to weigh them and a thermometer for taking kitten temps, along with an extra litter box and a handbook of what to do.  They also have a carrying cage.

I let them out to roam the bathroom and play, and they have supervised time in the living room when we can watch them.  We are getting lots of mileage out of a toilet paper tube, cardboard boxes, and a plastic Easter egg.  They also have a couple balls to chase, and each other to wrestle.  I bought them a cardboard scratching post for around $7, and I trim their claws for my own comfort when they climb on me.

We are doing a fair bit of laundry because they occasionally have potty accidents (they are just babies).  And running through quite a bit of hand sanitizer.  That’s it so far, though!

Your local shelter needs you.  Donate today.

Renting out our house is a PITA

We’re in a seller’s market right now, so the realtor says he could sell our house in a month, which is probably true.  But then when we came back in a year we’d have to *buy* a house and I seriously doubt it will be a buyers market at that point.   So yes, we could take this opportunity to downsize and to move into a better elementary district, but all the time spent buying and selling and buying (or renting and buying) sounds like a nightmare to me.  So we’re just going to try to rent out the house.

The real estate agent thinks we can get $2,800/mo for our house but I seriously doubt that’s the case.  The comps he was showing are in better elementary school zones and the houses probably aren’t falling apart quite to the extent that ours currently is.  They have nicer lawns too. And it’s unlikely they’re one year rentals, which is always bad for people who want, you know, longer than a year.  Also we’re not supposed to rent to students, though we’re fairly sure someone on our block is now doing just that (6 cars in front is generally a hint).

Covering our costs if we put things in storage will be $2,200 + management fees.  Of course, about $1000 of our mortgage goes to principal these days so really we’d be covering costs with more like $1,200 + management fees.

Craigslist is no help on pricing because nobody with a house as nice as ours posts on Craigslist in our town, so Craigslist rentals tend to top out at $1650 or occasionally $2000 for houses that have the same number of bedrooms as ours but are more in the 2000 sq ft range vs 3000.  Houses like ours are all listed via MLS.

Fortunately, so long as we keep under $5K/mo in Paradise City, we don’t need to actually rent out the house at all and could even hire someone to house-sit for us.  So we’re not desperate for rentals to go through.  But still, I’d rather ask $2,200 and have the house get rented than ask $2,800 and have to keep in on the market until September or forever.

We are listed on sabbatical homes and on the university housing available webpage, but no pictures yet (other than an old one of the outside) because our house is a mess and we haven’t had a chance to take pictures.  Nobody has contacted us to ask any questions.

I’m tempted just to wait until the summer and we’ve figured out where we’re going in Paradise City.  Then ship what we’re going to ship and store what we’re going to store, and then list the place.  I suppose in the worst case scenario, the management company can keep it furnished and then rent it out for huge amounts of money on gameday weekends.

On top of that, DH or I are traveling all month and we’re only seeing each other a few days.  And I’m behind on a ton of work.  So in reality, nothing is going to happen until May because nothing can happen until May.  I suppose that will save us money and aggravation on trying to keep the house “show-ready” which is nearly impossible with a 2 year old in residence, even if we do hire a regular house cleaner.  (We couldn’t even keep the house clean for the most recent in-laws visit!)

Have you ever tried to rent out a home?  Any tips for short term rentals?

What am I looking for in a rental

In order of importance (and assuming under $5K/mo):

1.  I will be able to get enough sleep at night– no thin walls, no cigarette smoke.  (Also non-crazy landlord, but how does one screen for that?)

2.  At least 2br.

3.  In unit laundry.  Dishwasher.  Reasonable appliances (though we can always buy cheap ones).

4. In a decent to good school district and DC1 can stay grade-skipped (or they want to test before keeping the skip– I’m fine with that too).

5.  We can keep at least our main kitty, little kitty.

6.  A reasonable commute to:  Sabbatical Uni, DC1’s school, DC2’s preschool, given that we will only have one car.

7.  Walkable neighborhood that includes a playground.

8.  Allows us to take Nice kitty

9.  3 br

10.  Walking distance to a library

11.  Walking distance to shops

12.  Excellent schools (as opposed to decent)

13.  Driveway or garage space, not just street parking.

14. Out door play area such as yard.

15. Furnished.

16.  More than 1000 sq ft.

17.  Nice appliances.

18.  Nice extras (countertops etc.)

19.  Fruit or nut trees.

20.  A price considerably lower than 5K/mo.

What are your priorities when it comes to a rental?  Do they differ for long-term vs. short-term?  What am I forgetting?

April Mortgage Payment: Posted payment half a month early

Last month (March):
Balance:$26,923.26
Years left: 2
P =$1,103.46, I =$110.94, Escrow =$788.73

This month (April):
Balance:$25,815.43
Years left: 1.9166666666666666667
P =$1,107.83, I =$106.57, Escrow =$788.73

One month’s prepayment savings: $0

We sent off the mortgage payment for March before February ended.  By the beginning of the second week of March it still hadn’t posted.  So we called up and were like, what happens?  They said to wait a few days and if it doesn’t post, then call up and make a payment over the phone.  No late fee until 3/15.

So we did.  On 3/11, it still hadn’t posted, so we paid via phone.

On 3/13, we checked our account and not only had our 3/11 phone payment posted, so had one on 3/9!

Which means that we paid our April mortgage payment early.  Luckily it didn’t post as a pre-payment after all that deciding to stop prepaying!

(In other news, it looks like escrow is going up $20/month starting with our May payment.  Fun times.  Fun times.  Not really.)

What do you do when a payment doesn’t post after you’ve sent it?  Do you avoid late fees or being double-billed?

Recessed lighting and energy efficiency

We had an energy audit done on our house (free from the utilities company!)

We thought he’d go around the house with a fancy heat gun checking for drafts or something, but he didn’t.  But no, first order problems don’t require any fancy equipment.

What were his main suggestions?

1.  Put a tent over the stairs to the attic on the attic-side in the air conditioned access part.  He was shocked that we have attic access from inside the house and not just from the garage.  This has turned out to be difficult because there’s an inconveniently placed pipe up near this access point in the attic.

2.  Do something about the old-fashioned recessed (bucket) lights.

3.  Get black screens for our sun-facing windows.  (These look pretty creepy from the outside, like the windows are painted black, but our HOA must allow them because all sorts of folks in our neighborhood now have them.)

The recessed lighting has a light in a can, basically.  The cans (from before 2004) have holes in them because if they don’t, then the lights get so hot that it’s a fire hazard.  Because of the holes, the hot attic air comes down into the house because of some sort of pressure convection thing.  When the air conditioner is on, it pressurizes the house which means it blows cold air up into the attic.  Not only that, but these lights are supposed to have no insulation within three inches so that things don’t get so hot that they catch on fire. When people do temperature readings, you can see where the recessed lights are.

Since then, they’ve made new models that don’t have holes that you can put insulation up against.  Also compact fluorescent lights and LED lights are not as hot as regular lights.

He said, we’d really like to seal off those holes.  Our choices:

A.  Switch out with the new cans.  They may not be air tight but it’s better than just the holes.  Just like any fixture, they have a light shape and maximum wattage.  Their maximum wattage is lower than the old-style cans, but that’s clear on the can.  With this option, you can also do B because the cans themselves are metal and still transfer heat into the house.

B.  Buy covers that are insulation tents that you can just drop over the cans.  These can be used with the old-fashioned hot bulbs, but you have to be sure to open vents within the covers for safety reasons.  But then there’s a hole again.  With the modern lights you don’t need to open the vent.

C.  Tape off the holes in the current cans.  You can only do this with the low-wattage bulbs.  The internet is full of horror stories about what a bad dangerous idea this is.  We have opted not to do this one.

We have 9 of these recessed lights.  DH switched out 7 for LED and 2 for compact fluorescent (we’d already swapped those out when the previous bulbs burned out).  Finding them in the attic was difficult– one of them was buried in insulation underneath the air conditioner and took 20 min to find.

DH is concerned that if we just do option B that at some point in time someone will put in a bulk that the fixture says is ok, keep the vents closed, and it will start a fire.  Who?  Maybe a tenant or someone who buys the house after us… something small probability but a scary one.  We could remove the tents prior to someone else living in our house, but we’d have to remember to do that.

So most likely we’ll go with option A and option B combined and have an electrician do it.  DH has been banned from home wiring projects after a mishap wiring a fan.  (This ban is ironic given his educational background and the other types of home improvement projects he has not been banned from.  But an alive husband is the most important thing.)

How much will that cost?  Well, the new LED lightbulbs cost ~$30 each, so ~$210 for that.  The new cans are ~$10/each, so ~$90.  The tents are ~$15/each on the direct webpage (the amazon link above is more pricey), so ~135.  We’re not sure how much an electrician will cost– that’s something we need to find out.  But this little project will most likely cost more than $500 total.  How long will that take to pay for itself in lower utility bills?  No idea!  But our summer energy bills are pretty awful, so it might be less time than we think.  If only we could also do something about the water bill.

Have you done an energy audit?  What do you do to keep your energy costs down?

The love language of economists is money

I actually just said this to my associate dean who stopped by to say I’m doing really well in Google analytics.  Which was nice of him.  I said I felt all warm and fuzzy, but then a little warning bell went off in my head– warm and fuzzy cannot substitute for showing me the money.  So I added that I hoped it would show up in my percent raise next year.  After all, I noted, money is the love language of economists.  He said he’d noticed that.  Then skedaddled away as quickly as he could.

Was that the wrong direction to go?  Maybe.  As a woman I’m damned no matter what I do.  But I also have options and I know I’m underpaid (compared to similarly impressive [but male] people).  On top of that, our raises were figured out in the most stupid way possible last year and I would like to NOT see a repeat of that.

He may not stop by to sing my praises again, but hopefully he’ll keep this in mind when setting raises next year.  I also put in a good word for two of my (similarly underpaid, but similarly impressive) junior female colleagues.  We’ll see.

More thoughts on class

We love being upper-middle class.  Upper middle class is a wonderful world.  #1 never ever wants to go back.

Visiting DH’s family for the holidays provides perspective in many ways.  They have a lot of money pressures that we don’t have because given our current economic class, we don’t have anything to prove.

One of the weird things about our current social/educational/economic class is that … for example… I don’t throw away a sock just because there’s a small hole in it.  I don’t really care if there’s a hole in it or not.  The hole doesn’t say anything about me or my needs.  I don’t wear thick socks often enough to need a bunch of extras, so some of the socks with holes end up getting packed when we visit the in-laws over break.  I don’t really think it’s a big deal, but my SIL comments.  My MIL got me thick socks for Christmas this year.

And we don’t have car payments because we never bought an SUV.  Two kids in carseats fit into a 10 year old Hyundai Accent.  (And we never did get the cosmetic work done when DH’s Civic got hit while parked.  I wonder if they think we’re misers.  Though my SIL must not have noticed, or she would have said something.)

Another example– we’ve talked about the crazy gift-giving before.  We only get that from DH’s side of the family.  So Santa just does stockings and we get a small gift for each DC (this year it was a winter coat for DC1, nothing for DC2 because ze is too young to notice who gives each gift).  My parents mainly get us books.  (My parents are kind of weird class-wise.)  This insane amount of gift-buying is standard for DH’s family– even when they didn’t have money when DH was little, they still scrimped and saved to spoil their kids at Christmas.  DH’s extended relatives who are even less well-off go into deeper debt each year to provide presents– spending more money on each kid (and on their worse-off extended relatives) than we would spend even if DH’s parents didn’t provide presents.  It’s a way of proving that they’re not poor that keeps them from ever getting ahead of their debt.

We also haven’t had to buy much clothing for our children other than shoes and the occasional set of underpants or socks because of the generosity of DH’s parents and hand-me-downs we’ve gotten from friends, colleagues, students, etc.  Families we know making hundreds of thousands of dollars/year in Northern CA have extensive hand-me-down chains.

DH’s brother’s (SAH) wife was talking about how they get that huge amount of gifts and clothing new from both sets of grandparents, and now that they’re having a third child (whose gender will presumably match the gender of one of the first two children), they are buying more things on top of that.  Why do they buy clothing when the children already have more clothing than they could ever wear?  Because children shouldn’t wear hand-me-downs.

We are totally on board with hand-me-downs.  But many of the hand-me-downs we get are very nice quality (because they were presents to our likewise-affluent friends).  Of course, we also don’t mind putting our toddlers in heavily stained (but otherwise clean) clothing either– they have both been very good at adding additional stains.  Nobody that we work or socialize with is going to think that we can’t afford nice clothing or that we don’t take care of our children if they wear a shirt with stain marks across the front.  We’ve got the luxury and privilege of people not making negative assumptions about our income or net worth based on what our children wear.  (Also, DC1 wears uniforms to school.  And I don’t have to go to SAHM playgroups.)  We also have the luxury of handing the clothing down again and being able to feel affluent about that, rather than needing to sell it.

Being able to buy high quality clothing that lasts a long time also means that it’s easier to buy classics that don’t really go out of style, which means they can be worn longer.  I have a lot of basics in classic styles.  When you live an H&M lifestyle, you have to keep changing out your clothing because it’s easy to tell when something goes out of fashion, and the quality isn’t good enough to keep it for 30+ years even if it weren’t fashionable.  Current fashion changes mean I can mix and match sweater sets rather than wearing matched sets, but I can still wear the same pieces, just in different combinations.  And again, nobody is going to think I’m poor because I’m wearing a (thrift-store purchased) 10-15 year old Ann Taylor or Brooks Brothers business casual outfit because nobody is going to know.  The same isn’t necessarily true of Walmart’s finest (though I do have some t-shirts from Walmart that I got in high school that are just now wearing out…).

As a (mostly lower middle class, occasionally genteel poor, always worried about lack of money) kid there were definitely more pressures to spend for appearances’ sake.  But people didn’t just tease me about the rusty VW bug my mom drove (that I loved) or my lack of an Express bag (I eventually got one)… my material possessions were pretty low on the list of things I was bullied about (and the only thing that was external to me).  It was easier for me to just reject their views of fashion and go completely into my own funky style (which involved a lot of thrift-store hats), at least until grunge came into fashion (a style I completely embraced).  But those pressures are gone among the people we associate with and we only see them in action when we visit DH’s family.

Feelings and privilege are complex.

Now, we’re in the educated liberal crunchy upper-middle-class.  Not the wealthy (lower) upper-class.  We don’t rub shoulders with movie stars or even corporate lawyers or financiers.  We’d love to be making that kind of money, but still living our crunchy upper middle class lives.  We hear from people who do rub shoulders with lawyers and financiers that there’s lots of stupid money stresses there too.  Cars and diamonds and so on are back to being status symbols.  Items are expensive not because they’re quality but because they’re in fashion.  It all sounds very nouveau riche.  Crass.  Obviously I must come from old money… or my parents are Northern Californians instead of Southern.  We probably have something we compete on or use as a class marker that we’re too blind to see, but it isn’t $tuff, and that saves us a lot of money.

Update:  This NYMag article is really interesting.  (It definitely does show that my family growing up is very weird class-wise.)

Do people judge you by how you spend your money or what kind of clothing you wear?  Do you have to spend money for status reasons or can you save money because you don’t have anything to prove?  How do you deal with the pressure of trying not to seem poor?

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